Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Perform Thanks

“I’malu aala dawooda shukra…”
"Work, people of David, with thanks."

There is an activity that has been suggested so many times, but I never actually sat down and did it until recently. The exercise is to write down all of Allah’s blessings upon you, starting from the obvious then working your way to ones you never thought about. Write down the blessing of sight, health, loved ones, and possessions. Write down Islam, the ability to comprehend the Quran. Write down the name of that friend or person who is the love of your life, your best friend, your parent, and your child. And then dig deeper and write down your abilities, talents, the thoughts in your soul that comfort you when you are sad and keep you company when you are lonely.

If this activity overwhelmed you, as it did me, and you felt your throat choked and paralyzed with shame at how you have fallen short of thanks, wondering how on earth to begin, the answer is always to move forward. There is no negative, fearful, humbling feeling in Islam that is not accompanied with an overwhelming sense of hope and a call to action. Until the final moments of life, we are never powerless, never doomed. We always have the Hereafter itself literally a footstep away.

“I’malu aala dawooda shukra…”

Perform thanks. Do not merely say it, feel it, reflect upon it. Perform it.

We cannot expect only to be polite with Allah, and then win His pleasure and salvation. It is not enough to offer token words of thanks, and then move on with our lives. We are His servants, His vicegerents on earth, entrusted with a mission and gifted with such blessing and ability. All that we listed on that sheet of paper, all of those blessings that we managed to count as well as the innumerable ones we left out, those are tools for us to serve Him with. We will be held accountable for them if we don’t.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Uniqueness of Every Child

A friend and I were laughing because we both felt we are wonderful mothers
--while our kids are asleep. During the short pause in whining, screaming, and cleaning after, the ideas and inspiration and excitement begin to well up. It's almost like I want to shake them awake and read them a story ... almost.

Here is a short, inspiring clip to watch while your kids are asleep.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Knitting the Dishes

Sometimes we wash the dishes, and sometimes we knit them.

I’ve started my on-off habit of knitting again, because of the distant prospect of moving to a cold climate someday. Then, I hope my family will be happy for the thick, warm, homemade socks, hats, and mittens. For now though, the knitting habit serves to keep the housework from ruling my life.

A sink filled with dishes taunts me all day, laughs at me, and pulls me away from my kids. Every night, my daughter drinks two cups of milk before bed, and now that we are doing away with sippy cups (I’m tired of cleaning out milk that has turned into sour cheese), she sits in her chair and chats in her two-year-old vocabulary.

Normally, I would be unable to ignore the dishes. I would wash and scrub the sink clean with my children babbling in the background. But now, anchored to a ball of yarn and knitting needles, I can sit at our new kitchen table late at night, listen, and enjoy my daughter’s exploration of her newly acquired language.

“Ana ashrab balan. Ashrab balan. Ana ashrab balan. Balan min…al-baqarah. Ashrab balan min al-baqarah. Ashrab…aseer. Ashrab aseer. Ashrab aseer…min al-baqarah. Ureedu aseer min al-baqarah. Ana ureedu aseer min al-baqarah. Umee, ureedu aseer min al-baqarah. Umee, ureedu aseer min al-baqarah. Umee…”
“I drink milk. I drink milk. I drink milk from a cow. Drinking milk from a cow. Drinking milk … juice. I drink juice. I drink juice….from a cow. I want juice from a cow. I want juice from a cow. Umee, I want juice from a cow. Umee, I want juice from a cow. Umee, …”

I smile, knit, and ignore the dishes. And explain that only milk comes from a cow.

“Ana khayyat? Ana khayyat…ma’aki? Khayyat ma’ umee? Ana khayyat…kabeeeeeeela. Khayyat kabeeeeeeeela. Oooh, umee, jameelah. Jameelah jiddan umee. Khayyat ana jameela?”
“I sew? I sew…with you? Sew…with umee? I sew…when I’m BIIIIIIIIG. Sew when BIIIIIIIIIG. Oooh, umee, it’s pretty. Very pretty umee. I sew pretty too?”

Yes, Insha’allah you’ll sew pretty things too when you are bigger. The house is quiet and still, little sister and father are asleep. Our bedtime milk chat is almost done, and the sink is still filled with dirty dishes.

“Hibbeeni Umee? Hibbeeni?”
“Do you love me Umee? Love me?”

Yes, my love. And Alhamdulillah that I am knitting right now, not washing the dishes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Creepy, Crawly

Several months ago, I posted a story about a snail, and how I was trying to teach our two-year-old daughter to love all things in nature, including the creepy crawly stuff. Even though mom is not too tolerant herself.

Here's a little update on our progress (it's a cockroach):

Well, we'll keep trying.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

If We Grow Old Alone...

I hoped to work on this a little more, so as to be a more presentable piece, but it's not happening. So here are my loose thoughts on a very broad topic:

The scene still haunts: an old Asian woman, tiny, frail, her back hunched over, a kind-looking face, digging in the trash cans of a San Francisco park. She must have been at least 70 years old, perhaps a mother, maybe a widow. She pushed a shopping cart in which she stored the bottles, cans, and recyclable items which she would then exchange for a few cents apiece.

