28 01 2010

We all want to live our best life. For many of us, our best life means doing everything we can to make the world a better place. Everyone agrees that the youth are the future. In FAYM, the young people are our focus. However, anyone who has interacted with adolescents, tweens, teens, and young adults has realized it is a daunting task. But what if the problem isn’t with them, but with us? Have we prepared ourselves to be the best da’ee (spreader of peace and inviter to a life of faith) we possibly can be? I have compiled a ten point checklist to highlight some key qualities every youth da’ee should aim to possess (not in any particular order).

Disclaimer- These points are a basic compilation from my own personal experience as an educator, youth coordinator, and being a youth in America. They are not meant to cover every aspect of the work but rather bring light to some key areas. It serves as a way to measure our commitment and effectiveness. Also, please note these points are assuming that you have already attached yourself to a group or jama’ah (if you have NOT what are you waiting for????).

(In a powerful wrestling match announcer voice) – “Introducing TEN QUALITIES OF A YOUTH DA’EE”



The days of antennas and cassette tapes are slowly fading into a museum showcase of the past. If you have not yet embraced the world of technological growth and think you will be effective without it – you need to wake up. A youth da’ee is well versed in cell phones, video game systems, movie players, the internet, and basic office applications. I’m not saying you must transform into a technology nut. However, if you are unfamiliar with the basic ins and outs of equipment, you will find it hard to cope. This also includes social networking such facebook, twitter, blogs, youtube, and the many ever expanding arsenals of tools. The reality is that technology works. So learn to master it. Always ask yourself how can I use this technology to accomplish the goals of our group?


An entire point dedicated to transportation? Yes, it is THAT important. Independence and movement are critical for a da’ee. You can be prepared in every way, but if you are not present you are not productive. So learn how to drive well and navigate directions and maps. Invest in a GPS, budget for gas, make your car comfortable with prayer mats, snacks, and lecture series, and embrace the road. If you are in an urban area, this may mean learning the train system or bus schedule. Regardless, be safe, say your dua, travel in groups whenever possible, but don’t miss any endeavor because of transportation. The work needs you too much.


Now it is not expected for you to know all the birthdays of Brad and Angelina’s children and every title of the tracks on the newest Mariah Carey album (in fact I’d be concerned if you do) BUT you should not be living in a cave either. Educate yourself on popular figures and popular trends –especially if you are expecting to relate to young people. Yes, that means you may need to look up who is Lady Gaga and figure out what is “Dancing with the Stars” or what is Call of Duty Modern Warfare II. Entertainment and celebrities are a huge part of American culture and the youth are surrounded by this all the time. Also, be educated about current events so you can converse and share with others. Lastly, be aware of some of Islamic pop culture as well. I recommend if you are able, attend at least one convention a year to learn about what’s what on the Muslim scene (ISNA is one of the best for these purposes). Did you see the newest Kareem Salaama video (do you know who he is)? What are Baba Ali’s newest business ventures? Did you hear about the recent research study by Georgetown University on the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World? An effective da’ee is aware about all these and more.


Simply put, you need to be strong. The Prophet (SA) said “A strong believer is better and closer to Allah than a weak believer.” It is part of the Sunnah and a characteristic of a Muslim. Also, sports are a huge deal in American society. An athletic da’ee (especially with boys) has a better chance of relating to a large amount of youth. Besides this, the Islamic work will take physical demands on your body and if you have a weak immune system and tire easily, it will catch up with you. Fitness and exercise is also a great stress reliever and developing a regular schedule will inevitably improve your capabilities and mental health, not to mention enriches your life.


The Muslim community is no lk in the park, in fact is more like a walk on the I-95 highway, blind-folded, walking on stilts. There are many different types of ideas, cultures, and beliefs people have about the way Islam should be practiced. An effective da’ee does not get lost in the confusion. Take time to learn about the various groups one will encounter and know where you or your group stands on certain practices (Yomul Nabi, Ashuraa, extremism, etc).  By learning you will avoid many hassles and unnecessary drama and therefore move closer to reaching your goals. Know which Masajid are in the area and the type of leaders that run the community. This insight will come in handy more than you would believe.


If you want to win the heart of anyone you must have superb adab (manners and etiquette). This is the personality of an Islamic Worker. Learn how to give and return salaams with warmth. Be aware of other’s sensitivities and always be polite and kind. This will reflect your sincerity. It is also showing the youth an example they can emulate because when people know better, they do better. Imam Malik’s mom told him, “Learn from his (the shaykh’s) manners before you learn from his knowledge.” Always be respectful especially with the really young, really old, and the learned amongst us.


A da’ee understands the urgency of the work they must embark upon. Therefore, they take pains to keep good files, records, and systems for dealing with junk (junk emails, junk items, and junk people). Create effective spreadsheets and databases of your resources and personnel. Also, find what time management techniques work for you and implement them. I personally use the daily planer method. Invest into learning about new ways to manage time well such as using the GTD (Getting Things Done) System.


