Posts

The Internet, Learning Arabic and Islam – Interview with Ustadh Abdullah Misra

Saad Razi Shaikh interviews Ustadh Abdullah Misra on the internet’s effect on the Umma today, being a student of knowledge, the problems facing reverts, and much more.

Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, into a Hindu family of North Indian heritage. He became Muslim at the age of 18, graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Business Administration, worked briefly in marketing, and then went abroad with his wife to seek religious knowledge full-time, first in Tarim, then in the West Indies, and finally in Amman, Jordan, where he has focussed his traditional studies on the sciences of Sacred Law (fiqh), hadith, Islamic belief, tajwid, and sira. In this interview, he speaks about the challenges reverts face today, the experience of teaching the Islamic sciences online, the traits a student should look for in a teacher, and the checklist a student needs to run through before setting out to seek knowledge. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the effect of the internet on the Umma today?

The effect of the Internet on the Umma today can only be seen in the context of the effect of the Internet on humanity in general. The Internet has brought many benefits and good things to human civilization. But there have been many great harms as well to society. So obviously the benefits are the greater and faster communication, it’s easier now to convey ideas from one part of the world to the other. Finding solutions to problems, finding answers to questions, and finding advice is possible through it. Knowledge has become democratized in a sense. Now everyone has a lot more access to knowledge. Certain points of discussions can be had, dialogues are possible now in a way that never existed before. All of these things are general benefits to mankind that the Internet has bought.

But there have been downsides too, for example, the addictions that the Internet has brought, the convenience of horrible ideas like pornography and violence. The spreading of wrong ideas become easier now. Misleading people has become easier now with stuff like fake news. There is also the dumbing down of people, that has become easier on the internet. The level of social interaction has dropped.

In the greater context, we can say that all the benefits and the harms that have happened to society at large have also occurred to the Muslim Umma. There are things that have specifically affected the Umma because there are certain things that Muslims are not supposed to be doing, on or off the Internet. Certain things like pornography are now easier for Muslims to access and fall into, for example. That’s one thing. The Umma specifically has now become more exposed to disobedience than it was before. The other thing that has happened is that corrupt ideas pop up, non-experts speaking to people, you know, everybody kind of saying what they think about an issue. This has also caused a little bit of confusion in many people.

Also, just from a spiritual perspective, the amount of ghiba that a person reads and engages in, for example, backbiting people on the Internet, has actually increased exponentially. So whereas before backbiting used to be something you tell one person, now you put it on a blog and a person’s sins multiply exponentially by everyone who reads it.

Are there good effects of the internet as well? Of course there are, without a doubt, SeekersHub itself. Then the Dawa a potential that the Internet has. How many people became Muslim through reading something on the internet or discovered or came back to a worshiping Allah Most High, came back to religiosity, came back to a sense of faith? People who were confused and had questions have found answers to their questions. Learning has become possible. Now there are people, for example, I know one girl, in a remote village somewhere in South America, who through the internet came to learn about Islam, embraced Islam and then began learning about Islam. She doesn’t have much of a support system around her. So now she finds support online. So there have been a lot of opportunities of good as well on the Internet, but its harms need to be pointed out so that we as an Umma can intelligently navigate the ocean of the Internet and take what is good and avoid what is bad.

You have worked for a long time for the SeekersHub Answers service in the past. What are some themes, some constant issues you see being asked?

Of the constant themes, number one is OCD; people having waswasa or obsessive compulsive disorder. The teaching of religion online, especially fiqh and aqida tends to be a kind of a honeypot to attract people who are susceptible to obsessive compulsive disorder. The issue is, they are seeing their religion as a source of worry and problems rather than using their religion as a source of solace and guidance to help them in their lives.

And so this is a problem of self study sometimes, having misplaced priorities and inordinate fear over hope when it comes to religion. So part of the thing SeekersHub answer service, and SeekersHub in general tries to do is help with this. If you notice, all the scholars that are related to it are trying to bring people out from looking at religion as something that is primarily based on fear, threat, haram and halal, and does and don’ts; and bringing them into a more enlightened, more fulfilling and more spiritual way of looking at their religion. This is in terms of bringing them closer to their Maker and using that relationship of love and mercy to walk in the rest of their religious journey, carrying that knowledge of Allah’s mercy with them.

So that’s one of the themes that comes up, that people have been viewing their religion in a negative light all too often. They are actually trapped and burdened by these issues. Our job would then be to encourage people to see their religion in the balanced way that it’s supposed to be. And help them use the religion to come out of their problems in their lives and find greater meaning for themselves.

Other constant issues are, I would say, family issues. These are things that are very common. Intricacies and disputes within the family, questions about adjusting to societal norms, the demands of society when it seems to clash with a one’s religious principles, and so on.

You’ve traveled to Yemen, the Caribbean and finally to Jordan for the study of sacred knowledge. Before setting out to seek knowledge, is there a checklist (of goals and needs) that a student must run through?

