East Meets West: Enlightening Moment With Shaykh Yusuf Islahi
Let’s Begin at the Beginning:
Already running late for my interview I scurried about trying to grab my essentials: keys, bag and baby. Making my way to the house at which this shaykh was an honorable guest, I felt my heartbeat quicken at the fact that it was I who would have the opportunity to sit with such a knowledgeable individual. Upon entering no time was wasted as I was led down to his room while holding on tight to my 15 month old daughter. After being granted permission to enter I stepped into a room that I could only describe as a mini library. My first thought was to look for the Shaykh, and as I scanned the contents of the room I found him sitting on his bed diligently writing in his notebook. Was it a moment of inspiration? Or perhaps him preparing for an insightful lecture?
Baby in tow I said my salaams and took a seat on one of the two wicker chairs that added to the beauty of his room. Immediately I felt a feeling of humbleness and tranquility fill the air. Making sure both my daughter and I remained quiet while he finished his thoughts I pictured him praying, reading Qu’ran and reflecting in the moments of solitude he had. He then placed his notebook down, giving me his full attention and asked if I was ready to begin the interview.
Shaykh Yusuf Islahi is no stranger to the predominantly Indo-Pak communities across the nation. He has made several trips to many major cities within the states speaking about his successful women’s orphanage, “Jamea tus Salihaat” in Rampur, India. My interaction with the Shaykh began when I had just started high school, and now having graduated from college over six years ago I sit before him with a child. His mannerisms and sense of humor remain as I remember them all those years ago and it was merely with a pleasant smile that he brought back wonderful memories.
The Value of Family:
Keeping with the theme of family and society Shaykh Islahi reviewed the questions I had given him a day prior as he began to tackle the issues facing Muslim families in America. With regards to the biggest problem facing Muslim families in this country the Shaykh states, “because the value of the family system has declined relationships among the members that comprise a family have become weak. The result of this are two fold; first the husband and wife find it difficult to get along and their disagreements more than often lead to divorce. Second, this causes confusion for the children of these families which as a result affect their behavior and education.”
Automatically at the mention of children my eyes wander over to my daughter who is making her way about the room hoping to ease her curiosity by grabbing objects within reach. God forbid that she were to ever be in such a situation, I think to myself. As if seeing the concern on my face Shaykh Islahi immediately speaks about the solution, “Islamic education about rules and regulations and the Shari’a need to be known. Khutbahs in this country need to stop focusing on one’s exterior practice of Islam. We need not see the length of one’s beard, the folding of one’s pants and the presence of women in the masjid as topics of immediate concern. Rather khateebs need to focus their talks on the status of family in Islam.” His last comment made me smile as he seemed to be gesturing while speaking. And then he said something that was evident of his knowledge of this beautiful religion.
“Actions like fasting and praying have been obligated upon us in the Qur’an; however, the manner in which we do so is highlighted in the hadith. This is not the case when it comes to issues dealing with the family. Allah SWT took it upon Himself to tell us about the regulations concerning familial interactions such as marriage, divorce, and dowry and this in and of itself illustrates the gravity and importance of it. This is why one can say that if your family is good then so is your Islam.”
Predicaments of the Muslim Family:
Shaykh Islahi is no stranger to counseling families from different walks of life. He took a moment to highlight key factors of concern for Muslims in the west. After mentioning the failure to recognize the importance of the familial institution he shares the two downfalls of the Muslim house hold as being:
1. raising and educating children
2. the system of financial interest
With regards to children he states, “If children are not raised with Islamic values and teachings then the ones truly at loss are their parents. There is no point of being in this country if we know nothing of Islam. As Muslims we may have come here for a better lifestyle for our families but we must never forget that our real purpose should be to share and tell others about our religion.” It was the worst moment for me to become distracted, as I ran to pull my daughter out of the Shaykh’s closet. He jokingly snapped his fingers at her as she snuggled closer to me knowing she had let her curiosity get the best of her. “I must also mention here that we need to focus on how we raise our girls. Peace in one’s home and family comes from the woman, her education on Islamic values and teaching is most important if she is to raise future generations to be leaders,” he advises me.
“Interest has become such a major part of one’s life here that there are no negative thoughts about it. Not surprisingly, families try to figure out a way to make interest permissible while being ever so forgetful of how our religion views it. A society where interest is accepted and becomes widespread is disliked to such an extent that both Allah SWT and His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, are at war with them.” Imagine Allah SWT at war with you? SubhanAllah, the thought alone sends chills down my spine. And as if sensing my discomfort or fear for those who engage in such and act the Shaykh mentions, “focus on correcting what I have mentioned above and Insha’Allah everything else will be easy to deal with afterwards.”
The Blame Game:
I spoke too soon when I stated that our society must influence individuals to act in such a manner which results in a deteriorating family. Shaykh Islahi once again effortlessly shared his wisdom by saying, “We can’t blame them (society or non Muslms) it is us who needs to educate ourselves. We need to make ourselves strong in order to positively change the society we live in. Don’t blame society; rather we need to change our society to be like us.” It dawned upon me then, having read in the Qur’an and a phrase my husband and I exchange jokingly with one another when upset, ‘let them blame no one but themselves’. All those slogans came bombarding at me: be the change you want to see, change starts with you etc. Shaykh Islahi began listing out the positive aspects of living here. I listened while watching my daughter once again venture off towards another object of interest when I heard, “You’re not writing this down, write that we can learn from people here how to follow laws, not to lie, about organic produce etc.”
Pitfalls of Parenting:
My biggest mistake of the day was bringing my daughter with me; but then I thought to myself that she had the opportunity to be in such a blessed meeting. I always want my daughter to be in the company of those who will provide some benefit to her and I hope her seeing me in similar gatherings will guide her heart to value the same, InshaAllah. When asking the Shaykh about the normalcy of disrespecting parents under the guise of ‘speaking one’s mind’ in this society I hesitated. I imagined my daughter raising her voice, stomping her feet and slamming the door if her father or I disagreed with her. It was not a pretty thought as I began to wonder if this sort of outburst would be the stepping stone to far worse behavior. “The foundation of a child’s upbringing should be his or her parents’ character. If you want to bring your child towards the practices of Islam change their hearts with your good character. Be the best example you can be for them and they will follow.”
Overall the time I spent with Shaykh Islahi was nothing short of amazing. Both my daughter and I benefited from being with him for part of our day. We candidly spoke on a variety of topics ranging from the difficulties of marriage to the problems of working spouses. The wisdom I received from him regarding those topics shall definitely be discussed in a future edition. For now I will let my heart soak in the droplets of advice he showered upon it as I patiently wait for another opportunity to sit in his company.
Crisis of Muslim Family:
1. Failure to recognize the value of the family as an institution
2. Raising children with Islamic education and practices
3. Keeping away from financial interest
1. Being the best role model for your child
2. Educating oneself and family about Islamic values and practices
3. Be the change you want to see