Giving speeches is one of the biggest fears people face but it still remains one of the most useful talents a leader can possess. If you plan to work with youth, it will require you to put yourself in vulnerable positions. This means speaking in public and conducting classes, etc. It is important to work on your social skills as this comes natural for some more than others. Remember, you are trying to persuade somebody that your way is better, so you must believe it! Learn techniques to motivate and inspire others.  Remember, practice makes perfect!


Now you are probably wondering, why only Fajr? Shouldn’t we pray all our prayers? Yes, you should, and pray them well. But there is something symbolic and special about Fajr. What is it? This is because Fajr prayer teaches us discipline, time management and commitment. It does all that in five minutes a day. It also transforms your day and reminds you what you are fighting for. If you are having a hard time coping, work to improve your Fajr prayer.


We are dealing with people who converse with others across the world, transports messages with the tap of a finger, and has memorized hundreds of songs and lyrics. This is a generation where information is their language. They are intelligent, REALLY INTELLIGENT. Don’t mistake that for a moment. They are also suffering from the idea of entitlement. Everything is available to them, and quite often, with doing very little to deserve it. We need to understand our demographic and work hard to surpass their expectations. Anything ordinary can become extraordinary with a little effort and creativity. An effective youth da’ee always has something up their sleeve to grab attention and capture interest. Remember it is the details that tend to make the difference. Work hard to think outside the box and always ask yourself, how I can leave an imprint that will help them remember my message (Google “Made to Stick”).

Work hard and remember that nobody said it was going to be easy. This is our lifelong struggle and contribution. But the irony of it all is that once you’ve made the decision to really try, YOU WILL LOVE IT!

Young people are amazing creations and will fascinate you if given the attention and training. Don’t give up on them. One child changed represents an entire generation. Make your niyyah firm and let the deeds begin to pile on that scale, one day at a time.

Any more ideas? Please share in the comments below.


The Current of the Dunya: How well can YOU swim?

12 01 2010

I have officially begun a four month long journey interning as a student teacher at a middle school. I hadn’t worked full time since last summer when I administered a summer camp. However, because my last job consisted of doing crafts and playing games with kids from the Masjid, I didn’t feel the pull of the Dunya. [Dunya is a term which often refers to the hustle and bustle of this world.]

However, within the last week, working around 40hrs in a professional environment, I felt my inner spirituality slowly waiver. Considering I was amid planning and attending meetings for FAYM in the evenings, I expected that I would not be distracted from my acts of worship. Yet from Monday to Friday, the lists of tasks made my Dunya obligations somehow overtake my Akhirah resolutions and personal goals.

It made me envision the Dunya as an ocean current flowing in different wavelengths and degrees of strength. It pulls you from one direction to another, and for many, they are lost at sea. Others are taken away without a choice by the rip currents –the vulnerable and innocent –captured by shaitaan’s lure. I imagine our scholars on boats floating above the surface. I imagine myself as a struggling Muslimah floating along, sometimes crashing waves and sometimes meeting smooth, warm bubbles.

If you are still able to follow this extended metaphor you understand the message I am trying to convey –the Dunya will consume you if you allow it. Our priorities slowly change and we begin to neglect the source that keeps us going –our faith.

Whether you swim or float, don’t let your life get swallowed into checklists and schedules that keep us from fulfillment. There is always somebody busier doing more (and doing it better). Don’t let the routine of offices and suffocating demands stop us from LIVING. “Man is born to live and not to prepare to live.” [Boris Pasternak]

With that being said, I have discovered some tips that can help us curb the waves and surf into the sunset with ease living our lives to the fullest. Here are my swimming tips to survive the currents of Dunya.

  1. Strive to pray every Salaah on time everyday without exception. Pray your Sunnah as well because it protects your Fard.
  2. Connect yourself to an Islamic Jamaa’ah or group. None of us is strong enough to battle Shaitaan on our own. It keeps you contributing and developing which makes you feel good about yourself. It also gives you support for those days that you just need to vent.
  3. Soak yourself generously with GEMs (genuinely enlightening moments); sit under a tree and make dhikr, listen to lecture series, recycle, attend online Islamic web sessions, listen to nasheeds, volunteer in PD or relief efforts, give da’wah, take a walk or simply share a kind word. All of these and more will make the ordinary become extra-ordinary.
  4. Always evaluate and set high expectations for yourself.

I also lastly share an important read to solidify our intentions to rise above the currents:

Awakening the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins; How to take immediate control of your mental, emotional, physical, and financial destiny!

One Peace.