This is a very good question and it’s much easier to answer this question in retrospect than when you’re in the situation. Part of what helps a student go abroad is that when they’re young, they’re idealistic and they have fewer responsibilities. I was in my early mid-twenties when I left Canada. I think a part of not having the complete picture of responsibilities and being a bit more adventurous actually helps. It’s a wisdom of Allah to get young people out without considering too many things.

But there is a checklist that one needs to know. First of all, what’s my goal? At the end of the day, what do I want to do? This can actually develop and change as a student matures and grows older, and they begin to realize that their intention itself develops and grows deeper and deeper. So this is something that they should know, that they will change on their journey. In the beginning it’s good to ask yourself, why are you going abroad? What do you want to achieve from this? What do you want to do for yourself in the future? And then there are practical questions: where am I going? Am I likely to achieve my goals? How long do I plan to go for? How do I plan to support myself? Is it safe to be there?

Is it a place where I can adjust? What type of ideas will I come across? Is the environment that I’m going to study in conducive to a balanced learning of mainstream traditional Islam? So these are different questions that one has to ask oneself. They should also ask, have they consulted with the scholars and other students of knowledge who have gone to the same places and come back or still there regarding their advice? And then also, why am I going abroad and what am I leaving behind? Am I leaving things behind in a responsible way, or am I running away? Am I undertaking this to seek Allah’s pleasure or for religious tourism?

So there are different things that people should ask themselves before they go abroad. But sometimes, and most of the time, many people who enter abroad, they didn’t ask themselves these questions, but through the journey Allah taught them what they should be doing and how they should be looking at their purpose in life. So many people would come back from the journey without having achieved their goals, but having matured in different ways and finding their place back in society again. And some would go for a long time and achieve their goals. I think part of that has to do with continuously running through their purposes and their intentions, and developing the idea of what they want to do with the knowledge they gain.

What are some challenges that reverts face today?

Some of the challenges that reverts face today, I think are the fact that there are a lot of voices claiming to represent Islam. It’s not as simple as reading an introductory book on Islam and then start practicing basic religion anymore. Before, you might have found at most two or three groups in the masjid that calling you towards different things. No matter which one you join, you will become religious anyway. That’s how it was in the past, when I became Muslim. Now, I think there is a lot more confusion because certain basic principles on the Internet are challenged and questioned by those who do not have sufficient qualification or understanding and training in religion.

So this becomes very confusing for the reverts. The other thing is that because the Internet is the primary way of interacting with one’s religious search, they come across many things that dissuade them, and untruth as well. So they have to navigate through a lot more false hope to get to the truth. Another challenge that reverts face today is the level of indoctrination that they are coming from, from their own societies, and the paradigms that have to sometimes be shifted in order to settle into their new religious outlook and way of life. That is more challenging today because the world has gotten further and further away from a natural, wholesome, holistic lifestyle that is good for mankind in general from the fitra.

For example, family life is breaking down in many places. Consumerism, materialism is increasing. It’s the age of anger where shouting and insulting becomes a norm over a rational dialogue, discussion, and mutual respect. A lot of people are coming with that baggage into the truth. It takes some time to basically cleanse that out of one’s system, and become wholesome and natural in the way of living life again.

Today via the internet, learning Arabic has become much easier. Is it recommended to study Arabic online, for the purpose of understanding the Qur’an better, or is it necessary that one studies Qur’anic Arabic only in the company of a scholar?

First of all, I think one should study Arabic as a tool and then apply it to one’s understanding of Qur’an, Hadith and whatever else one wants to do with Arabic. You can study Arabic only to understand the Qur’an, but what happens is that the person’s understanding of Arabic becomes shallower than if they understand Arabic as a full-fledged, a beautiful language that it is, and then approach the Qur’an and understand what it’s saying. In our time, I don’t think there’s any one way that a person has to learn Arabic. I think the main thing is that one should take any means possible at all times and continuously apply oneself to try different means.

People often take intensive crash courses. That’s good. But the way to retain that or the way to grow is to gradually a study it over a longer period of time, right? To consolidate. Even if you do something intensive, you have to give some time every week to keep up with it. That’s one thing. The second thing is to be persistent. If one avenue doesn’t work, try another. I found that the biggest obstacle is that people usually try to study Arabic in two or three or more ways before they actually succeed in getting a modicum of Arabic language down just to understand the classical texts. The problem is every time a person tries one way and fails, they usually stop studying Arabic for a while. It could be months or even years. And then go back to it again and revisit it later on.

So many people who I see who are studying Arabic will tell me they tried this and they tried that over the years. The thing to be aware of is that if one thing doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It just means that this is not the way that you need to learn it. Just because one way of learning didn’t work for you, you shouldn’t be dissuaded from learning altogether, whether it’s online, or in the company of a scholar.