While we sat in the park enjoying the community picnic, we saw four or five such elderly women foraging the trash bins. One of them looked self-consciously at us and other people in the park before putting her latex-gloved hands in the trash, ashamed.

The older I grow and the more of a "woman" I become, in terms of experiencing the various stages of a woman's life, the deeper my understanding of Islam's honoring, protecting, and empowerment of the female half of mankind. I always knew that Islam honored women, uplifted them and appreciated them, but the longer I live the more I am wordless to describe the harmony of this system with the human being's natural constitution. I am sure many other Muslim women journeying through life share that same realization.

The American discourse around the rights of Muslim women is largely dominated and addressed to the needs of the young, educated, middle-class population, only we don't see it. It is perfectly fine to discuss the rights of women with status, youth, and education, but some provisions in Islam just don't make sense unless they are considered from the viewpoint of all women and from the perspective of all stages in a woman's life. The presence of this discourse specific to our circumstances is good, but should not ignore the needs of all women.

Islam says to all women, "I don't care if you are elderly, poor, or unknown. I don't care if you are 15 years old or 90. I don't care if you had ten children, or none. I don't care if you are a businesswoman or are illiterate. I don't care if you are a divorcee, a widow, or unmarried. You do not need to be loved by a man to be valued. You, as a woman, are to be honored, respected, and provided for if you wish, and all society is responsible for ensuring that you are so."

Sometimes, we—and I'm assuming the few who will read this are American, educated, middle-class Muslims—look at Islam's provisions for women as overbearing. We go out of our way to demonstrate that a woman can work, that a woman is as competent in the workplace as a man, that she doesn't have to stay home with her children, that polygamy is not the norm in a society like ours. We forget that, for the overwhelming majority of women in the world, those provisions are life-savers and incredible sources of mercy and relief. Those provisions may not be the choice of every woman, but their existence in Islam is a source of empowerment for our gender, keeping women out of the dog-eat-dog struggle for survival alongside or against men.

I sometimes picture myself as a single mother, wondering what it's like for the millions of American mothers out there. Ya Allah, the job of motherhood is tough enough as it is, what if I had to play the role of breadwinner too? And then I imagine that I didn't graduate from college, that I didn't have a family to help me, that I was all alone—like most single moms. That I was forced to work a 12-hour workday at minimum wage, so that I could afford our rent in a dingy apartment and be able to pay the tuition at a dismal daycare with substandard health conditions. I could not watch my kids grow, nurture them, because I was so busy trying to feed them and clothe them. Because in her culture, it is survival of the fittest and no one, not even mothers or grandmothers, are entitled to more than any one else.

Most women are dealing with those issues. Many African American women don't marry period, because it is so difficult for them to find men who will care for them and provide for them (read this article from the Washington Post). Should women who are poor, unable to find a suitable husband for whatever reason, disabled, or widowed just give up on marriage and raising families? Or does Islam give them a way out?

By shifting our framework and forcing the discourse to take into consideration the situation of all people, maybe we can understand more deeply the way the Islamic system works for women. We can begin to appreciate that in Islam, a woman is entitled to provision by the closest male relative, and if he refuses, the government should take her right from him by force. If she has no relations, then providing for her becomes the responsibility of the state, which must ensure that she is safe, sheltered, and honored.

I know the Islamic system is not being implemented in totality anywhere in the world. But how comforting to know, that if it ever is, women would not be reduced to the situations they find themselves in today. And even within our daily lives, Islam intervenes to make sure we are living a full, valued, meaningful life. Islam's got your back, sista.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bringing the Sand Monsters Home

In spirit of my last post, my daughters and I spent this morning on the beach, which is about a half hour away. (Actually, I left a stroller in the trunk of a rental car, which is the real reason I drove down to Galveston, but you don’t need to know that)

There are moments when I close my eyes and think about how blessed I am. Blessed to be a mother, blessed to have the luxury of staying at home with my children, blessed to be able to come to the seashore whenever I wish, blessed to have the wherewithal to appreciate these moments of peace and contemplation. There is something about the cool ocean wind that cleanses me and gives me clarity, sets aright my priorities. No other place reminds me so profoundly of the power of Allah (swt).

Oh, the joy of watching children taking in the seaside. Observing them is refreshing. The exuberant big one runs up and down the beach, chasing the sandpipers and throwing seashells into the waves. She runs as fast as she can, her short legs flailing and arms outstretched, face beaming. The little one, the scientist, picks up various shell fragments, delicately fingers them, turns them over and over again in her hands, daintily puts them in her mouth. Sand in her hair and on her eyelashes, she squeals in delight when the waves come close or the gulls flap their wings.

Then, when their hair becomes too tangled with the wind and their hands are too caked with sand to finish their sandwiches, I carry my sand monsters to the car. They sleep all the way home, and sleep for another two hours in their beds, with sunburned noses and sand between their toes. Usually, I can only be aghast at how difficult this job of motherhood is. But times like this, I think, oh, so blessed alhamdulillah.

We need to visit the shore every week.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Climbing Trees is Boring

When I was little, we used to climb trees. That was not fifteen years ago. When was the last time you saw a child climb a tree?