The Difference of Ihsaan

28 12 2009

This was a speech given for a FAYM Girls Youth Camp in Margate, FL Nov 2009. (www.faym.org)

There was a man who declared he was a Muslim in 1964. He was an American man who exemplified what is means to live your life with excellence or Ihsaan. So much so, that his choice to become a Muslim caused thousands of people all over the world, in America, in China, in Japan, to also become Muslim, all because of his influence upon them. He was a black man from the South. Does anybody want to guess who I am talking about?

None other than Muhammad Ali.

This man was born as Cassius Clay, but chose to change his name in devotion to this Deen. Allah blessed him with many talents, one of which is boxing. He took this gift, and didn’t just fight here and there, he chose to have Ihsaan by becoming a World Heavyweight Champion. He famously said he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” The world was amazed by not only his talent and ambition, but his presence and deep belief. He attributes his success to his spiritual relationship with Allah; the physical body is only going to take you so far, the mental control will push you to the limits.

He had so much Ihsaan in everything he did, that he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, because his understanding of Islam convinced him that peace is more important. He was suspended from boxing for three years, but this didn’t stop him. He didn’t waiver.

Allah tested him with the Parkinson’s Disease. He didn’t let it stop him, he instead created a Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. This is Ihsaan.

He recently attended the Presidential Inauguration and accepted a President’s Award from NAACP for his continued involvement in helping others. This is Ihsaan.

When somebody truly understands the concept of Ihsaan, they are never ordinary people. They live their lives on a different level. We are the people of Ihsaan, the Muhsineen.

Allah has told us in the Qur’an: Qad af la hal mu’minoon – Successful indeed are the believers. This ayyat in Arabic is in the past tense, Allah has already declared the believers, the Muslims, as successful. We are winners and should not operate as failures. We are the people of success, a title given to us by Allah. We have been given honor; a person of Ihsaan understands this.

So let me give you some background.

The word Ihsaan comes from the word Hassan which means to be good. It is the superlative, as in good, better and best. It also is used to mean kindness. It is an Islamic Concept which we often refer to as excellence or perfection. It is doing things to the best of your ability, striving to meet high standards. The Prophet Muhammad(saw) said: Innallaha katabal Ihsaana ‘ala kulli shy’ (Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things).

It is important for us to understand that every action we do has a duel consequence, one here and one in the hereafter. Allah says in Surah Zilzal- Fa may ya3 mal mith qal tharatin khy ry yarah; Wa may ya3 mal mith qala tharatin shary yarah “So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it, And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.”

Therefore, we learn that every action you do, you will meet again in the Akhirah and it will meet you whether good or bad. You should strive to do everything in the best way possible. On Yomul Qiyaamah when Allah says, who’s good deed is this, you will be proud of it. Sometimes when you have a homework assignment or maybe a project, we procrastinate and end up with a result that wasn’t the best effort. When people look at it, you are ashamed. Not necessarily because it is poor, but because you know you are capable of more.

See, Ihsaan is not just something we should do. It is our very nature. Allah has created this Dunya or World, and we can see that everything around us has been created with precise perfection, it is well ordered, interdependent, and regulated. The animals live in a certain pattern that is aligned with the role or plants and trees. This is the natural order.

Without Ihsaan there will be total chaos and disorder in the world because the opposite of Ihsaan is chaos. Allah did not create a world of chaos. If you are not doing things with Ihsaan you will have a stressful life, because it goes against our very nature. In Surah Tin Allah tells us, La qad kalaq nal insaana fee ahsanee taw weem, Certainly, We created man in the best make. We must embody this Ihsaan and when we don’t is when we become uneasy, depressed, stressed, angry and a whole whirl of problems develop in our lives.

So what are some criteria of Ihsaan?

  1. A niyyah or intention that it is in the way of Allah (Fi Sa bi Lil lah)
  2. Your action must be correct according to the rules of Shariah (Islamic Laws)
  3. You must begin with Bismillah
  4. You must end with Alhamdulilah
  5. Your action should be one that seeks to yield the greatest benefit in the minimum time and effort because Allah has not guaranteed us to live till we reach old age; we must seize the present.

Some other conditions:

At conclusion of action, you should have an evaluation, mental assessment which will determine if you do that action again or not. These are steps that will help you figure out if your action was one of Ihsaan.

The Prophet (saw) also defines Ihsaan when he was asked by Angel Jibraeel “Tell me about Ihsaan” and he (saw) said: “It is to worship Allah as though you see Him, and if you do not see Him, then (knowing) truly He sees you.”

Worship is everything we do not just ibadaah. So even though we cannot see Allah, be aware that he is watching us.

If you work with your boss/parent in front of you, watching closely, you tend to do a better job and be more careful. The nvention of the Nanny Cam, where parents can video tape their babysitters, caused babysitters to become more cautious when they knew they were being watched. This is the same way we should conduct ourselves, because Allah is always watching us.