Arabic is a tool science. It need not be studied in a religious setting necessarily or under an Islamic scholar. Arabic is a tool science, meaning it’s something you need to understand the texts. Some people try to seek their spiritual and religious experience and knowledge experience through the study of language itself. And unless you’re planning to enroll in a madrasah for a number of years, I find that it’s much more effective to just look at which program is most effectively going to teach you the Arabic. Once you have the Arabic, you can then go to get your religious experience after that, once you have the tools to understand classical texts and sit in the company of scholars.

Teaching the Islamic sciences via the internet has seen a rise in the past couple of years. As a teacher at SeekersHub Global, what have been some key takeaways from your experiences?

The key takeaway is that teaching via the Internet has made it possible for us to connect with people that we never would’ve been able to connect with or know because they’re just too far apart, and too scattered, too disconnected. Allah has made a way of connecting believers to each other and to Him in a time of disconnectedness. That’s one thing. Number two, because communities have actually broken down, Allah made another way for Muslims to hang on to their tradition and their religion. So it’s a great mercy. The takeaway though is that this should transition at some point into personal, actual, on the ground interactions with teachers and scholars in order to create a healthy exchange from heart to heart.

So I think the introductory phases are okay online. But at some point in time, travelling or finding local scholars must be done. The traditional way is the best way to observe what Islam looks like when it’s actually practiced in a balanced and beautiful way. Otherwise the person runs the risk of not knowing how to balance the theory of what they learned with an actual lived example. To express things like good character, mercy, consideration for others, which are not necessarily always encoded, but that require a spiritual state and a broader understanding in order to display and demonstrate. That aspect should come into play. It shouldn’t remain on the Internet. The Internet should be a tool to connect people to each other and to use to the extent that is necessary.

This becomes possible by the Internet because now scholars can get in touch with different communities and travel to those communities or advertise, for example, when they have retreats. People can travel to that. That’s a way of connecting. Then go back to where you live and continue through the Internet. So it’s a blend. You also learn, you also meet other seekers, fellow seekers whom you can form friendships with, where people can rely on each other for spiritual support.

In seeking guidance, both online and offline, what are some traits a student should look for in a teacher?

This is a very good question. I think the number one thing is that the teacher should have a pedigree to qualified traditional scholars who themselves are a representative of the tradition, in its most balanced and beautiful way.

What does the teacher believe? Where are they coming from? The other thing the student should look for is, do the teacher’s mannerisms and inner state correspond with what they’re saying and what they’re teaching on the outward? A teacher should not just be one who knows a lot of facts or is able to memorize the most. Now that does sometimes impress people. But even if they have a lesser amount of knowledge that they reliably know but carry that with a higher level of character and a deeper spiritual understanding of the beauty of Islam, that’s better for a student in the beginning. And even later on. Someone who has a lot of knowledge, but is devoid of the prophetic example, that’s something that a student should look out for. The other thing is that there should be an understanding of the realities of what the student goes through, the modern world, the society where the student comes from. This is important as well for the student to get answers and guidance relevant to the way that they see things.

Another thing is that the teacher should not be overly polemical or partisan to the extent that their teaching becomes more about debating. Debating people and argumentation takes away the baraka from studying the religion, unless people are at a specialized level. That’s different. But for a beginning student, they should avoid a teachers that try to impose a polemical identity on them, rather than to teach them the basics of how to know, worship, and come closer to their Lord.

In the modern age, many “reformers” insisted on returning to a “pure” form of Islam, by purging it of what they saw as theological, spiritual excesses. Adherents of such an outlook continue today, rallying for it on the internet and other forums. How does such a thinking sit with the centuries-old mainstream consensus?

We have to consider the trauma the Umma went through in the last few centuries, especially in the colonial and postcolonial period. There are reforms from all different types of groups, not just for example, those who are literalist, but also those coming from what you might call the spiritual camps as well. Many different groups that insisted they’re trying to solve the question of how did we get into this situation, and many of them are speculating on the reasons as to why, what deficiency was it, what should we have been focused on and what was everyone doing wrong that got us into this position in the first place? To answer this question, they seem to focus on certain things that they believe are priorities in the religion and picked on things, or highlighted things that they felt were the causes of the problems that the Muslim world is in today.

The centuries old mainstream consensus that you’re asking about was much more balanced. It balanced fiqh, it balanced hadith, it balanced logic, it balanced aqida, it balanced politics and ethics. It balanced a spirituality, a mysticism, teaching, and philosophy.

So the previous age was an age of balance in which the Muslim Umma would balance itself out because it was at the liberty to pursue this knowledge in a safe space, and allow the free flow of knowledge between scholars in the Umma. Now because of the breakdown in the authority structures in the circles of knowledge, the institutions of knowledge, what’s happened is that different people (not just reformers, there are many groups; I don’t think we should pick on any one group necessarily) are trying to figure out what happened. What needs to be done, I believe, is that we need to go back to looking at how the Umma had its balance and how it viewed different forms of worship within Islam, within different subjects, different knowledges and sciences, the different responsibilities and prerogatives of the Umma.