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv argues that American kids may have everything, but they are tremendously deprived. They suffer from what he deftly calls Nature-Deficit Disorder. Not only do they not know how to appreciate nature, relish it, explore it—they don’t even realize it’s there.

The evening of Halloween, I realized there were kids in my neighborhood. Lured out of their homes by promises of entertainment and sugar, I saw them in their costumes. I drive down my street everyday, at all times of the day, and I never see kids in the yards. There are swing sets and sandboxes, bicycles in the garages, lush backyards, but no kids.

Stimulated, indoors, overfed, entertained, overscheduled, and told how to play, children are losing their childhood. Many children, Louv says, cannot identify a single plant or bird. Few have ever held an earthworm, listened closely to a bird call, or observed animals outside of a zoo. What they are missing out on, what only contemplation of Allah’s creation around them can teach them, is humility. Wonder. Knowledge.

The Quran is crystal clear on the role of contemplation, thought, and observation of nature as a path to connecting with the Creator: “Do they not look at the camels, how they are created? And at the sky, how it is raised high? And at the mountains, how they are fixed firm? And at the earth, how it is spread out? Therefore remind, for you are only a reminder.”

Children are born with an overpowering sense of curiosity and desire to learn about everything around them. For young children, you only have to let them free and they will pick up sticks, squat in the dirt and watch the ants, and point in delight at birds flying overhead. For older children who are accustomed to being electronically entertained, this intrinsic curiosity and at-home feeling in nature must be awakened and revived. Somehow, in the process of growing up in the modern world, that creativity and curiosity is squashed. In the San Jose Children’s Museum, there was a quote on the walls that resounded with me, minus the part about the good fairy, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”

I have always noticed, during our visits to area parks, out-of-the-way of the typical touristy places, that the people we find there are peaceful, friendly, and plain nice. The hikers we pass walk in silence for miles, no ipods or stereos within miles, watching in wonder, thinking. Their kids sit by a lake, waiting for the fish to bite, comfortable with silence and the buzzing of dragonflies. Maybe a better place to be present as Muslims and meet people is in such places, in addition to the city corners, lecture halls, and subway stops.

The finest education for a child is tiny plot of wilderness, be it in a backyard, a balcony, or a forest. You do not need to live in the Rocky Mountains. Find a creek where he can turn over rocks and watch what scurries from underneath. Place a pot of soil that she can tend and touch and feel. Let them run barefoot and free in the grass, splash in puddles. Forget the mud and dirt and bugs—that’s what bathtubs are for.

Show them the everyday animals and plants around them so they can study and watch in awe. Teach them to learn something then observe and build off that knowledge. In order to savor the experience of nature, the child learns to enjoy silence, be comfortable with solitude, and create activities for herself.

All of the insightful, exceptional people I know, whether intellectuals or activists, professors or mothers, have a fascination with something, a passion for knowledge and exploration. It is not all leaves and bugs and seashells—some wonder at the stars, at the layered worlds underneath the earth’s crust, at subatomic forces, at the development of a child’s mind. I’m not talking about passing or unexplored interests, all of us have those. What I mean is a deep fascination that consumes their thoughts, one that they could spend hours reading about or contemplating—a sense of wonder and awe towards creation that leads them, from deep within their souls, to worship the Creator. It is those little things, the leaves and bugs and seashells, that first spark curiosity and humility, which lead to great hearts and great character.

I worry for the kids of active Islamic families. Rightly but wholly absorbed with preserving their faith in their children, or sometimes too busy for holistic development of a child’s mind, they are unaware of the necessity of connecting children with nature, of developing hobbies, the essential role of outdoor exploration and free play. I see a lot of Muslim kids with stunted creativity or an inability to entertain themselves. I would argue, as important as teaching children about the prophets or the companions, is to teach them to marvel at the mountains, to identify plant species, and wonder about the language of the bees.

Faced with a field of toads, wagons to pull, shovels and buckets, and trees to climb, they can only say, “This is so boring." And sit on the curbside and playing portable video games.

Nothing impresses them and nothing sparks a drive to learn more. Everything in their surrounding entertains them and stimulates them, even those who read are increasingly fed the Harry-Potter genre that is high on instant humor and leaves little to the imagination. They must only remain passive to enjoy the fruits.

Not that the average American kid is any better off. But I expect more of Muslims, who have Islam to teach them what is most in harmony with natural human constitution. If we lose this connection to the earth and do not foster in our kids an attachment to Allah’s creation, I fear we will lose a crucial aspect of the Islamic personality.

Where do we come in as parents? I often fall short of immersing my children in nature, because sometimes the overwhelming task of parenthood leaves little room for creativity. Rachel Carson said, and this gives me motivation, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

We must model a connection to nature and revive our own interest in aspects of nature, if we are to pass it on to our kids. Think about it--really, would you rather spend your day cruising shopping aisles or sitting on a bedsheet in a park while your children romp, eat fresh cucumbers, and watch the clouds. In the process of slowing down and reconnecting, we may just find our faith rejuvenated. What a wonderful gift to pass on to our children: a lifelong passion, a healthy pastime, and the way to a place, just outside their back doors, where they can always reconnect with their Creator.

