NFTs give you something that can’t be copied. Not a picture itself (anyone can take a screenshot). Here we’re going to use art as an example, because its most common nowadays, but NFTs can be used for real estate, contracts, and a number of other things.
Let’s break it down:
- Non-Fungible = this means what you’ve bought is one of a kind.
- Token = They’re stored in an electronic envelope that only you own.
Instead NFTs give you ownership of the work. And that means if someone else uses it, you can charge them royalties etc.
To put it in terms of physical art: Anyone can buy a print of Van Gogh’s starry night, but only one person can own the original.
So I don’t own this painting and I don’t have digital rights to make money off of it’s use. Instead I copied it from Wikipedia, which has rights and allows others to use it. I don’t own the original, and wikipedia doesn’t either.
But what if I did own it?
NFTs are a digital means for proving the ownership of an asset, like your car’s title proves you own it. Add to that with an NFT, you can also track who has owned that digital asset in the past and what was done with it, just like getting a Carfax tells you the history of your car’s sale and repair.
Now imagine that you signed your car up for Turo, so that you could rent it out when you’re not using it. NFTs track who used it and how much money they have to pay you as well, in addition to transferring the money they owe to you automatically.
For the most part, NFTs right now are being used as overpriced collectibles on the internet. As they progress, you’ll find more sophisticated ways of documenting, selling, and licensing the use of assets. I am long the idea of NFTs as a technology solution, short the idea that a JPG is worth millions of dollars :).
Are NFTs permissible to own and trade? Well the short answer is: Yes, as long as the digital asset is permissible. So when buying an NFT, you’ll need to look at what the subject matter is and what its use/purpose is. If its allowed, then by all means go ahead, but don’t waste money on overpriced, hyped up goods!
There are three situations in the market currently where they use the word “staking” but mean something different each time. You need to learn what’s being *done* instead of just relying on the words used.
Situation #1: They take your crypto and pay you an interest rate, just like a cash on cash loan. This is Haram.
If staking means they take your coin and pay interest. It’s where you provide capital and they guarantee to return it along with a premium, regardless if you contribute any work, and regardless if they make more or less than the rate quoted.
Situation #2: They pay you from the crypto purchased by new coin holders. This is Haram.
If they take your coin and pay you from coins of new buyers, it’s Haram. This is a Ponzi situation and is considered misappropriation of other’s wealth (Arabic: أكل أموال الناس بالباطل) and is not permitted.
Situation #3: They take your crypto and use it to verify the blockchain and help compute on the virtual machine / network. This is Halal.
If staking means they take your coin and add it to a node to verify transactions, contribute to security, and provide computing functions AND your participation and rewards are not guaranteed but are contingent on selection and contribution criteria, then you are partnering with them and this is permissible.
These are my conclusions as of 15 Nov 2021, and if there are additions or changes I will add them in the future.
For those of you concerned with the Shariah compliance of the coins you are buying, Asking yourself these 5 questions will help guide your coin selection:
#1 – It is a store of value.
#2 – It is a medium of exchange.
#3 – Transparency about recourse.
#4 – Tokenomics are not ponzi-esque.
#5 – It has an established or projected, permissible real world use case.
#1 – It is a store of value.
If the coin you want to purchase isn’t clear that the value you exchanged for it is protected by security protocols and safe from malicious devs, then you can’t buy it.
#2 – It is a medium of exchange.
The ability to use the coin is what makes it a coin to begin with. If devs are telling you that you’ll make more money just by holding it, the purpose of why it was made it defeated and there’s something else going on.
#3 – Transparency about recourse.
If it is decentralized, you should not have to worry about rugpulls and hacks. If centralized, the devs should be regulated and you have legal recourse. If it falls in between, it means something is being hidden and not for a good reason.
#4 – Tokenomics are not ponzi-esque.
A ponzi scheme, and similar an MLM, is a means of marketing that takes money from new customers and distributes it to older ones. If your coin has a staking or rewards structure like this, its a scam and money made this way is Haram.
#5 – It has an established or projected, permissible real world use case.
If the coin is simply “for fun” then you’re taking money from others without right and exchanging something with no value. If the coin is for something that is Haram, then it follows it too is Haram. If there’s a roadmap with a clear, permitted use, then its acceptable.
This is not an exhaustive list, and the full reasoning for each cannot be listed here.
These five questions are my conclusions up to 15 Nov 2021.
There are other considerations I am still researching, but these 5 are sufficient as rules of thumb. As I improve them, I will edit and update you.
Let’s talk Zakat on Assets:
– 1st, assets you do not pay Zakat on.
– 2nd, assets you do pay Zakat on.
– 3rd, deductions and expenses that lower your Zakat liability.
A thread 🧵:
1st: There some types of assets that you will not pay Zakat on.
A- Personal assets: things like personal items, you home, car, etc. All of these items are not liable for Zakat.
B- Bad debts: Amounts that you have loaned to others & cannot be repaid due to default or denial.
C- Lost, Frozen, or Inaccessible wealth: this includes things like frozen bank accounts, money that you have lost, or amounts that you can’t access due to contract or penalty.