We have to go back to viewing these things in a balance, rather than-a-one-size-fits-all-solution. We need to go back and invest in the things that will stabilize our communities, first at the individual, then the family, then the community level. We have to pay attention to the inward and the outward of religion, to the physical, the mental and the spiritual. We need to try to regain that sense of balance and get on an even keel before we start. What this will help us do is to express things in a balanced way, right? So then when we study, when we teach, when we call people to the religion, and we live life, we will be without theological and spiritual excesses, and deficiencies as well.


Saad Razi Shaikh is a journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on popular culture and community initiatives. He can be reached on Twitter @writweeter


Parenting in the Age of Social Media, by Ustadha Rania Awaad & Hosai Mojaddidi

In a time where teens and youth are increasingly active on social media, parents and educators must stay informed and vigilant about the inherent and widespread dangers throughout the Internet. Ustadha Rania Awaad & Hosai Mojaddidi joined us for our April Friday Night Family night to explore the dangers and traps online designed to ensnare children. The speakers discussed the spiritual and mental health consequences of Internet negligence and offered practical solutions for increasing Internet safety.

Sister Hosai Mojaddid also provided these tips. This talk was delivered on April 21, 2017, as part of MCC’s monthly Family Night series when we invite insightful and influential American-Muslims who are making a positive impact on our community.

About the Speakers:

Ustadha Rania Awaad, MD, Clinical Director – Khalil Center, Bay Area
Raised in the U.S., Ustadha Rania Awaad began her formal study of the traditional Islamic sciences when her parents permitted her to travel to Damascus, Syria at the age of 14. Her desire to continue studying the Deen resulted in multiple trips back to Damascus, interspersed between her high school, college and medical studies. She was honored to receive Ijaazah (authorization to teach) several branches of the Shari’ah sciences at the hands of many renowned scholars, including many female scholars. She has received Ijaazah to teach Tajwid in both the Hafs and Warsh recitations from the late eminent Syrian scholar, Shaykh Abu Hassan al-Kurdi. In addition to completing several advanced texts of the Shafi’i madhhab, she is licensed to teach texts of Maliki fiqh, Adab and Ihsan. Currently, Ustadha Rania teaches online and local classes for The Rahmah Foundation, Rabata, and is on faculty of Zaytuna College where she teaches courses in Shafi’i fiqh, women’s issues in fiqh, and has helped develop and co-direct the Tajweed and Hifz progam.

Ustadha Rania also a medical doctor with a specialty in Psychiatry. She completed her Psychiatric residency and fellowship training at Stanford University where she is currently on the faculty as a Clinical Instructor in the Stanford Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences department. Her medical interests include addressing mental health care concerns in the Muslim community- particularly that of Muslim women and girls. She has been awarded grants from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) to conduct research on this topic and has presented her findings at several medical conferences. Other on-going endeavors include the compilation of manuscripts addressing female-related mental health and medical issues from a fiqh-oriented perspective. She currently serves as the Director of the Rahmah Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching Muslim women and girls traditional Islamic knowledge. In this capacity she also heads the Murbbiyah Mentoring Program which trains young women how to teach and mentor Muslim girls and teens. Ustadha Rania is both a wife and a mother; she has been counseling and teaching women classes on Tajwid, Shafi’i Fiqh, Ihsan, marriage and raising children since 1999.

Hosai Mojaddidi, Writer, Speaker & Co-Founder of mentalhealth4muslims.com
Hosai Mojaddidi is a second generation Afghan-American Muslim woman who is a freelance writer and editor and a lecturer on various Islamic/spiritual topics.

Sister Hosai Mojaddidi is also the co-founder of MH4M (www.mentalhealth4muslims.com), which was established in 2010. She started MH4M with Dr. Nafisa Sekandari because she is passionate about providing a unique and tailored approach to mental health support for the Muslim community which combines sound Islamic teachings with clinical science.

For nearly 20 years, she has also been actively involved in the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area and southern California working and volunteering for several organizations including Peace Terrace Academy, Islamic Networks Group, Zaytuna Institute, Deen Intensive, Northstar School, (RIS) Reviving the Islamic Spirit, One Legacy Radio, Pillars Academy, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Southern California, Grand Mawlid, Rahmah Foundation, GiveLight Foundation, and Happy Hearts Learning Co-op.

In the various positions she’s held, and as a Qur’an teacher and lecturer over the years, she has been blessed to meet thousands of Muslims from different backgrounds and, in the process, develop many deep and lasting relationships both personally and professionally. She has also been able to gauge the mental health issues of the larger community firsthand by serving as a private mediator, advisor and mentor to many.