So let's take our kids and go climb a tree!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Up and Running. Maybe. Insha'allah.

Fresh coffee, warm sea winds, migrating butterflies, and babies playing barefoot in the sand. Who wouldn’t be inspired to write?

I’ve been holding out posting on my blog forever. First, because I was so busy with the move and kids, and then because I wanted to come back with a big shebang-of-a-post but couldn’t come up with anything riveting enough. (Four months you’ve been away and that all you have to talk about is a conversation with a telemarketer and a sippy cup?!)

There’s a poet inside that begs to be released whenever I experience something beautiful or sad. The more we sink into our, alhamdulillah, happy, settled routine, the more I simply must do something creative. Procrastination, hesitation, and embarrassment at putting my thoughts out there keep me away from actually sitting at a desk, and I’ve settled for lists of to-write-about topics.

Like I said, there are some things that make it impossible for me not to write. Then, I find myself rushing to a keyboard or notebook spilling over with ideas and words. A couple of those things have happened lately.

And, oh yes, I bought a coffee maker.

I don’t know how often I’ll post, and I might disappear again. I’d like eventually to do something structured with this blog, but not now.

For now, it’s just a quiet place of my own.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Frugality Movement

Unknown to me until two days ago, there is actually a frugality movement in the United States. It was more popular in the eighties and nineties—now it has become so squelched by a techno-consumerist generation that laughs at coupons.

My interest is piqued. I’m not a spendthrift by any standard, but I also don’t pay much attention whether a can of soup costs $1.99 or $2.25. A frugal person would say that’s about $50 wasted on that weekly can of soup each year. I also have weaknesses for certain products—like strollers, parenting books, and In-N-Out cheeseburgers. So I do have something to gain from the penny-wise.

These frugal individuals are successful, middle-class, mostly female homemakers, who rebel against rampant consumerism and harrowing, long-hour jobs by skimping on everyday expenses and resisting the hypnotic chant to “buy…buy…buy.” They shop at garage sales, collect hundreds of coupons, grow their own vegetables, and ask themselves three times before they buy anything, “can I possibly do without this?” Their husbands retire early and can spend more time at home, leading to a fuller family environment.

Some take it to far--making regular trips to dumpsters and recycling their own trash. But a balanced approach teaches children growing up, through lifestyle, that money is not to buy anything you want. Even if you have an allowance and save money, it’s not your ticket to happiness. Look for that somewhere else.

I checked out a few books from the library, The Simple Life and Don’t Waste Money, Spend It! I liked the idea that money is made for spending—but only on things that are worthwhile. Think in terms of education, hobbies, family camping trips, furniture that will last 20 years or more, instead of frilly accessories, curtains, the latest electronics, a deep-fryer, packaged foods, and books that you could just as easily borrow from the library.

Imagine everything you buy as a piece of your life (or your husband’s) that you are exchanging for a product. Someone spent a week slaving away in an office just to buy you that new DVD player. Was that moment of their life well spent? Make sure it was.

I’m going to try to implement some of these strategies, for the benefit of my kids as well as for my own personal development. Clipping coupons suddenly seems worthwhile if you think that the money you save, say $2.00 a week, will be donated to charity. That’s an extra $130 a year. Who would have imagined clipping coupons could count as sadaqa?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teaching Children Quran

I am brainstorming how to start teaching my two-year-old daughter Quran. She can hardly speak yet, but she is soaking in information at a bewildering pace, putting two and two together in such creative ways. I hope the Quran can be an integral part of her learning in this phase.

For me, results are secondary. She doesn’t have to have a certain number of surahs memorized, be learning at a certain pace, or know how to read by a certain age. If she knows 20 surahs by the time she’s five, or if she only knows three, that’s OK. While we are all amazed by children who memorize the whole Quran by the time they are ten, that may or may not be within our own children’s ability. If we push them too hard, we might get results but in the process crush the internal desire and associate stress, boredom, and frustration with learning the Quran. I care much more that she loves the Quran, loves to pick it up, leaf through its pages, and pretend to recite. I want her to know that it is something very special.

Here are a few things that I’ve been trying. Please share your ideas too.

1. Play the Quran throughout the day. The Quran should be the soundtrack of our homes! Constantly playing in the background whether the children are playing, eating, riding in the car, or going to sleep, the Quran should become a normal, familiar part of their lives.

2. Read Quran before something special. My daughter loves to sit down with a pile of books and read with me. Since I have her total attention at that time, I’ve started reading a short surah before each book. “Ok, let’s read this one! We can start it with Surah Al-Ikhlas…” I’ve found that she is paying attention, eager to get to the story, and she is also associating the Quran with something that she already loves.

3. Have a tape for the car, a tape for bedtime. Although I haven’t been disciplined with this, I think it’s a great idea to play the same tape over and over again in the car, and before sleeping.