This demonstrates how we should live our lives, every aspect we should seek to get to Ihsaan. Especially when it comes to doing the work of Allah, do it in the best way because you will be asked to take ownership of all that you put forward. If you attend a camp or class, don’t just pass through it with little care, a bad attitude and do less than our capabilities.

The most precious thing you have been given after life is guidance to Islam and the way to show thanks and appreciation to Allah is by doing acts of Ihsaan.

As we begin to do actions of Ihsaan, Allah steps in to help us as he tells us in Surah Baqarah- have Taqwah for Allah and He will teach you.

Ihsaan is a way of living, it is not a onetime activity.  It is a manner of how you think and how you conduct yourself. We are Muslims and we must operate like winners. This is not arrogance.

Remember, Qad af la hal mu’minoon – Successful indeed are the believers. Allah says in Surah Tawba Verse 120- “Surely Allah does not waste the reward of the doers of good.”

The best dawah you can give is your personal achievement and accomplishment. When you do something with Ihsaan, the whole world will notice, no matter the field. We saw this example in Muhammad Ali.

The Prophet (SA) said – “Allah is good and loves everything that is good.”

I pray we understand what it means to live with excellence and inspire ourselves enough to conduct ourselves as winners and the people of Ihsaan or Muhsineen during this camp.

Deterioration – Inside Out

25 11 2009

Living in America has always been something natural to me. It is all I know and because of that, I know it well. I love Thanksgiving and Independence Day and usually have some form of celebration on these days. However, I am always fascinated by the discovery of “what does it mean to be American?”

Ana Menendez, an established author, spoke to our class a few months back. She shared her experiences traveling to almost 40 countries. As a Cuban American, she always identified with both cultures and always lived in the famous reality of many immigrant families, staying in the USA “only temporarily.” However, when she made that trip back to Cuba in her late 20s, she realized that she wasn’t as Cuban as she thought; in fact, she was more American than she could ever believe. She discovered being American is “a state of mind.” It doesn’t have a color or face but rather it is how you think, your mannerisms, the way you speak, and how you identify with certain cultural norms.

Still, I hadn’t realized the impact this upbringing could have on my personal beliefs until I had a GEM moment listening to Muhammad AlShareef’s Tafsir on Surah Tin. The ayah, “Then who can give you the lie after (this) about the judgment?” He speaks about who will try to persuade us to their path; amongst these will be the shayateen but also the entertainment industry, corporate world, and the like. A young Muslim comes to America and is shocked by what he sees and hears on tv and radio, but after a year, he doesn’t even notice it. I listened to this example, and agreed, it is hard to guard our “shock factors” after seeing so many obscene, violent, and sexual images. However, it didn’t sink in until later that evening. Cooking some pastries for the upcoming holidays, I turned on MTV. Glancing up at what was showing and back to my recipe and dough, I didn’t even wince at the fact that there was overwhelmingly inappropriate content taking place in our kitchen. I let this vulgarity enter my home, but also enter through my soul enough to let it sit in calmness. Astagfirallah.

Those people who will try to lie to us (from Surah Tin) are sneaky. Have we lost our shyness? Is that what I get after 16 years in the Public Educational System? I recall Wisam Sharieff telling us how he could not watch a Disney Cartoon “Kim Possible” with his nieces and nephews out of shyness because of how Kim was dressed. I thought, Subhanallah, the contrast. How we let our nafs deteriorate by what is seen and heard.

We can’t deny that this is a country that has been controversial and cutting edge for the past two centuries. We can’t hide and escape every hint of evil that appears before us whether it is in media, art, advertising, news, etc. But we can take an active stance and control what goes into our hearts. Step back and live in the present moment. Focus on beauty –the skies, trees, and scenes of creation.

Our youth are falling prey to these vices deeper and further than we can ever believe. We should not be ignorant of the growth mainstream vulgarity has today. Oprah dedicated a show to highlight the porn and erotica industry and shortly after had another show dealing with sex addiction. Is this not contradicting? Cause and effect perhaps? Allah knows best. Yasir Birjas covers these problems in a Western and Islamic context very thoroughly and I suggest anyone struggling with these issues attend or purchase his course Love Notes or Fiqh of Love.

Regardless, being American still remains dynamic and undefined. It is a country that really allows one to exhibit the verses of Surah Tin: “Certainly We created man in the best make/ Then We render him the lowest of the low.” The choice is in our hands, freedom demands choice.

Just remember, what we choose to expose ourselves to will impact us till the day we die. The best leaders as Umar Ibn AlKhattab said were people who knew evil (i.e. were not naive) but also exemplified good. Struggle. Perceive. And take control of your gifts or else somebody else will. Remember we answer to a Just Lord who knows what lies within. “Is not Allah the best of Judges?”

Be Yourself

31 07 2009

An original is always worth more than a copy.