Resources for Seekers:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on The Social Costs of Pornography
Finding God Through The Chains Of Pornography Addiction
“Too Embarrassed to Talk About It”: Pornography Addiction and Some of Its Effects on Muslim Marital Life
Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya – Radio Interview with Hina Khan-Mukhtar
Raising Children with Deen and Dunya
Making Ramadan a Time for Young Hearts to Grow
Ibn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods
Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for Children
On Parents Showing Righteousness to Children

Help Your Kids Confront ‘The-P-Word’: Pornography, by Hina Khan-Mukhtar

“Hina?” The voice on the other end of the line was ragged; it was obvious the caller had been crying.

I felt panic rise in my chest. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

Pause. Deep breath. And then: “It came into my house last night.”

And there it was. Without any need for elaboration, without any more details, I knew exactly what “It” was referring to.

Pornography.

If I use the word “epidemic” to describe what is happening with pornography and our children, I do not think I would be overstating the matter. It is no longer a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”…at some point or the other, we will all be confronted with this cancer that is currently spreading its tentacles into every home in the world. Therefore, it behooves us to be prepared and to have our preventions and our treatments in place, insha’Allah (God willing).

According to the latest statistics on familysafemedia.com:

  • 4.2 million pornographic websites exist today
  • 42.7% of internet users view porn
  • 34% of internet users receive unwanted exposure to sexual material
  • 72 million worldwide viewers visit pornographic websites on a monthly basis 

The facts that all parents need to know:

  • the average age of first internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old
  • 80% of 15- to 17-year-olds are having multiple hard-core porn exposures
  • 90% of 8- to 16-year-olds have viewed porn online (most while doing homework)
  • 26 children’s character names are linked to thousands of porn links (including Pokemon and Action Man)

It is my hope that parents will use this article as a family read-aloud, a springboard from which to jumpstart a more in-depth conversation about a crisis that is affecting so many youngsters and adults alike.

1.) Treat the internet like a loaded weapon in the house.

How does one treat a loaded weapon? First, you make sure that children know that’s it there and you warn them of its inherent dangers. You teach them that they are never to touch it unless you are there to supervise them. You never ever leave kids alone with it. You don’t let them have easy access to it. You keep it under lock and key. All of these exact same rules apply to the internet as well.

We have two sons in high school and one son beginning middle school, alhamdulillah (praise be to God). The older two have flip phones for calling and texting — no smart phones with internet access. None of them are allowed to use the internet in the privacy of their bedrooms. All web searches are conducted in a public space in our home where anyone passing by can see what they’re looking at. Whenever there is silence for an extraordinarily long amount of time, either their father or I will glance over their shoulders to see what’s going on or we will simply point-blank ask them what exactly they’re doing. We know the passwords to their email accounts. These understandings have been in place since Day One, so our attitude doesn’t come across as one of mistrust; it is simply the way things are done in our home if one is a minor who wants the privilege of using the internet.

I know of other parents who require that their children “check in” their smart phones with them at night. The phones are charged in the parents’ bedrooms after 9 pm and no one is allowed to email or text after that time. Some parents change the wifi password daily and the kids must request the new password whenever they need to use the internet. The parents’ laptops are kept under similar stringent security controls. Some parents check in with adults — even close relatives — before letting their children go over to play or spend the night (just like they would with any loaded weapons in the house): “Will the children have access to any computers? What kind of controls do you have on the kids’ internet usage?”

This first point I’ve mentioned is all about prevention, about trying to establish a healthy rhythm and routine around the internet before ever even letting your kids get on the information highway. The rest of the points in this article are all about preparation.

2.) If your kids are using the internet at all, you should have talked to them about pornography yesterday.

Muslims have always been known for their sense of modesty. Countless times I have witnessed parents wince and then — with bulging eyes — hold urgent “shush” fingers to their lips when they hear me start to caution about the dangers of pornography in front of their children — children who are often clutching their own computers and smart phones and iPods after having asked me for my wifi password within minutes of entering my home. Modesty is a noble trait and one that needs to be honored, but when it comes to discussing the dangers of the internet, any apprehensions about talking about what’s really happening “out there” need to be thrown out the window.

Last year, a mother who attended one of my talks at a local mosque heard me urge parents to talk to their kids about pornography as soon as possible. A few months later, she showed up at one of my parenting talks at a private Islamic school. When it was time to get feedback from the audience, she raised her hand and told the other moms and dads, “When I first heard Sister Hina say that we needed to talk to our kids about pornography, I knew I had to do it, but I didn’t know how. I was scared to death. Despite knowing that this was something I had to do, it still took me over a month to summon up the courage to actually speak with my son. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the look of relief on his face! It turned out that he already knew about pornography and had even seen some images and didn’t know what to make of them. He had so many questions, but he didn’t know whom to ask. I’m so grateful that I finally talked to him about pornography…I only wish I had done it sooner.”