4. Set the example. This is the best way, and for me it is what I am most struggling with. When we hear a song, see something fascinating, or taste something good, we react in a way that makes our children share in that joy and interest. If we read the Quran throughout the day, read it while doing housework, listen to it when we want to relax, and feel and show true pleasure when we are with the Quran, our kids will naturally share that love. They will adopt an attachment to the Quran, so intrinsically part of their routine that they miss it when it’s not there.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Death of Another College Student

A relative and neighbor of my sister-in-law was kidnapped and murdered by the lawless, soulless criminals that now run wild in Baghdad. We cried for the Virginia Tech students--I wonder if we have enough humanity to also cry for an Iraqi student.

He was a 21-year-old college student, a giving friend, and a devoted son. His family found his bullet-riddled body, after they had paid the $20,000 ransom in hope of his safe return. You can read an account of his life and death at

May God give his family comfort, strength, and infinite reward for the suffering they are going through. To God we belong and to Him we return (inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un).

Deep Sorrow

We have come a long way in intellectually challenging the isolationist thinking that once blanketed the Muslim community. MAS Youth workers and activists of all backgrounds, whether immigrants or indigenous, are helping to reformulate the American Muslim identity as one that is rooted and invested in society.

When a tragedy strikes, like the horrific shootings at Virgina Tech this week, and America rallies together, at least on the newscasts, it's a good time to study our reactions as a community, to see how well this identity is rooted.

Do we feel the sorrow and grief so deeply, that it aches as if our own child or brother had been shot?

Do we instead place ourselves outside of the chaos, evaluating the situation, wondering how the Muslim element comes to play in all of this? Maybe breathe a sigh of relief that Muslims are neither victims nor targets of media attention?

Or do we blurt, "See how messed up this country is!"

There's not a right or wrong way to react to this incident, but reflecting on our thinking is a good way of knowing where we are as individuals and a movement in establishing a strong American Muslim identity. And perhaps none of these responses is bad—we should strive for a balance between all of them, as did all Prophets when calling their people to Allah.

We feel the deepest sorrow, one that reaches beyond religious identity, acquaintance, and locality. We join our community in grieving the lost lives and shattered families.

We contemplate and think deeply about this tragedy, with the mind of one who has the only solution and the heart of one who is concerned for a beloved unaware.

We realize the disaster of a community without belief, recognize the side-effects of a system that extends no hope to the suffering and no protection for the innocent. We resolve to work harder to demonstrate and work for the message of Islam.

What are your thoughts about Virginia Tech?

Monday, April 16, 2007

5 Tools for Self-Development

In Parenting from the Inside Out, a book that argues that deepening self-awareness can help us become better parents, the authors identify five tools that are key to parenting. I found that these are general internal principles that are helpful in any endeavor, whether character development, building habits, cultivating a marriage, and overcoming weaknesses. I'm summarizing the five points here, mixed in with a few personal remarks.

1. Being Mindful. This mindfulness is the essence of a strong relationship. It is to be aware of the present moment, aware of the person or situation in front of you, not preoccupied with the future, your fears, your self-doubt, or your history. With a child, being mindful is truly connecting with her, listening to her, fully experiencing the shared moments, purposefully choosing your responses and behavior. The authors write, "Children can readily detect intention and thrive when there is purposeful interaction with their parents. It is within our children's emotional connections with us that they develop a deeper sense of themselves and a capacity for relating."

2. Lifelong Learning. When I became a parent, and more so everyday, I realize the glaring character faults and weaknesses I have. Instead of reacting with frustration, this realization should be a positive one--an opportunity for self-growth and learning, the ultimate tarbiyah experience from Allah (swt). No matter what stage we are in life, difficulty and obstacles are opportunities to become better people. Whenever we grow and learn as parents, our children will benefit, even if the road is bumpy at times. As one dear friend said, "Your children will learn courage, persistence, and strength by watching you deal with your issues and improve, and they will be all the better for it."

3. Response Flexibility. This is the skill of prioritizing, thinking quickly, and changing behaviors, and this ability can be developed through the previous two abilities--in many people, it does not come naturally. The first step in achieving response flexibility is insight, acknowledging our weaknesses. The authors write, "Response flexibility is the ability of the mind to sort through a wide variety of mental processes, such as impulses, ideas, and feelings, and come up with a thoughtful, nonautomatic response... it is the opposite of a knee-jerk reaction... When tired, hungry, frustrated, disappointed, or angered, we can lose the ability to be reflective and become limited in our capacity to choose behaviors."

4. Mindsight. I thought this was really similar to the concept of ikhlas, sincerity. It is a deep level of self-awareness, and the ability to perceive our own thoughts and emotions. KNOWING our minds. Not only must we be aware of what is going through our own minds, but also what is going through the minds of our children. We might be able to get our child to read Quran/wear hijab/eat her food/put her shoes away, but what is going through her head? The behavior is what we wanted, but is the deeper level of the mind where we want it to be?