D- Illiquid wealth: assets that you purchase for their potential increase in value but cannot be reliably valuated until the time of sale. things like art that you buy for investment or shares in a startup or real estate in an illiquid Market.
So here a summary of # 1:
A – You never pay zakat on these.
B – You never pay on these until actually recieved then held for a year.
C – You will pay on these once when recuperated, then every year forward.
D – You will pay on these once at the time of sale, not every year.
2nd- Assets you *do* pay Zakat on:
– livestock and crops
– gold, silver, and equivalents
– liquid assets
– inventory and receivables
Let’s talk about each of these then a few scenarios for each.
2.a Livestock and crops: These have special rules for farmers and ranchers. Grazing cattle, sheep, goats, or camels are liable on a per head basis. Crops are paid at time of harvest. I’ve yet to meet someone who needs details of this category, but happy to provide if you do.
2.b Gold & silver: Any held as a store of value is considered liable for zakat; this includes jewelry. While there are some scholars who exempted jewelry worn – used regularly, like a personal asset, the stronger of the two opinions is that jewelry is still liable.
2.b Gold and silver equivalents: this includes all Fiat currencies, representative currencies, cryptocurrencies, and tokens. The entire value must be included in your calculations, unless inaccessible (like frozen in an account or locked in a wallet).
2.c Liquid Assets. this generally includes cash which we’ve already covered, money market instruments, and marketable securities.
so if you own stocks and bonds you will pay Zakat on them. If you have mutual funds, etfs, RSUs, MLPs, then you will pay Zakat on them.
2.c What about 401ks, IRAs, Taxable brokerage accounts & similar?
Remember these are simply accounts that hold your securities they are not securities in & of themselves.
there are two factors that will determine whether the securities in these accounts will be liable for Zakat.
2.c Factors affecting Zakat liability:
No. 1: if you are unable to withdraw these funds without penalty then you will not pay zakat on them.
No. 2: if you can access them penalty free & you hold them as a long-term, passive Investment, then your liability is lowered.
Examples of No. 1:
– Your 401k or Traditional IRA is inaccessible until retirement so you don’t pay on it until that time.
– Your Roth contributions are accessible at all times, so you pay on them but not gains.
– Your HSA is accessible, so you pay on its entire value.
Example of No. 2:
– If your Taxable brokerage account (your robinhood, WeBull, Fidelity, or similar ) holds stocks for swing trades (not intended for the long term) you pay on the entire Market Value.
– If you’re holding for the long term, you pay on the Current Assets per share.
2.d Inventory and Receivables
– receivables are considered same as cash as long as they are not delinquent and therefore must be included at value in your calculations.
– freestanding inventory which is currently on the market and is not under contract must be included.
3 Deductions and Expenses that lower your Zakat liability
– in general all immediate expenses may be deducted from your total liable assets.
– Note: Only deduct the *immediate* expense, liability, or debt. So deduct 1 month of your mortgage payment, not the entire mortgage debt.
– if your expense is paid weekly, deduct one week. if monthly deduct 1 month. if by yearly deduct 6 months. and so on.
– be sure to review this thread for types of assets and accounts that defer or lower your zakat liability.
– If you have incurred losses on your Investments then you are only going to include the current market value for short-term trades and only the current assets on long-term trades.
– if your losses engulf all of your gains, it’s a wash & you wouldnt owe Zakat on those amounts.
That’s all I have for now. if you want more detailed information on the topic you can always purchase my book Simple Zakat Guide (amazon: print & kindle)Simple Zakat Guide (amazon: print & kindle), the accompanying video courses, or get the 9 course bundle I have running now.
Is SAFE document Equity Conversion Shariah Compliant?
Many startups are using SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) documents to fund initial capital raises for their companies. This article is a live draft, one I will update with my research, references, and future explanation on this topic from time to time. If you notice anything missing, please check back from time to time for updates. This is an attempt to accurately depict how these documents should be conceptualized under Islamic law, and to determine if the equity conversion in SAFE documents is Shariah compliant.
Summary: SAFE documents are not loans. They are warrants for future equity. The structure found in the SAFE agreement for equity conversion is permissible and offers a viable, interest-free solution to early stage funding for Shariah compliance minded investors.
First, what are SAFE documents?
SAFE or Simple Agreement for Future Equity is defined as a financing contract that may be used by a startup company to raise capital in its seed financing rounds. It gives the investor the right to receive equity of the company on certain triggering events, such as future equity financing or the sale of the company. The price of the equity on conversion is lower than the price of the securities issued to other investors, based on either a: Discount rate or a Valuation cap. SAFE has no maturity date and no accruing interest. Investors receive only a right to convert their SAFEs into equity at a lower price than the investors in the subsequent financing. (Source: Thomson Reuters Practical Law)
There are four versions of the post-money safe intended for use by US companies, plus an optional side letter.
- Safe: Valuation Cap, no Discount
- Safe: Discount, no Valuation Cap
- Safe: Valuation Cap and Discount
- Safe: MFN, no Valuation Cap, no Discount
While these versions all differ as to how dilutive final pricing of shares will be on the SAFE investors final share price, they all agree on the basic mechanics of what happens if and when there is a conversion. As the SAFE user guide states “The biggest advantage of the post-money safe is that the amount of ownership sold is immediately transparent and calculable for both the founder and the investor.” (Quick Start Guide)
What’s the difference between a SAFE and a convertible note?
There are several differences* between the SAFE documents and convertible notes:
- Form of contract: A convertible note is debt, while a SAFE is a convertible security that is not debt. Instead, a SAFE is defined as a warrant.
- Conditions: Convertible notes include an interest rate and maturity rate, while a SAFE does not.
- Complexity: The SAFE is simpler and shorter than most convertible notes.
- Conversion Points: While both convert to equity, SAFE docs only convert to the next round, while Convertible notes convert into a current or future round.
- Early Exit: The SAFE gives the investor the choice of a 1x payout or conversion into equity at the cap amount. Convertible notes typically have a 2x payout.
- Maturity: The SAFE is not a debt, and therefore has no maturity date, unlike the convertible note. This is of considerable importance, because at maturity, a convertible debt’s principal and interest must be repaid or the debt converted into equity.
What Question are we Trying to Answer Here?
So while both of these instruments result in a conversion of value contributed to equity, they are not from the outset the same. A convertible note is a loan at interest unless it is converted to equity. A SAFE is a warrant to buy equity at unit price agreed upon in the future.
This raises the question then: Is this type of sale, where an investor purchases equity for a total price even though the number of individual units and their price has not yet been determined?
In simpler terms: can I sell something for a unit price that I have not yet set, but will, once something else happens?
Selling something for a future determined price
For a sale to be permissible under Islamic law, several conditions must be fulfilled. One such condition is that the sales price must be known to both parties of the contract and specified. That the price is known is relative to Market custom and the context of the sale. This relativity brought about variant opinions as to what extent must the sales price be determined in order for the sale to be valid. one such issue in classical Islamic legal text is a sale dependent on a future price or a customary price. an example of this would be for a person to say sell me this item at market price or sell me this item for the price you sold it to other customers.
Is this a valid means for pricing Equity under Islamic law?
Classically, Scholars held varying opinions about this method of pricing. Well they all agreed that if a principal designates an agent to buy and sell on his behalf essentially making the sales price a Known Unknown that this would be permissible. the question then is when the principal himself designates a price in this manner is it also permissible?
The first opinion, being the official opinion of the Maliki, and Shafi schools, and the more popular of two opinions in the Hanbali school, is that such unit pricing is not permitted. The Hanafi school also did not permit this when applied to non-fungible items.
These scholars held that such a sale was included in the Prophetic prohibition of Gharar, or excessive uncertainty in sales.
The second opinion is that selling an item for a yet to be determined unit price is permitted. The was the opinion of the Hanafi school with regards to fungibles, and for all unit pricing (regardless of whether it is fungible or non-fungible) is was regarded as valid in a narration from Imam Ahmad, a weak position in the Shafi school, and the selections of Ibn Taymiya and Ibn al-Qayyim.
In support of this opinion, they cite numerous evidences, namely that Allah permits contract and specifically contract with due consideration. And while the individual unit price has not been determined, the overall price for sale has been determined, and pricing per unit – while unknown at the time of contract – results in a known price once a predetermined event occurs.
For example, saying “I’ll buy $50 dollars worth of this item at closing market price or at the price that Zaid pays for it or your median monthly price” this would be valid, because these prices – while relatively unknown at the time – are knowable and determinable. So the uncertainty of this transaction is only relative to the time between contracting and that predetermined event, and therefore is not significant enough to invalid the sale. Therefore the argument that prohibited Gharar applies here is incorrect.
Likewise, several other contracts under Islamic law allow for the sale of an asset or service without first determining the final unit value. For example, hiring a wet nurse to breast feed one’s child was common practice in early Islam, and while a monthly employment price was determined, the number of individual times a baby would be allowed to suckle would not.
Similarly, custom in Muslim lands from the earliest times allowed a person to buy from a seller bread or meat or other staple goods, every day picking up an amount needed and not paying until the end of the month, essentially leaving the price as indeterminate until the end of the month when accounts were settled.
Another precedent for this is in marriage. When a bride-purse is offered to a woman for her hand in marriage, is it permissible by consensus for her to agree to a bride-purse amount that is customary, even if that customary amount is not known at the time of the marriage contract. Because it can be determined, it is allowed. To allow such a thing to happen in marriage, which typically warrants strict conditions, and not allow it in sales, which typically does not, is the opposite of what the Shariah evidences for these types of transactions. There are numerous other precedents for this as well, but I’ll suffice with mentioning these.
Conclusion: SAFE Document Equity Conversion is Shariah Compliant
SAFE documents are not loans. They are warrants for future equity. Anyone who signs a SAFE agreement is essentially saying to the company he or she is signing the agreement with “I agree to buy shares of your company in the amount of X dollars for the unit price agreed to when either a) equity funding or b) a liquidation event occurs, else you will return to me the full value of my purchase.”
The custom and convention of the Sharia is to treat like-issues similarly and to differentiate between disparate issues, all with justice and equity. This form of sale is in line with the types of sales for yet to be determined unit prices above according to what is perhaps the stronger of the two above state opinions, and therefore this structure found in the SAFE agreement is permissible and offers a viable, interest-free solution to early stage funding for Shariah compliance minded investors.
A Final Note
As a final note, this article should not be construed as a validation of the SAFE documents in their entirety, as there may be other issues in need of research and possible amendment. This article only deals with the overall structure of the SAFE documents and how they convert to equity which is – in the opinion of this author – permissible.
And Allah knows best.
The following is an excerpt from a collection of short essays I’ve been writing over the last few years, each one encapsulates an event in my life that I’ve titled “The Greatest Gifts.” I’ve decided to release this one as realizations that lead me to write it helped me tremendously, and I hope they will do the same for you.
When autumn approaches, we see the leaves fall from the trees. We stare at the barren branches stripped of their life, striped of their lushness, stripped of their greenery. As Winter enters, bark falls off and branches are laid bare, like bones protruding out of the soil.
This is not, however, the permanent nature of trees. Forests are not graveyards. By observing life, we know how foolish a notion it is to think that.
When a tree sheds its leaves, we think of it as useless. We what we don’t see are the seeds planted; the richness imparted to the soil; the gifts given only discovered the following season.
When I think back now, with over 12 years since the loss of my father, I lived most of that time – by choice – in pain. There was the pain of not understanding why he would take his life, the pain of not being able to talk about the pain, the pain of living with someone who could not acknowledge my pain, who struggled to console and comfort me in my times of sorrow. I lived with the pain of friends who never gave condolences, who never cared to even make a gesture.
But as I’ve grown, I’ve come to know that while pain is real, it is also not constant. The pain that we experience in life is usually from something that upsets, but is not, the normal course of life.
Things happen day to day. They happen without choice. They happen without selection. They happen because they’re from God’s providence, from the endless blessings that we have in life, and the small portions of grace that we experience in this world. Both good and bad, sweet and sour.
After shifting my perspective from focusing on the pain, focusing on the hurt, focusing on what was abnormal, I was able to see pleasure, joy, and comfort in the very normal things of life. In the very mundane, boring things of life. Only then was I able to realize what the greatest gift that my father ever gave me was:
It motivated me to stop being merely a student, but to actually get out, make money, and support my family.
This provided me with a career of over a decade now. It provided me with a passion for research. It provided me with the intention to become a better person, a better father, to be more involved, to provide for the family, and not merely subsist.
His death allowed me to inherit him. This single act of receiving money from the demise of another human soul opened countless doors. I now have one child who has finished college debt free. I have others that are working their way there. I have a stable, safe and clean home for my children, where they reside until today. It’s hard to think about death as a gift. But in this case, it was.
When I think about my father’s death, I now realize the world – on that fateful night I discovered he had passed – seemed cold and uninviting. But winters are not permanent, and many great things blossom if we have the patience to tend to them.
Tend to the soil around you until you too see your blessings blossom.
ITS IMPORTANT TO SAVE
One of the core things that a person needs to do order to prepare for emergencies, major purchases, and retirement is to save money. Saving money is not hard but it takes consciousness and intention. When I tell people they can save $5 dollars a day, then often think I’m crazy. I can’t possibly save a whole five dollars a day, can I!? Yes you can. Let’s look at it this way. Many of us spend money on things that cost us daily and we don’t realize how much it costs us until we need the money. So if saving $5 a day is crazy but how is it that some of us spend more than $150 monthly on cable television. Now that’s an average American household and I know that some of you spend less than this maybe around $60 to $75. But add in all of the streaming services and whatnot and you’re probably pushing close to $150.
So let’s assume you spend $150+ on entertainment & cable television. That’s $1800 a year! If we divide that by 365 days, guess what we get?
$5 dollars a day 😊
Not that hard then is it? That’s $5 a day for a service that you use probably no more than an average 5-6 hours a week.
What can you do with $5 dollars a day? Well if you just saved $5 a day, at the end of the year you’d have $1800. In 5 years, you’d have $9000. In 10 years, $18,000 dollars. That’s just cash savings.
BETTER THAN JUST SAVING CASH
But what if you put that money into an investment account. If you are in the US, you can contribute to a Roth IRA and make that money compound, working for you. Now when I say “compound” I am not talking about compound interest. I’m talking about a compound return. That means that through the growth of the investment I put my money into, it will roll over and be reinvested into that investment and grow. It has nothing to do with interest.
We can estimate how much companies will grow based on their economic activity. If we estimate that a group of companies we’ve invested in will grow an average of 6% per year, and we reinvest that increase back into the same companies, what will happen? Let’s assume you are 25 years old, will retire at 65 years old, and pay 25% in taxes.
After 40 years, with only putting $1800 into a Roth IRA account, you’d have nearly $280k.
I know what some of you are saying: What good is 265k at 65 years old? Well let’s look at another example. Instead of only putting $1800 in, let’s max out every year. That means we’ll start with $1800 in our account, and then contribute $6000 a year with the same %6 estimated return (which remember is low).
Do this and you’d have almost one million dollars stashed away.
Want to try it yourself? Here’s the calculator I used.
BUT I’M WORRIED I’M INVESTING IN HARAM…
I understand that you are sensitive to investing into things that go against your values. I am the same. So what can you easily put into a Roth IRA that would save you the time of having to do Sharia compliance?
There are now a number of mutual funds, ETFs, and tools you can use to easily build a portfolio that only invests in shariah compliant (read: Halal) stocks and funds. Use the following tickers: $SPUS, $HLAL, $AMANX, $AMAGX, $AMDWX, $IMANX, $ADJEX, $WISEX as well as a few others.
If you want to buy individual stocks and need to see if they are Shariah compliant or not, you can sign up to Zoya.Finance, a free app that lists all the stocks in the US and gives you a report on whether they are shariah compliant. I am the company’s Shariah Advisor and supervise the screening logic used for the app.
WHAT IS STOPPING YOU?
You. You are stopping you. There’s no shortage of resources out there to educate yourself. But you are afraid. You are worried. You don’t want to jump into the unknown. Not investing and just leaving your cash sitting there is because you don’t know if it will earn anything is like saying you won’t pray today because you might miss a prayer tomorrow. It’s an illogical position and one based on fear. How can you get past your fears? Education.
The point here is, it’s not that hard and its not impossible. You can do this if you simply take very deliberate steps to putting money away for yourself first before spending it on things that you hardly use.
Want to learn more about retirements accounts like your IRA?
I’ve created a video course that covers all the essentials and more. 3 and 1/2 hours of content on 401k accounts, IRA accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and other important information. This course covers the details of investments and retirement accounts, the Islamic financial ethics to be considered, and how to purify your earnings in these accounts.
Reflections on a decade
Thinking back over the past 10 years, I find my mind racing to recall all the things meaningful to me during this time. Some of it is just a blank in my mind, some extremely vivid. Rather than a chronology of the various events and happenings of the last 10 years I’ve decided to review my emotions this decade. Most of what I write will be spontaneous, discernible to some but may be a but cryptic to others, but that’s the thing with emotions, they’re funny like that. Each and every one of us experience them differently. How we experience them ties together a myriad of thoughts, events, and reactions. Emotions string all this together, like a thread connecting our varying experiences to each other.
Neither positive or negative, every emotion is beneficial even if at first glance it seems to be negative. There’s a purpose for everything that happens in life. When we experience “negative” emotion, that’s very much part of the process of living. We are supposed to feel sad just as we feel happy. We are supposed to feel less than at times, just as we feel more. Life is good, although at times it doesn’t seem so. What we see as negative is what gives us equilibrium, re-calibrates our purpose, and reminds us of our mortality, frailty, and humanity.
As Garry Shandling said “We need something in our society that says let’s give importance to heart and authenticity not just money, power, and how we’re going to control the world.”
So here for you are my reflections and recollections on a few emotions I’ve experienced this last 10 years.
Yes well, what *is* love? This one’s really a difficult emotion to tackle. I think over time my concept of love has drastically changed. While many times we think of it as the warm fleeting feeling we get when we are with those that are closest to us, I think love is something else. Love is dedication. Love is service. Love is devotion. Love is appreciation. All of those things will play themselves out and manifest in different ways throughout your life. The biggest mistake that we make about love is that we think that it’s always supposed to be the same, it’s always supposed to have the same effect, and when that love changes then it no longer exists.
I recall calling my mother after the death of my father. It being the middle of the night where she lives I was sobbing into her answering machine. I said “I know that you don’t love my father anymore but I think you should know that he has passed away.” My mother called me in the morning and said to me words that I will never forget “Son, although we are divorced, it’s not that I don’t love your father. I still love him, I just love him differently now.”
Love is like a seed, it has to be watered, given sunlight, and cared for. Sometimes, like a plant, it grows and has to be moved to a different pot, another land, or a better environment. That doesn’t mean that the love that we had in the past didn’t exist or was wrong. But what it means is that just as we grow, morph, and change from children into adults, so does our love.
After this decade of loss of life and love, I resolve to allow love to remain for those I’ve lost, so that the positive they’ve brought into my life remains something I honor and recognize. I will honor myself by honoring the memory of them, both living and dead.
I was speaking with a good friend of mine who was visiting from abroad. Like me, he had gone through a divorce in the past. I needed to know how to deal with the pain and frustration that is very real afterwards. While talking, he said to me “Do you know what the opposite of Love is?” I said “Yes, obviously its hate.” He said “No you’re wrong. The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of Love is indifference. Hate is an emotion that occupies your heart and takes up space. Don’t give a space in your heart to someone you don’t love.”
There are many things that we love and hate about ourselves. Hate is an emotion that can consume you because you don’t want to honor yourself by allowing yourself to recognize the faults of others, and by extension your own faults. But hate is never a positive emotion unless it is done for God’s sake. We must love the good in people and hate the bad in them. But when we allow ourselves to be blinded to the good in others because of a (relatively) bad thing about them, we allow ourselves to be blinded by hate and that is not the same as disliking something for the sake of God. Malik reports in the Muwatta that Jesus was walking with his disciples and they passed by the carcass of a goat. His disciples said, “It’s so stinky and rotten!” He said, “Yes but look at its teeth they are so white!”
Learn to hate those things that attract you to sin and diminish your righteousness and learn to become indifferent to those things that are simply upsetting to your ego.
In reviewing the things I have “hated” over the last decade, whether that be people and their actions, or even myself and my own actions, in reality none of that was for God’s sake. When I look at hating others it was in reality only jealousy. Mad at what they had been given and I had not, I was envious of how they were able to leverage their resources in ways I was not. My self-hate was dishonesty with myself; I focused on others but failed to recognize my strengths and admit my faults. This is what held me back from my greatest potential.
Hate is an emotion that has to be preserved as a protective measure, to make sure that you dislike those things that will ultimately lead you the disbelief, sin, and lead you away from Jannah. Other than that, you should have no place in your heart for hate.
After my friend’s advice I’ve learned that I have to love and if not then be indifferent. See someone with blessings? Love that for them and if not be indifferent. It has no effect on your life. If I myself have been blessed with something then I must recognize that in myself, not hate it, not be ashamed, not feel bad for being good at what God has blessed me with. If there are things that I struggle with and do not like about myself, then my mandate is to focus on the positive, while recognizing the negative and being indifferent to it. This is not an easy thing to do and the struggle is real.
I remember going to my friend and personal trainer Chris and complaining to him about pain and tension in the back of my knee. He told me to lie down on the floor and to twist my foot out while keeping my knees in front of me. He then said to another person at the gym “Look at that, what does that tell you?” Not to bore you with the details but essentially what I thought was a bad knee turned out to simply a signal that other things in my body we’re not working how they should have. I would have to make changes to my lifestyle, in my mobility, and my physical fitness to be able to quiet that signal and solve the problem. It had nothing to do with pain or my knee.
Pain has been a very real feeling over the past 10 years. Whether it is the enduring pain of the loss of my father and my grandmother, the pain of separation and divorce, the pain of raising children and its related challenges, the pain of loss of business and opportunity, the pain of pushing myself forward for personal growth, the pain of consistency and time management, the pain of self-reflection and of learning to be vulnerable. All of this pain is very real, but what did it tell me?
We many times think of pain as a negative emotion. Because we experience pain, we think that we are wrong, bad, or not worthy. But pain doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy, or that you’re a bad person. Like that knee, it is a signal. It’s letting you know that the noise in your life has gotten so loud that you have to be alerted to your need for change. Of all of the different types of pain that I listed above I have become grateful to God for every single one of them. Each has allowed me to grow personally in ways that I would have never imagined had that signal not turned on for me one day.
Always ask, “What is pain telling me?”
At my grandmother’s funeral in 2014, some of my relatives were worried that I would not be able to enter the church because I was a Muslim. My mother quipped “Do you think if he walks in, he’s going to spontaneously combust?!” My aunt said “Jesus, you didn’t have to put it like that!” My mom smiled and said, “Don’t worry he believes in Jesus too!”
Later on, as we gathered for the funeral we the grandchildren were asked to stand at the front of the church with my grandmother’s lifeless body. As we stood there and our parents were in the pews, my stepfather remarked that instead of the thick black jacket that I had worn due to the cold I should have color coordinated with my siblings and worn something gray.
I grabbed the upper button of my coat’s lapel, tugged it a bit, and simply said with a smile “It’s fire retardant.” He smiled back then chuckled, then everyone else in our family audibly laughed, much to the chagrin of other parishioners. We greeted those entering to pay their respects, all of us with a smile on our faces at least for a second. As we walked away, I took one last look at my grandmother in her open casket. I knew that that was the exact level of jovial melancholy that would have made her laugh as well. Looking back on this moment, we were all able breathe a bit easier at a time when the air was very heavy. I was content, and remember this as one of the most beautiful moments in my life.
There haven’t been many times that I feared for my life. Fear comes in different forms. There is one time however when I was living in Saudi Arabia and having been one of the students of that time that owned a vehicle, I drove some friends to Mecca. One of our friends with us was from Morocco. His father lived at the top of a mountain in Mecca and so instead of walking the steep incline we decided to drive. He said to me, “I know these streets like the back of my hand so just continue to drive.” As we went up the winding roads on the side of the mountain scooting past other cars on streets that seems too small, we reached a small incline that we would need to overcome in order to get to flatter more navigable asphalt. My car was at such an incline that I couldn’t even see over my front of the hood. I had no idea what was in front of me. I asked them to get out of the car, lighten the load, and guide me on the street. My Moroccan friend said “Absolutely not! Just drive straight, I’m sure that there’s a road there!” Something in me said this is not the thing to do so, I put the car in park and refused to move until someone got out and guided me. As I drove up one of them said “okay let off the brakes, step on the gas and cut a hard left.” I did as he instructed and as I as I came over the incline, I noticed that had I obeyed my friend in the passenger seat all six of us in the car at that time would have drove off of a cliff and plunged to our deaths into a rocky quarry. I got out of my car, walked up to the edge, and looked down. I felt a huge sense of fear for my life but also an immense amount of relief.
It’s amazing how many times the things that we fear in life are not absolute unknowns, but they are the known unknowns. Small children aren’t afraid of climbing trees or petting dogs. But once they are bitten or they fall down they develop a fear of doing those things again. Them falling or getting bit again is probably not going to happen, but our human brains go into protection mode and want to save us from the pain again. So, we suppress our urge to climb higher and to interact with things that were interested in. We allow fear to overcome us, we stash it away deep inside of us, then we sit inactive and do nothing. We wonder why, but in reality, it’s because we are trying to avoid our fears, instead of face them head on and find solutions through them.
Don’t suppress your fear. Expand your comfort zone. Normalize what you’re afraid of.
When we think about happiness, we tend to think about major events that bring joy. A marriage, the birth of a child, a graduation, a major accomplishment. Yes, all of those things make us happy. But is that was “joy” necessarily is? I’ve started to rethink this. I try to look at life as a constant joy. What I mean by this is: when our focus is on making ourselves happy, this means we think we are normally not. When we talk about living a good life, it’s almost as if we assume that life by default is not good.
When I think back on this decade sure there were a few major events that made me extremely happy. My four oldest children graduated from high school. Oldest of the four graduated from college, got employed, finished memorizing the Quran, and got married. I finished teaching several courses and felt a sense of accomplishment. These are things that no doubt made me very happy.
But where do I find my joy. Thinking back over the last 10 years I find my joy in the little things, the things that usually we take for granted, the things that come and go quickly. These things I like to think of as the building blocks of our life. I think back to gifts my children bring home for me from school, to the times when they ask me to take them to buy supplies for their science projects, to the times when someone gives me a firm handshake after prayer and simply says thank you, to the times when parents in the community would mention to me how grateful they were for my ex-wife’s teaching abilities and the care that she showed their children in class, to the expenses that although they seem to take money away from us helped build frequent flyer miles and allowed my parents to be with me when my children graduated, to the blessings of a dedicated class of students study in the Quran together now for five years. All of these things are joy. I remember one Sunday this year I walked into the school building to teach class. As I entered the door someone looked up and simply smiled at me. That smile brightened my entire week and has remained a glimmer of joy in my memory since. Joy is simple. Its those silly memes that a friend and I consistently trade over Twitter DMs. It’s that text from a person who just messages out of the blue to say that you are appreciated. Joy is a warm hug from your child. Joy is the cool breeze that refreshes you while you wait outside. It’s the small things that happen, are almost not noticed, and many times disregarded. They are the small things that are a catalyst for the great things.
I want you to think back to everything that happened over the last decade and realize that the small things that pleased you are the plot points on your timeline of happiness.
No matter how small they are, they are significant and move us forward.
With the year 2020 commencing and a new decade starting, I hope that you can find joy in every moment moving forward, leading you down the line to happiness in this life and ultimate happiness in the next.
Lots of times we as men as told “crying isn’t manly.” It is a stereotype taught to us as men from the time we are small. Not through words necessarily, but many times by the way we are allowed to express our emotions & how emotional interactions are modeled for us.
Crying is a natural reaction to grief.
The Prophet cried when his son Ibrahim died. Someone said “You cry and you’re God’s messenger?!” He replied “The eyes shed tears, the heart grieves, yet we only say what pleases our Lord.”
Crying is praiseworthy. It’s a natural reaction to awe & inspiration. “Those given knowledge before, when it is recited to them, fall prostrate saying Glory to Our Lord His promise indeed comes to pass. They fall prostrate, crying, & it increases their devotion.” Quran 17:107-109
Crying is a natural reaction to God’s remembrance. The Prophet said “There are seven shaded by God’s shade on the day there is no shade but His…” He mentioned from them “a man who mentions God while all alone and his eyes burst with tears.”
Think about this last one. Think about being so full of emotional charge that the mere mention of God brings you to tears. A person who gets to this level has to be not only contemplative but also acutely in touch with his emotions.
Ibn Masūd was asked by the Prophet to recite the Quran. He said: I’m supposed to recite to you & it was revealed to you?! He said: I like to listen to others. So when he recited “so how will it be when we bring from every nation a witness & we bring you as a witness against them?” He said: The prophet then said “that’s enough” and I looked up and he was weeping. Narrated by Bukhari & Muslim.
Here the prophet was man enough to not only listen to others recite, but to cry when he himself was overcome by emotion.
Another instance, he walked up to some of his companions who were digging a grave. He asked why and they told him who had died. He walked to the edge of the grave, started to cry, and said with a sigh “Yeh brothers, for the likes of this you need to prepare.” Narrated by Ibn Majah. Muslim narrates the Prophet visited his mother’s grave. He cried & all those around cried as well.
Crying because of the loss of a loved one whether a child or parent, whether alone or in the presence of other men is prophetic character. Who is to say that’s not manly?
Abdullah b. Rawaha was sitting with his head in his wife’s lap. He cried, then so did she. He asked why? She said I saw you crying. He said I remembered the verse “Not one of you but he will pass by it” (i.e. hellfire) & I don’t know if I’ll survive or not. ~ alMustadrak
Look at how beautiful this narration is. A husband & wife spending time together. He finds a moment of vulnerability; because he trusts & loves her he shows it. Because she cares for him she cries as well. She doesn’t grill him as to why or chastise him for being weak. She mirrors him.
Allowing our boys to express their emotions naturally is the only way that we will raise boys who will act with empathy, chivalry, and honor instead of lashing out or acting belligerently. Honor your sons, husbands, & fathers’ authentic emotions and they will honor you.
When we let our sons cry, vent, and get it out, it builds resilience and strength. When we tell them to suck it up and chastise them, we bottle up that pressure, suppress positive emotion, and can only wait for that to explode one day.
Suppressing emotion is not prophetic. The prophet kissed his grandson. A Bedouin said I have 10 sons and I’ve never kissed any of them. He replied saying “What can I do if God has stripped mercy from your heart?”
To combat the toxic expression of emotion we have to have a holistic understanding of how that toxicity is created. Boys don’t grow up into men with toxic emotions simply because they are male. It’s not a function of genetics or gender. It’s a function of conditioning.
Both men and women, mothers and fathers, need to encourage boys and young men to express their emotions naturally without stigmatizing them or calling them toxic, weak, effeminate, or lacking. They shouldn’t stifle them by holding them to a standard of resilience and perseverance that is beyond the human condition.
Next time a boy or man comes to you, regardless if he is in trouble or is simply not feeling well, do this:
1- Listen to what he has to say.
2- Ask if he feels sad or down.
3- Give him a hug & tell him it’s ok.
4- Tell him to cry if he wants to. Say: Just let it out.
By allowing the men in our lives the ability to pass through the crucible of difficult emotions we allow them to rewire their brains for more positive interactions and the level of resilience that we want to see from them so that they can pass it on to others.
Welcome Development, Cautious Celebration
Princeton theological seminary recently announced that it would be awarding 27 million dollars in scholarships as reparation for its involvement in the history of slavery, although it – as an institution – was not involved in the slave trade itself. The PTSEM was founded in 1812. While it did not own slaves, it did benefit from the slave economy through investment. By doing business with Southern banks and accepting donations from those who profited directly and indirectly from slavery. Its founding faculty and leaders used slave labor during their lifetime.
“Princeton Theological Seminary will set aside more than $25 million to pay reparations for its historical ties to slavery, thrusting the seminary to the forefront of a national debate over how America’s should reconcile with its slave-owning past. Calling the payments an act of repentance, President M. Craig Barnes said in a statement Friday the seminary is “committed to telling the truth,” even though the seminary itself never owned slaves.” [link]
Princeton theological seminary has a 1 billion dollar endowment, largely a result of the Seminary’s long history of accepting donations as mentioned previously. The details of this involvement can be found in the PTSEM’s “Slavery and the Seminary as Institution”.
The reparations will not include cash awards, but instead scholarships and programs will be created for students. 30 new scholarships, at the cost of tuition plus $15,000, will be awarded to students who are descendants of slaves or from “underrepresented groups.” Among the other initiatives planned are the seminary designating five doctoral fellowships for students who are descendants of slaves and hire a full-time director for the Center for Black Church Studies. While this certainly is a welcome development, in my opinion we have to be cautious in celebrating too soon, as it is unclear what is meant by “underrepresented groups.” In a strictly legal sense, reparations are due to descendants only to the exclusion of others, however underrepresented they are.
Islamic Legal Precedent for Reparations
So what is the Islamic legal position on reparations? Are the descendants of slaves due restitution of the damages caused to their ancestors? One of the first instances of reparations being awarded is recorded by Ibn Rushd al-Jadd about an incident in Cordoba circa 5th century. While I have been working on a detailed paper on this issue for sometime I’ve held off until I read both Jonathan AC Brown and Bernard K. Freamon‘s recently released books on slavery and the Islamic world.
What is an Islamic Theory of Reparations based on?
The Islamic position on reparations centers itself on three core concepts:
- The prohibition of selling a free person
- The imprescriptible right to restitutionary damages for harm and injury
- The invalidity of escheatment of these rights when living heirs exist
In the simplest terms:
Kidnapping a person and selling them into slavery is forbidden. If that person cannot be returned to their family, then you owe blood-wit for their murder as well as the projected value of their work in supporting their family.
As long as these amounts go unpaid, they compound and remain due to the heirs of that individual. Failure to pay represents a form of unlawful seizure that damages are due for as well, due to lost opportunity costs. The simple passing of time does not forfeit their inheritors’ rights to these compounded amounts and they cannot be stripped away by the state. If specific lineage cannot be established, but general relationships can, an equitable pro-rated distribution would be awarded.
A Core Concept of Justice
For Muslims it is a core concept of justice to support the idea of slavery reparations. Texts of the Quran enjoining justice and hadith texts invoking God’s curse on those that enslave the free and profit financially from their misery should come to mind here. While it is natural to ask how such reparations would be equitably distributed, it is not natural to consider that a delayed right finally being awarded to the descendants of people oppressed and wronged is somehow unfair to those who are not included in that category. Asking a question like “Isn’t this unfair to people who won’t receive money?” is like saying “Isn’t it unfair that you inherit from your father & I don’t?” Ensuring that the rights of lawful recipients are awarded and safeguarded is a core function of Islamic legal justice.