Some parents worry that talking to kids about pornography will make them curious about something they had been blissfully oblivious about and they will then want to further seek it out on their own. I recently heard of a child who looked up “pornography” on the internet after hearing the word mentioned as a social ill in a khutbah (Friday sermon). I learned of another child who went to a summer camp where another boy asked him if he knew what porn was; the Muslim boy was too embarrassed to admit that he had never heard the word before and came home and typed up “p-a-r-m” on the computer’s search engine…and guess what? Porn came up. I know of another little girl who was searching for her favorite toy (“American Girl”) as a potential Eid gift and pornographic images of the “ideal” American girl flooded her family’s computer screen instead. One little boy had to do a science report on dogs, and when he attempted to research canines, images of bestiality popped up on his mother’s laptop.

If you don’t talk to your kids about porn, I can guarantee you that someone else will. It is only a matter of time. You simply must get to them first.

There isn’t any need to go into graphic details about what makes up pornography…what’s important is that kids know WHAT it is and — perhaps even more importantly — that they know that YOU know what it is. If a child accidentally stumbles onto pornography, previously completely clueless about its existence, they may assume that — like them — their parents also must have no idea about this secret world either. Believe it or not, the children may even worry that they need to be the ones to protect the adults from it! They may also fret that parents will overreact or will mistrust them or will even accuse them of having deliberately searched out “dirty images”. But if you’ve already talked to your kids about this heinous industry and its terrible evils (and its inevitability), they will instead be able to tell you, “It happened, Mom/Dad. You had warned me that pictures of naked people would suddenly pop up on my computer one day and today it actually happened. But — don’t worry — I knew exactly what to do. I followed our drill.”

3.) Just like with any emergency, have a safety drill in place for when (not if) kids encounter pornography.

Students are taught fire drills and earthquake drills and intruder drills in school and at work. Just like those important precautions, we too need to have a safety drill in place for when we encounter pornography in our lives. Pornography can be just as destructive to one’s livelihood and happiness as any other natural or manmade disaster. Zeeshan and I have taught our sons and nieces and nephews a simple three step drill:

First, say, “Audhu billahi minashaitanir rajeem” (I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan).

Second, turn off the computer or laptop — close the cover, unplug, power down, whatever it takes to immediately remove the pornographic images from your sight.

Third, get up at once and go tell an adult.

 

We have drilled these three instructions into the children over and over. We teach them that there is real power in seeking refuge in God and remind them that He hears all our prayers; there is no success without His Help. But along with praying to God for help, we need to take real, practical steps to ensuring our own success as well — and the next step after dua (prayer) is to physically turn away from that which is displeasing to God. Finally, we remind them that they need allies and mentors to help them succeed through the various challenges in life, so it is important to involve trusted adults in anything that could be harmful to our physical, emotional, and spiritual development.

Our middle son lives 400 miles away from us with my brother. I am fortunate in that my brother and I have the same rules when it comes to internet use in our homes. Despite being on the same page, however, my brother told me, “You know, Hina, I can watch over Ameen all I want. We can have all the rules and restrictions in place. But there are many times when I have to go to bed and he often still has homework that he is doing until the wee hours of the night. The truth is that at some point HE needs to be the one who is vigilant; he needs to know what to do when he encounters pornography.”

Sure enough, one night Ameen was working on an assignment when a pornographic image popped up on his screen. Thank God he remembered (and followed) the drill and promptly uttered “audhu billahi minashaitanir rajeem”, turned off the computer, and immediately went to tell his uncle what had happened. My brother told him not to touch the computer again and in the coming days got someone to clean up the virus that had infected the laptop. If we hadn’t had that drill in place, I shudder to imagine what might have happened — the confusion, the curiosity, the second glance, the clicking, and then — WHOOSH — he’s fallen down a dark, cavernous, sick hole from which he could have spent years trying to crawl out of. May Allah protect all of our children. Aameen (amen).

4.) It is important to explain pornography from a spiritual perspective as well.

A person can have instituted all the rules and limits in the world, but if kids don’t understand Whom they are ultimately trying to please, there will never be any true buy-in on their part. “Remember, we will not always be around to instruct you on what to do and what not to do; your teachers will not always be monitoring you and your actions,” we tell the kids. “But Allah IS always with you. He sees and hears all. He is the One Who never sleeps. You cannot hide from Him. And Allah especially loves the one who avoids sin in the privacy of his own home simply out of his fear of displeasing God. That’s called taqwa (God-consciousness). It’s when you’re alone that your true sincerity and belief in God is tested. Will you pass the test? Will you have taqwa?”

It’s not necessary that the “God sees you” warning will be enough of a deterrent for many teenagers, but it is still our job to make sure that our kids are taught to look beyond this realm and to ponder otherworldly consequences for their actions. We have also told our kids that “the first inadvertent glance is a freebie”; they will not be held accountable for anything they did not intentionally mean to look at, but it is the second glance when the angels do in fact start recording their actions. “Be mindful of your intentions” is the mantra we repeat.

“Anything Allah has prohibited for us has only been prohibited for our own benefit,” we also teach our sons. “There is a mercy and a protection in any instruction that tells us to stay away from something, even if we don’t understand the wisdom in the moment. Our job is just to say, ‘I hear and I obey.'”