5. Joyful Living. The author writes, "enjoying your child and sharing in the awe of discovering what it means to be alive, to be a person in a wondrous world, is crucial for the development of your child's positive sense of self.... Remembering and reflecting on the experiences of day-to-day life creates a deep sense of feeling connected and understood." This section should be renamed, "Joyful Living for the sake of Allah, and Appreciation of His Bounty."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Favorite Passages: Gentle Diversion

From "In the Footsteps of the Prophet", pg. 16

After recounting the story of the Prophet (saw) as a young man wishing out of curiosity to attend some of the Makkan celebrations, and Allah making him fall asleep before he could even reach the celebrations, to protect him from witnessing the immoral behavior, Ramadan writes,

"While gentleness and diversion were used to protect him, those events--which the Prophet was later to mention--gradually built in him a moral sense shaped through the understanding of those signs and of what they protected him from. This natural initiation into morals, remote from any obsession with sin and fostering of guilt, greatly influenced the kind of education the Prophet was to impart to his companions. With a teaching method relying on gentleness, on the common sense of individuals, and on their understanding of commands, the Prophet also strove to teach them how to put their instincts to sleep, so to speak, and how to resort to diversion to escape evil temptations. For those Companions, as for us, in all ages and societies, this teaching method is most valuable and reminds us that a moral sense should be developed no through interdiction and sanction but gradually, gently, exactingly, understandingly, and at a deep level."

This stood out to me in many ways, particularly in its implications for raising children.

Favorite Passages from "In the Footsteps of the Prophet"

An Education, and Nature (pg. 12)

Ramadan writes,

"The spiritual teaching that can be drawn from [nature] is essential, both for the Prophet's education, and for our own education throughout history: being close to nature, respecting what it is, and observing and meditating on what it shows us, offers us, or takes from us requirements of a faith that, in its quest, attempts to feed, deepen and renew itself. Nature is the primary guide and the intimate companion of faith.

...Far removed from the formalism of soulless religious rituals, this sort of education, in and through its closeness to nature, fosters a relationship to the divine based on contemplation and depth that will later make it possible, in a second phase of spiritual education, to understand the meaning, form, and objectives of religious ritual. Cut off from nature in our towns and cities, we nowadays seem to have forgotten the meaning of this message to such an extent that we dangerously invert the order of requirements and believe that learning about the techniques and forms of religion (prayers, pilgrimages, the different fiqh, etc.) is sufficient to grasp and understand their meaning and objectives. This delusion has serious consequences since it leads to draining religious teaching of its spiritual substance, which actually ought to be its heart."

A Book on How to Love the Prophet (saw)

Oxford UP came out this year with a new book on the personality of the Prophet (saw) by Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet.

This work is exceptional among the many English books on the life of Prophet Muhammad (saw). It is not a biography or a seerah. Unfortunately, many of the English seerah books are dry, academic and strictly factual, conveying little of the spirit and soul of the greatest man who ever lived. While there are a number of books that take a different approach in Arabic, they have not yet been translated. It is sometimes hard to foster deep love for the Prophet when all of the English seerah books focus on when, where, how.

This book takes a very different approach, not attempting to cover or even give an overview of the chronological events, but rather attempting to capture the spirit of the Prophet's life. Who was he, really? What made the companions love him more deeply than their own souls, and what can we do to foster that same love in ourselves?

I thought this book was a wonderful companion to someone who is reading the seerah, which is an essential component of our Muslim identity. It's my kind of armchair book: mesmerizing language, easy flow, thought-provoking notions. I might write a few posts on some of the ideas in the book.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Beautiful Hadith

"Allah says: 'Son of Adam: Fill your time with My worship and I will fill your heart with richness, and relieve your neediness. But if you do not, I will make your hands preoccupied and anxious with worldly affairs and I will not relieve your poverty.'" (Tirmidhi)

Always with Wudu

In my usra a few weeks ago, we discussed the spiritual effects of always being in a state of purity, a state of wudu.

It only takes about one or two minutes to perform wudu, yet the ensuing consciousness is powerful. Opportunities for worship more readily come to mind, and self-awareness is heightened. Sin is somewhat more distant, for who would readily sin when in a state of wudu? And death seems nearer, for who would not love to die in a state of wudu?

And then there is the hope for Allah's love, for He says in the Quran, "Truly Allah loves those who often purify themselves."

Not only is wudu a prerequisite to prayer, but it is also worship in itself. There are hadeeth that speak of believers whose limbs and faces will be shining brightly on the Day of Judgment, from their frequent wudu.

It is such a simple measure, not required of the believer, yet it really helps me maintain a higher level of connectedness with Allah. Especially because everything at home is rush-rush, cry-cry, break-fall, open-close, spill-drop. Having wudu makes it easier for me to pick up a Quran and read for two or three minutes in between chores or squeeze in sunnah prayers throughout the day.

It makes me feel that worship is at my fingertips, and only a moment away.

Snail on the Sidewalk

Sometime during my college years, I developed a fright of all crawly creatures from spiders to crabs to mice. This is markedly different from my childhood, when ladybugs and caterpillars crawled over my fingers and I collected hermit crabs at the seashore. Now, it is all I can do to keep the screams inside.

But, as I’m trying to nurture a true nature-lover in my daughter, I try very hard to hide the squirms.

“Ooooh, Look! A spider.” [breathe, breathe, smile, breathe, don’t really look directly at it.]

“Let’s take it outside—actually, let’s get Abbi to take it outside.”

