Real Men Cry

[Asma Ahmad is a Muslim American Social Worker who has been pursuing graduate studies in clinical Social Work and working with a state-certified batterer intervention program where she has had the opportunity to provide treatment and psycho-education to domestic violence offenders. Asma is also the Project Manager for Project Sakinah’s Northern Virginia chapter.]

Tears rolled down his face and drenched his beard as he cried. He cried in public and in private, setting an example for the men and women of his Ummah that the emotional manifestation of our internal states is a true sign of a connected soul. He cried from the fear of Allah, out of compassion for his followers, and in empathetic exchanges between his blessed companions. In studying the life of our Messenger (salallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), we see countless examples of times when he cried without hesitation, and yet today, the perception of crying in our communities and societies has turned into one of weakness and inferiority.

For men and boys in particular, our collective culture views crying as something incompatible with the idea of masculinity. The effects of this mindset are not only contrary to the practice of our Messenger (salallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), but they can have drastically negative impacts when it comes to the issue of family relationships, empathy, and anger. For Muslim parents, there is a need now more than ever to think critically about the values and perceptions children are developing in regards to what masculinity entails and what it means.

“Crying is for girls,” and “Real men don’t cry” are not uncommon messages we hear through today’s media outlets. Our children hear these messages in schools and from friends, but these skewed perceptions can be corrected if we take it upon ourselves to show them a different example, a real and humanistic example of our Messenger (salallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). Among the negative ramifications of these ideas is that children do not develop proper emotion regulation skills and instead find other, often destructive means of expressing any pain or hurt they experience. They may feel that bottling their emotions and presenting an invincible image of themselves is a way to truly feel that they are worthy, valuable, and powerful. Over time, this can cripple any ability to relate to others compassionately, because all they have seen and heard has convinced them that hiding emotions is a sign of being masculine. Here, we must ask ourselves and our children to ponder deeply on the example of the man who was the strongest on the battlefield, the strongest in his iman, and highest in ranks before Allah, yet demonstrated compassion through his tears, his actions, and his words. We need to remind ourselves of the examples of our Messenger’s empathy towards people and his openness in expressing what he felt.

Building the muscles for compassion and emotional sensitivity should be at the forefront of any goals a parent has for teaching interpersonal skills to their children. When asked about the definition of compassion, most people say something along the lines of caring for another person and feeling what they are feeling. Teaching this concept to children can start at a very basic level where parents can help to instill in them a value of open communication and understanding their own emotions as they experience them, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, irritation, etc. For younger children, this is a critical time when parents must decide between encouraging appropriate expression or limiting it depending on their response to the child’s emotions. The next level of developing compassion could include helping children to think about how and why the other person felt the way they did in the same situation, otherwise known as perspective-taking. In heated moments, children and adults alike can be blinded to the idea of what another person is feeling. Developing this skill is always going to be a work in progress, but at the earliest stage possible, children should be encouraged to consider what others are going through before following through with any reaction. One of reasons our Messenger (salallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) was incredibly effective in problem-solving and conflict resolution is because he had an incredible capacity to think about others’ with respect to their situations and circumstances. Teaching children the next stage of problem-solving in difficult situations can be made easy by constantly reminding them to empathize with others before speaking and acting.

With the unfortunately increasing rates of bullying, violence, and abuse of all kinds in our society, there is no better option for parents seeking to raise compassionate children, than to return to the example of our Messenger (salallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). He was the strongest in his faith and his actions for this deen, but this strength was coupled with humility. We cannot study the seerah without reading and learning about the Prophet’s crying, yet this sunnah is in constant need of revival, and it is upon the parents to be the primary educators and trainers in this regard.

A National Crisis of the Heart

Somethings been bothering me and it has to do with the way people are respoding to Hurricane Sandy. The storm which has ravaged New York, affected several states and has claimed many lives is being mocked and belittled.  A friend as his status wrote: “ I bet all the ppl saying they were tired of hearing about the NE whining about a little Cat 1, are feeling pretty bad right about now.”

To that a person responded – “Did the coast flood just like it does in Fl. And the entire south east 3 times every year?  Did they loose some board walks along rivers and the ocean just like we loose piers and boat docks every year. Did someone have their basement flooded?  Was there a random shingle misplaced on a few roofs?  What?”

I was taken back, is there some resentment for the North? Do Southeners think there better than us because they have more Hurricanes? Or does this person just lack the compassion to understand the pain or suffering of others?

Okay, so that may have been a random post I thought to myself, but I was mistaken. On a NYT web article about Hurricane Sandy peoples’ comments ranged from the absurd to just spiteful,  these are few of the comments I found:

“With all the warning there is no reason ANYONE should have died in this storm.”

“Agree.  OK, so the power’s gonna be out and the subways down and some coastal homes were destroyed by fire and flooding.  I don’t see bodies floating in the streets.” – Los Angeles, California

“As one who lost everything to hurricane Katrina, I can’t help but think of the many New Yorkers who responded to my grief when I returned to settle back in NYC with the words  “What did you expect?  You chose to live in New Orleans”   Or some variant thereof.   May you learn from your current suffering that there are limits to the control we have over our lives. ” – Austin, TX

I am sorry to inform you that we have a national crisis. No this time it’s not weather related. I think our hearts have become  hardened. We are unable to feel compassion for our fellow Countrymen’s suffering and pain. I’m sure some of you will blame it on the increase use of technology, the decrease of quality personal interactions, or  the lack of time we have to gain meaningful experiences. The only thing I know is that a person that lacks compassion will not get very far in life.

As our Prophet taught us that our neighbors have certain rights on us : “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbor is hungry.” (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)

So if you feel that you are not being able to empathize with people or being able to be a compassionate person, pray to Allah that he softens your heart and gives you the ability to feel for other that are in pain and suffering. If you think that people that have been inflicted by this storm are being punished than this is a reminder from Imam Abdul-Azeez, director of the SALAM Islamic Center of Sacramento:

“Natural disasters cannot be God’s wrath of punishment for sin, for  they indiscriminately kill innocent people. We know Allah is just. How  can he punish some for the faults of others? The Quran says, in many  locations: “ no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s  burden”. In the hadith Qudssi, Allah says: “My worshippers, I have made  injustice and transgression forbidden with respect to myself, and made  it prohibited amongst you, so do not commit injustice!””

Imam Azeez points out the three reasons that we are inflicted with natural disaters

1- They are a test for us! Allah says: “And certainly we shall test  you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits,  but give glad tidings to those who exercise patience” (al-Baqarah)

2- They serve the purpose of bringing us closer to Allah (swt).

3- They bring us all together!

Let’s unite together and not pick geographic locality, religion, or other types of labels to stop us from  feeling  for people who are suffering as a result of hurricane Sandy, political unrest in Syria and countless other catastrophes that are happening worldwide.