The other point we make with our boys — and other parents make with their kids — is to admit that it is possible for some people to watch pornography once or twice or even multiple times and then decide that they are done with it and don’t ever want to return to it again. But we emphasize the highly addictive nature of pornography as well; there is a reason that the rush one gets from watching porn has been compared to the chemical high one gets from cocaine and heroin. “You have no idea what camp you fall into,” I tell our three boys. “You could be someone who sees porn once or a few times and then decides, ‘No more for me’…and then actually sticks with that decision. Or you could be someone who watches it once and — BOOM — it’s over for you. You are addicted for the rest of your life and later you cannot have a normal, healthy relationship with your wife and you need therapy forever. There’s NO WAY of knowing how you’ll react to porn when you first see it…and that is the point. That is why Allah has told us to just completely stay away from that which is haraam (prohibited). Like alcohol, don’t even taste a little bit of it just once. It’s totally off-limits now and forever. And thank God for that.”

We remind our children of the sufi teaching that there are seven inroads to the heart — the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the hands, the stomach, the genitalia, and the feet. We compare the heart to a castle that needs to be protected by a fortress wall so that no enemies can attack it from any of the seven entrances. “Only people with pure hearts will enter Jannah (Paradise),” we caution our kids. “We are all born with a tiny black speck on our hearts. Every time I allow a sin from one of those seven avenues to enter my heart, that black spot continues to grow until eventually the whole heart is rotting. The only thing that removes the (spiritual) blackness and polishes the heart is tawba (repentance) and dhikr (remembrance of God). Life is made up of constantly messing up and of constantly asking for forgiveness and then resolving to do better. You don’t want to be consumed by a disease or an addiction that takes over your life, God forbid. Watching porn is not worth the risk; the price is too high.”

I have also taught my sons and my other students that Muslims are supposed to be here to leave the world a better place. I inform them about the destructive elements behind the pornography industry — the criminal exploitation of women and children, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the harmful effects of porn on marriage, the plummeting low self-esteem of men and women who cannot ever measure up to what they’re watching on their screens. “Pornography is a dark, dark world…and Muslims are here to bring noor (light).”

5.) There is no utopia. There is no safe community. There is nowhere to escape.

Pornography is here to stay and it is up to us to figure out how to deal with it. I had a young mother recently tell me, “Thank God we live in (insert name of a Muslim country). The government there has tight controls over what is and isn’t allowed to be seen.” It broke my heart to burst her bubble, but I knew I was doing her a favor by removing her blinders. Even my children are aware of the fact that the top countries that download the most porn are ones that claim to be Islamic.

I have heard more than one parent come up with elaborate plans to escape the country, to get away to “somewhere safe” where the lifestyle is more provincial, more simple, more “disconnected”, preferably where the people are pious and the culture is conservative. Suffice it to say that I have been told first-hand about villages that don’t have electricity and running water but that still have the ability to access pornography on the few phones that manage to exist there.

After my presentation at a mosque, I was overwhelmed by the number of mothers and wives who wanted to share their own heartbreaking tales of woe. I heard about young hifz (Quran memorization) students who stumbled onto porn while reviewing Quran on their iPods, becoming hopelessly addicted over the course of years before being discovered by parents. I was told about young children who encountered porn in their trusted grandparents’ homes while looking up popular cartoon characters (a famous porn star has professionally named herself after an innocuous Disney character). My own son told me about a classmate who was openly watching porn on the computer at the local public library — other teens were laughing at him behind his back, but he was completely oblivious to them. (Ironically, the librarians were hushing the boys for being loud and even threatened to kick them out if they didn’t quiet down, but these same adults were helpless to stop anyone from watching porn on their premises due to the fact that it would be seen as “censoring public information”.)

“I did everything right,” one mom wept to me. “I kept a close eye on what they watched. I didn’t allow them to use the internet unsupervised. No one but my husband and I know the password on our wifi. I let others know what our family rules were. The ONLY thing I didn’t do was talk to my kids about it because I wanted them to hold onto their innocence a little while longer. I didn’t tell them what pornography was and how they should react if they ever come across it. So when it happened, they just didn’t have the tools to deal with it.”

There is nowhere to go, folks. There is no immunity. We have to face the monster head-on.

Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan

The first step to facing the monster is being informed; the second is being vigilant. I was really impressed recently when I met a husband and wife team, both of whom were born and raised in a small town in a third-world Muslim country. They have been living in the US for only a little over a decade, yet they are two of the most culturally aware and attentive parents I have ever met. They know all the statistics and the studies. They have tight controls on what their children are watching and when. They talk to their kids about everything without lecturing or nagging. These are parents who are not clueless in the least.