Today, as we walked back from the playground, we stopped to literally smell the flowers, which were blooming in early April and filling the air with perfume. My oldest daughter stuck her nose into a cluster of flowers and a snail dropped out of them unto the sidewalk. As she bent down to pick it up, I resisted the, “Yuck, don’t touch it” that welled up and instead averted my eyes. It’s not going to hurt her, so I’ll just look away until she’s done with her exploration.

Then I hear a crunch, like eggshells on the sidewalk, and see her step on the snail’s shell with her shoe.

NO! It’s a living creature!

EWWWWW! Gross.

How’s she supposed to learn what it is unless I teach her?

Too conflicted to look at the dead snail on the sidewalk, I grabbed her hand and we hurry away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Hummer on the Balcony

My husband calls it my hummer.

It is big, huge, bulky, but it has 12" air-filled tires, full seat recline, swivel wheels, and I can push it with one finger.

I call it, "stroller love of my life."

Since my first pregnancy, I became fascinated by strollers, sort of like an obsession over sports cars. It's not an excessive obsession--although I love looking at strollers in the store, I only have a Zooper Z-street single stroller (under 90 bucks), a $15 umbrella stroller that got run over by our car, and my new Mountain Buggy double stroller. Nothing like the 15 or 20 strollers many of my new stroller fanatic friends have. And I'm not willing to pay $500 for a stroller. Once I decide on a purchase, I don't look back at those message boards, at least until my stroller breaks down or I need to upgrade to a triple.

I spent hours researching double strollers on the internet, and learned about Bugaboos, Baby Joggers, BJCSDs, Inglesinas, MBUDs, and Bobs. Stroller message boards are full of moms boasting their latest $600 addition to a garage-full of strollers. Moms who buy new skins every month for their strollers, who charge $30 to newcomers for custom, personal advice on which stroller to buy, and who laugh at moms who push Gracos (hey, I like Graco strollers, just not their double ones, which, with two toddlers inside, can be like pushing a train)

Materialistic? Yes. Petty? Yes. Do I have nothing better to do? No. I doubt I'd like these mothers very much in person--they are probably the same mothers in designer jeans, $100 diaper bags, who frown at other moms in the playground. The Washington Post would call them "hip moms". I'm not sure what I would call them--definitely not hip, maybe image-obsessed.

BUT, I convinced myself, I needed to figure out what stroller to buy.

I finally decided on a stroller that normally retails for $600--that I found in an overstock, returned open-box, 2005 model. Hurray! I got a top-of-the-line, solid stroller for the price of a Graco.

To my stroller friends, all I'd have to say is I bought a navy MBUD and they would know exactly what that meant. The tough, all-terrain stroller that only outdoorsy moms would like, but their husbands go ga-ga for.

I wanted something more suited to power-walking, hiking trails, suburban streets, and sand-filled playgrounds than malls, narrow aisles, and coffee shops. So I got a super durable, rugged all-terrain jogging stroller that "pushes like butter", as strollermama would say.

Once I buy something that I've researched well, I won't take any criticism. Nope, it's perfect. I don't look back, it's just what I wanted. Never mind that it folds like a 30-lb. bedroom dresser and I huff and puff as I heave it into the trunk of our Corolla. Miraculously, it does fit.

Or that the only place I can store it in our one-bedroom apartment is on our balcony.

Never mind that women--the Graco moms--give me funny looks as I push this lawnmower into my neighborhood coffee shop (effortlessly and one-handed, I might add), but a male customer remarks, "that's a neat stroller!" Even my husband admitted it was a good buy--it has good parts, he said.

I haven't gone back to the stroller boards since my last, and final, stroller purchase. I know strollerqueen would just tell me I need a lightweight, side-by-side for malls and plane trips, but I'm not that hip.

I'm happy with this one-time, and I hope lasting, waltz with a really cool stroller.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Coping with Fatigue

After the birth of my second daughter, I struggled with intense fatigue due to both excessive blood loss during labor, anemia, and the exhaustion of being a new mom. The daily challenges of caring for a newborn and an attention-hungry, demanding toddler seemed just too much. Every night, knowing I would only have 4 or 5 hours of sleep, I panicked and wondered how I would ever make it through the next day.

Somehow, as my mother reassured me, you always make it through the next day. Four things in particular helped me handle the fatigue I was feeling, and still feel from time to time. Actually, five things, if you count Starbucks.

The first was convincing myself that Allah (swt) would never give me this task and responsibility if I wasn't physically capable of handling it. If He gave the responsibility, He would also give me all of the tools-physical, mental, emotional-I need to successfully handle it. The verse in the Quran, "Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear," is not just in tragedy or trials, but also in the daily responsibilities we face. When we feel overwhelmed by a trust or responsibility, it is probably because we don't have the right mindset, or are underestimating our capabilities, not that we are incompetent. So stepping up to the plate was not a physical impossibility, but a matter of working on myself--on my patience, endurance, and willingness to put my personal comfort aside sometimes.

Reliance on Allah, or tawakkul, was the second factor that helped me get through the fatigue, although I wish I had nurtured this characteristic more in myself. My husband and I are not the only caretakers of our children--Allah (swt) watches over them, takes care of their well-being, and envelopes them in His mercy and love.

The third was my sisters in my usra--as usual, they "got my back". They cooked for me, watched my older daughter while I caught a few much-needed hours of sleep, and inquired frequently about me. I will never forget how they helped me get through a really tough time.

Finally, I was reminded about the story of Fatimah, may Allah be pleased with her, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw). Overwhelmed by housework, and probably struggling with young children too, she went to her father to ask for a servant to help her. The Prophet responded with a very different sort of help: recite every night Subhanallah 33 times, Alhamdulillah 33 times, and Allahu Akbar 34 times.

I always interpreted the moral of this story as "increase in remembrance of Allah" and "it is better to increase in worship than seek benefit in this world." Those may be lessons to be learned from the story, but it can also be taken literally. Saying these words every night--will really help lessen the fatigue! It gives you energy to accomplish your tasks, a spring in your step, and relieves stress.

And then, OK, a tall cappuccino every once in a while also helps.

Sensing Sincerity

Have you ever experienced a total mindset change?

Mindset changes can be gradual, developing with the accumulation of experience and knowledge, or they can be sudden, like waking up from a deep sleep. Sudden change requires an instantaneous realization, the precise key that was needed for the lock in your head.

As a MAS Youth worker, I was often skeptical of whether I could really impact the youth around me. I tried this, tried that, was it working? Was it making a difference? Sometimes I thought yes, sometimes it all seemed like one big guess.

Then I heard something in a workshop by the MAS Tarbiyah Department that really got me thinking:

The first, most useful tool for us as mentors is our sincerity.

People around us sense that sincerity, so that even if we make some mistakes or don’t do everything perfectly, they can tell when someone truly cares for them, wants them to succeed in their life mission, and is trying to empower them. Sincerity, hoping for nothing but the pleasure of Allah in guiding others, makes the hearts open and the ears listen. We have an array of tools to make our youth think, make them cry, make them talk, make them act, but it is the sincerity in our hearts: that will win the Help of Allah: that will make them truly feel empowered to change. This genuine, selfless concern for the youth we hope to influence can work wonders.


Suddenly the daunting responsibility of helping others to change became conceivable, because while working on others I can strengthen my efforts by working on myself. I can be amplifying the progress of my usra members by making sincere dua for my sisters, nurturing deep-rooted concern and care for them, and always believing in their potential. Not only, as Shaikh Qaradawi explains in Sincerity, is sincerity to Allah the magic ingredient that turns every action into worship, but it also brings synergy to our work and deepens our ability to influence others, with the will of Allah (swt).

How Wonderful a Servant!

(This is just a rephrasing of the idea posted on the blog of Br. Ahmad Deif--yes, I'm hijacking his post)

In Surah Saad, Allah (swt) says of two individuals, “How wonderful a servant! He returned often in repentance.” In all of the Quran, this description is only mentioned of these two individuals. Who were they?

Ayyub, may Allah be pleased with him! The prophet who was struck with such calamity that it retell his story again and again, awed by his patience. All of his children died–how painful the loss of just one! Stricken with disease and abandoned by all but his wife, people ran from him, afraid of contagion, and shook their heads in condemnation. They said that this Prophet must have deserved Allah’s wrath, so severely was he tested. This continued for 18 years, and Ayyub responded only with adoration of His Lord, thankfulness for the years he had spent in prosperity, and worship.

And Sulayman, may Allah be pleased with him! The Prophet and king who asked Allah to “bestow upon me a kingdom such as shall not belong to any one after me.” Allah gave him the ability to command the wind, which “blew gently by his order wherever he willed,” the animals, “who did his every bid” and the jinn, who built structures and dived under the sea. Unimaginable wealth and powers!

How is it that two men, two prophets, of such different situations, merit the same title from Allah: “How wonderful a servant!” (Ni’m al-Abd)

This is testament that the circumstances of the Muslim are irrelevant–it is the state of the heart that matters. Whether one is tested with trial or prosperity, tested with character or illness, it is your relationship with Allah throughout life that is the crucial element. It is the thankfulness, repentance, humility before Allah, not the outer circumstances, that determines where we stand in His eyes.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sayyid Qutb on History

In Milestones, Sayyid Qutb makes some remarks about the history of human civilization. He made an interesting point: Islam brings out the humanity of human beings, and man-made systems bring out their animalistic characteristics. The whole of history, except for a few illumined exceptions in which people were guided by divinely inspired principles, can be seen as the drive for food, shelter, and sex.

This struck me because it is similar to the Darwinist theory of history: that human beings are just like animals, and their history is merely a more sophisticated version of survival of the fittest. So one can hardly blame the Darwinists for their twisted view of humankind–that’s the conclusion you might come to if you look at the history of civilization devoid of belief in God.

Islam, however, brings out the best in people. It even transforms the animalistic characteristics of human beings, the need for materialism and the physical drive, into worship and something beyond the self. Islam elevates the human being beyond the confines of physical existence, and emphasizes the humanity. Shaikh Sayyid Qutb doesn’t go much into what this humanity is. But I had some thoughts–

the mind, soul, intellect, thought, self-awareness, conscience, bonds with others, emotions. Everything that takes the human soul out of the body and into a greater awareness of Allah.

So, in a way, all that is human … is what is not.