Only a week later I spent time with a young father who — along with his wife — was born and raised in America. Both of these parents work in the tech industry and have shared many articles with me on how best to raise kids in this day and age. After meeting their young daughter, however, I couldn’t help but feel an acute sense of foreboding. This sweet child took selfies constantly in my presence. She seemed unable to function without her smart phone permanently in her hand. Within minutes of entering my home, she was pestering me for my wifi code, despite my repeated attempts to rebuff her. Through talking to her, I soon found out that she had more than one social media account…unbeknownst to the adults in her life. For now, it seems that she is still innocent and unharmed, alhamdulillah, but it feels like this little girl is playing with fire…and her parents are the ones handing her the matches. The difference between both families is that one set of parents is informed and vigilant whereas the other set of parents is simply informed. It is imperative that all parents act on what they have learned.

****

As a personal confession, I must admit that it has been extraordinarily difficult to write this piece — it is very, very important to me that no one despairs after reading my words. The point is not to dishearten anyone but simply to wake people up. In the course of researching and writing this article, I have had to walk away more than once; there have been many times when I have just wanted to burst into tears. After proofreading my first draft, my 17-year-old son Shaan asked me, “Don’t you feel icky? This is so depressing.” Yes, but I knew I had to write on this topic back when he was a freshman who polled the boys in his class and found out that — except for one — every single student claimed to watch porn on a regular basis. One of them even told him, “I only use my computer for homework and porn. What else is there?” Shaan recently shared with me: “You talked to us about alcohol and sex-outside-of-marriage and hard drugs and peer pressure, but I’m finding the two things that a majority of kids — Muslims and non-Muslims — seem to be struggling with in high school are (1) weed and (2) pornography.” While I definitely feel the weight of this topic, I am continuing to pray that I only write that which is of benefit, insha’Allah.

If you are someone whose child has been exposed to pornography or whose child has become addicted to it, please do not despair. Allah has created no disease without also creating its cure. There is always hope…first and foremost with Allah. And there is treatment available with mental health experts who are professionally trained to help our kids heal. Please do not shame or blame your children, no matter their age or your expectations of them; they are victims of an evil industry that preys on the innocent and the weak. You need to be there now as their advocates and their support. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and our tightest precautions, our children will still end up engaging with pornography. It is not your fault. It is not your child’s fault. This is a test that — for whatever reason — Allah has meant for you and your family to be tried with; just like with any other test, you need prayer, patience, and perseverance (along with a plan for healing) to get through the toughest times.

If you are someone who is reasonably sure that your children have not yet encountered pornography, please do not become complacent. Remain hyper-vigilant always. And, God forbid, don’t ever be smug and do not judge or criticize other parents and their children who are struggling with a plague that is infecting so many. All of us need to pray for one another’s children. May Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) protect their eyes and ears and hearts and brains and guide them and keep them safe from all of the detrimental elements of this world. May they escape this dunya (world) unscathed. Aameen (amen).

*details of personal anecdotes have been changed in order preserve anonymity*

 

Resources for Seekers:

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on The Social Costs of Pornography
Finding God Through The Chains Of Pornography Addiction
“Too Embarrassed to Talk About It”: Pornography Addiction and Some of Its Effects on Muslim Marital Life
Raising Your Children with Deen & Dunya – Radio Interview with Hina Khan-Mukhtar
Raising Children with Deen and Dunya
Making Ramadan a Time for Young Hearts to GrowIbn Khaldun on the instruction of children and its different methods
Islamic Parenting: Ten Keys to Raising Righteous Children
The Prophet Muhammad’s Love, Concern, & Kindness for ChildrenOn Parents Showing Righteousness to Children

My Computer is a Fitna for Me – Should I Get Rid of It?

Answered by Sidi Faraz A. Khan

Question: Asalamualaykum,

I am considering getting rid of my computer as it can sometimes pose as a fitna; however, I use the computer to do many good things as well such as listening to Islamic lectures. Given my situation, would it be better for me to remove my computer or keep it?

JazakAllahkhair.

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.

A foundational principle in Islamic law (and spirituality) is “Warding off harm takes precedence over acquiring benefit.” [Majalla, Article #30]

Avoiding the sin that you might fall into due to the computer has higher priority than benefiting from beneficial lectures and the like, even if Islamic. Having said that, there might be obligations for work or study that necessitate the use of the computer.

You need to use your judgment and determine whether it is possible (without undue hardship) for you to fulfill your requirements and/or listen to Islamic lectures without having a computer in your home. For example if you are a student, you could get rid of internet in your home yet keep your computer for writing assignments, etc, which could then be sent by email from school.

At the very least, make a commitment to not go online when alone, but rather do so only when around other people, especially good company.

The following answer might prove helpful, as the counsel therein is not specific to homosexuality but rather generally applicable to addiction to any sin, especially pornography and the like:

Tackling Homosexual Feelings: Supplication, Repentance, and Going Cold Turkey

Lastly, turn to Allah and seek His help in this situation, and it shall go smoothly. As Ibn Ata’illah says, “No task is arduous if you seek to fulfill it through your Lord, and no task is facilitated if you seek to fulfill it through yourself.”

And Allah knows best.

wassalam

Faraz

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani