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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A new year, a new beginning

New year's are happy things, like new school books; blank and ready to be filled with our writing and numbers. They hold great promise. I used to make a long string of resolutions, which if carried out correctly would make me practically perfect in every way. Needless to say, those resolutions would hold for a week or so and then would fade away, even before I got used to writing the new date instead of the old. This year I got a different idea, which is not new or original at all, but older than when people had diaries and wrote resolutions in them, older than the start of this way of calculating years.

As I was listening to the Juma khutba yesterday, the Imam reminded us that the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgement will be our five daily prayers. He went on to say that if the condition of our prayers would be good, the rest of our questioning shall be easy. This means that if we try our best to observe the five daily prayers, the rest of our lives will naturally reap the blessings of that devotion and mindfulness. All our affairs will be blessed as we will be aimed for the straight path. If we don't pray, or pray without being mindful, then the very first thing we account for and that we are responsible for, will be a big flop and the rest will come crashing down after it. May Allah protect us from that.

Our prayer is really a little resolution and accountability session in itself, if we choose to think about it that way. When we stand before Allah at various times during the day, we are in different states. In the morning, fajr is like the start of a new year, a new day, a fresh page. We have a chance to ask for guidance for the entire day, and to resolve to do what is right. After the entire morning, usually devoted to work or school, we stand for Zuhr. We have a chance to think about the direction in which our day is going. If we are not doing what we aimed for, we can change the direction with Allah's help, asking for His guidance. The same is true for Asr and Maghrib. Isha is like the final station for our train before it rests for the night. We are tired and sleepy by now, the day is almost done. We have a chance to ask forgiveness for the mistakes we made, to check in and make sure our souls are still on track. What a beautiful way to be accountable for our lives, to live a life of great purpose!

So I don't think I shall sit down with a diary for this years resolutions. I have just one. One thing I can attend to, put my focus and energy on and it will help regulate and improve the rest of my life. It feels much simpler than before. Surely I can honor this one resolution? Well, if I forget, I shall have five chances every day to get it right!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What kind of interpretation?

Muslims come in all shapes and sizes. I have met many with a 'liberal' outlook, many with extremely strict views, and many in between. It was while sitting yesterday in the mosque, that I began to wonder, which category do I belong to. Do I need to belong to a category? It got me thinking ...

Often, when I listen to a view point different than my own, I am tempted to dismiss it outright, to shrug it off by labeling it as 'too liberal' or 'too strict', but I fear that this attitude may be unwise, if it is not based on sound knowledge. The Quran admonishes those who do not think for themselves, who follow their elders or the ways of society without reflecting upon them, and who do not accept guidance from Allah when it comes to them. To me, that means that if I learn or hear something that does not match with my ideas, that bothers me, as possibly being to one extreme or the other, I need to gain adequate knowledge before I pass judgement on it. My feelings alone should not guide the way. I might be rejecting a concept simply because it is new to me, or because I personally find something difficult or unattractive.

The Quran guides us on this and every matter. Allah tells us to look beyond our likes and dislikes and search for wisdom and goodness. Allah knows well our human nature, that we might like something while it is harmful for us and we might dislike something that is good for us. So what to do?

Learn. Find knowledge from its source: The Quran and Hadith, bearing in mind that the Quran is far superior to the hadith. Since the hadith contain knowledge and guidance of our blessed Prophet Muhammad, we revere them, yet hadith are not infallible. If we cannot reconcile a hadith with the Quran, we must lay it aside and give preference to the Quran. While understanding the Quran, we must remember that one part of the Quran does not contradict another part. One portion of the Quran explains another and so forth. If we keep these basic rules in mind and humbly submit and pray to Allah, we are likely to find true guidance in every affair. We need not limit ourselves to a certain approach in all matters. It is best to keep our minds open, listen willingly to any logical argument and certainly be not the first to reject a matter simply based on our feelings.

Humble submission and prayer. May Allah the most Mighty and Wise, guide us on the paths that lead to Him. May we never turn away from guidance in any form. Ameen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do we need a dress code?

Most school districts have a dress code, or uniform. Sadly, in our part of the world, the dress code is not enforced. Kids come to school in clothes that are too short, tight, and revealing. Unfortunately our modern world has accepted this behavior as acceptable. Does that mean we should do the same? Does modern life demand of us to expose our bodies instead of concealing them decently?

The more I think about it, the more wisdom I see in the dress code Allah has given us out of his Infinite Mercy. If and when we abandon it, we will see the consequences, as every evil deed leaves its imprint on the soul, on society. When we get dressed we are thinking about how we want to present ourselves to the world, to our family. It is a statement that announces our personality without us uttering a word. We cannot claim to dress in a revealing manner and think our hearts and minds and those of others will remain pure. On the other hand, when a boy or girl, man or woman dresses up in modest clothes, making sure the body is covered appropriately, taking special care to cover the hair and chest in the case of the women, he or she affirms faith by doing so. It is a great opportunity to translate faith into action, to turn a simple ordinary act into obedience and gratefulness to the Creator. It gives us a chance to honor our bodies, to strengthen our souls, to affirm that we are much more than a body, a shape, a size.

And yet this dress code seems like a burden, oppression to so many. It is only when we dress at the calling of our nafs, our lower self, that modesty is a burden.

If we dress to please people instead of our Creator, can we truly say we love Him?
Modesty has its own style, is a fashion statement based on faith. If we think we can choose how we dress without following the clear guidelines of Allah, does this mean we know better?

The problem in abandoning the Islamic dress code is that every person will have a different idea of modesty and without any limits or standards, our standards will fall like the people of other faiths around us.

Do we really want their problems?
Not really.
But if we follow their footsteps, what can we expect?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do things we do in a virtual world count as our deeds?

This is a dilemma surely faced by all of us these days. It has become increasingly hard to avoid the virtual world. It draws us in through Facebook, chatting, texting and an increasingly complex and realistic array of video game systems and devices. The problem is not only staying in touch with the real world and our actual life, while that is in itself a problem. All these things are addictive. Just like cigarettes and other drugs, they are meant to be addictive, designed to take over and draw us in. How far do we let them take over our lives? It is our life, one that we are undoubtedly answerable for. Can we let entertainment take over?

The other matter worth much thought is: what are we doing in the virtual world? If we are raising horses and buying sheep, or trying out skydiving, it seems harmless enough. Provided we can bring the same amount of energy to our real lives. But if we are gunning down people, engaged in warfare, acting out brutal and bloody acts, we really need to ask ourselves. Is this allowed under the guidelines Islam gives us for living a righteous life? Would we feel ok doing the same acts in real life? If the answer is NO, why is it ok in a simulated situation that looks and feels real?

Sadly, I know of too many kids who have Facebook pages they are too young to have, whose parents buy them Teen and Mature rated games that they clearly should not be playing. Does our responsibility as parents end in the virtual world? If we would not buy our kids guns and let them run around with them, how can we let them be 'virtual assassins'? These games are not like a movie watched once and forgotten. They are played daily for long periods of time. How can they not affect a developing personality? Do we really need 'studies' to tell us what is right or wrong? Is our own brain, our conscience, not enough?

So many questions, burning questions, that need answers as future generations spill blood and guts on a computer screen. Where are the answers?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is worry so bad?

None of us is a stranger to worry. In fact we may be better acquainted than we want to be. But is all worry bad? What if we were to never experience worry? I know a few people who seem to never worry. While they do seem happier and more spontaneous than most other people, yet sometimes they are driving others crazy with their carelessness and lack of concern. Concern can be another name for worry. If we brush away all doubts, all fears, we may end up not being concerned about anything.  Is that how we want to be?

Allah tells us in the Quran to be concerned about how we are spending our lives, to think about the consequences of our actions, to care for others and to consider how we will answer for our life and reap its results in the next life. To me, this means that I shall spend much of my time thinking about these matters, for if I don't think about them, if they do not bother me in the least, how can I change my behavior for the better? Does this mean we should worry? I think that, to a certain extent, we should. Our goal in life should not be a worry free existence, nor should we always be preoccupied with concerns about the past or the future. As in most cases, a happy medium is to be found. Often when we worry, we pray, so worry leads us to acknowledge our helplessness and need for Divine guidance. Once we have engaged in heart lfelt prayer, we should be able to hand that concern over to Allah, and not agonize over it so much.

For years I was worried about driving on the freeway and deathly afraid of thunderstorms. These two worries would bring me closer to Allah for I would then pray for Allah to help me, to make these matters easier for me. Now that both thunderstorms and freeways do not bother me, I find I can pass through both without even reciting the name of Alla! I have to remind myself that they both can be dangerous, that a little worry would be wise, especially in the form of prayer.

What do you worry about? Is is something that requires some prayer and action. Good worrying will produce that action. Bad worrying will create fear that prevents one from moving forward.

May we never be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, yet I would never wish anyone worry-free. Being worried is being human. It means we care about ourselves, about others, about the world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A clean slate

It has happened to me so many times. I pray my salat while preoccupied with other matters. I am not just distracted, I am actually absent, missing from my own prayer rug, from the reality of the present. It is one of the tricks of our mind to stick to a matter beyond its urgency, to analyze and compare, when we should lay it to rest. I wish there was a way for me to clean the slate of my brain and my heart before standing before Allah in prayer.

When I thought about it, cleaning the slate meant surrender. To give up my control over a problem, a debate, a situation and to submit. I read about this analogy somewhere and it inspired me. Just as little kids come to their parents and hand them their little treasures: a candy, toy car, shiny stone etc., and trust the parent to keep it safe, so too can we trust our issues, big and small, to Allah. As we stand to pray we can take a deep breathe and let go of our control over matters. We can out put burdens down, relax our weary shoulders and surrender ourselves to Allah with a clean heart and mind so we can truly receive the help we need and see the solutions that might be staring us in the face.

I was moved by the simple reminder a second-grade teacher had posted for herself in a classroom:
Breathe, breathe, breathe.

We cannot control or solve it all. Often we cannot control or solve anything. But there is Someone who can. Hand it over.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Word by word

I have an always had an urge to learn Arabic so as to better understand the Quran, yet somehow have not taken the big step of enrolling in a class and getting serious. Years ago I bought a 'Teach Yourself Arabic' book that sits on the bookshelf by the t.v. and mocks me as I pass by. I was thinking that while often it is extremely hard to take big steps, it is easy to take little ones. Small steps mean we move slower but we are moving towards our goal.

Imagine if we handed the entire Quran to a four or five year old and said, you have to read ALL of this. They would probably run away. Kids start out learning the Arabic alphabet, one letter at a time, move on to joining letters, then small words, bigger words and so on. Soon they graduate to reading sections from the Quran and go on, one page at a time. And then one joyous day they complete an entire reading of the Quran. It is the beginning of a journey that will last a lifetime. Learning Arabic will probably take me just as long. Once I actually get started. I found a great website that is helping me a lot. Apart from other activities on the website that are great for adults and kids, they also email a word of Arabic from the Quran each day. It shows the meaning of the word, plus how it is used in the Quran. Learning just one word of Arabic a day is better than learning no words. Big steps or little steps, we plod on slowly, one day at a time, one page at a time, word by word.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lessons from a bell pepper

Sometimes it seems as if getting our share in the world is a constant struggle. We may come to see this universe as unfriendly, hostile. We may see right through the abundance all around us and forget that this universe is not created and run by people. People think in terms of "not enough"; not enough jobs, not enough schools, not enough money. Allah created everything in abundance. An apple tree grows from a single seed. It produces tons and tons of apples and feeds the ground in the form of compost, it feeds the birds and squirrels, and humans. It feeds our souls with pretty blossoms and gives us shade when the sun is harsh. And it produces thousands of seeds. Abundance.

I was reminded of this today as I sliced a red bell pepper. Inside it, neatly arranged around the core were three clusters of seeds. Had I sat down to count them, it would have taken me an hour at least. There were more than enough seeds for me to plant a whole garden of bell peppers, were I so inclined. Enough to feed our whole street and beyond including the insect, plant and animal life. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude at the abundance that Allah has sent down to us in every form and shape. We just need to be able to see it and realize that while our minds may be boggled, our eyes get tired, and all the ink of the oceans be exhausted, yet we will not be able to number the blessings of Allah, or truly be grateful for them. But we can start with the blessings right in front of us.

Why is it easiest to be grateful for blessings when we no longer have them?

Blessed is the person who can appreciate the abundance of life before it is gone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What about advice?

Should we just mind our own business, or give advice to people when our advice is not asked for? This is a question we all think about, usually after the advice we have given is rudely rejected. I am fond of giving advice and have put  much effort into trying to 'mind my own business'. However, yesterday while I was attending a Quran tafsir class, my opinion changed. In the Quran, Allah commands us to be of those who enjoin good and forbid evil. We do have a responsibility to show some reaction if we see something around us that is not right. e.g. we are meeting friends for lunch and one shows up with an immodest, revealing outfit. If she asks how she looks, we can politely and kindly say that the outfit looks too revealing. Even if she does not ask, if we have a good friendship and feel as if a sincere comment might help her, we have a duty to try to say something, at least to not approve, and at the very least, to consciously think that dressing in such a manner is forbidden by Allah. We can't just mind our own business, for then we are not forbidding evil and enjoining good. We are just being polite and worrying about what people will think.

This applies to almost all situations of life. While we cannot grab perfect strangers on the street and give advice, there are so many people who are close enough to influence us and be influenced by us. Who knows when a simple, sincere word from us may help them.

The flip side of giving advice is: We have to act upon that same advice ourselves and hold ourselves up to the same standard. So the urge to give advice can help us improve as well. I might say to a friend, "Hey, lets both try our best to not backbite when we talk to each other. If I forget, please remind me."

If we think about it, why do we remain silent when we see or hear something wrong? It is rare that we are truly helpless. Usually there is something we can do or say, without being harsh or cruel and deliberately offending others. As our Blessed Prophet reminds us in a hadith, if we see something wrong, the best thing is to stop something it by taking action, second best is speaking out about it and the last is to affirm in our hearts that this is wrong. Even when we feel that our advice will fall on deaf ears, we have a responsibility to say what is right, because then at least we have tried.

Think about it, if we cannot speak from the heart with those we care about, then do we really care about them? If we don't try to stop them from something that is sure to harm them, are we sincere with them?

Giving sincere advice with kindness and accepting advice sincerely offered, are both hard things to do. May Allah help us with both.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Good Friday

For Muslims, all Fridays are good. It is a day to renew our spirits, our commitment to leading a good life. Allah commands us in the Quran to leave all matters and attend to prayer at the time of Juma prayer. It can be tricky to get enough time off from school or work to go the mosque, but it is very important that we try our best to do this. And what if we cannot? Can we have a little Juma in our heart? While people around us rejoice that it is Friday and the weekend has begun, we can join in, but also remember that Fridays and weekends are not just about making big plans and having fun. They are times to take a break from the frantic pace of the week, for when we are forever rushing, we do not have time to look within us or reflect on the signs of Allah all around us.

If we were not able to make it to the mosque for Juma prayer, we can do some Quran reading when we come home and are relaxed. One ruku of the Quran is a complete sermon in itself, if we take time to think about it and absorb its lessons. Allah does not require us to devote the entire day to worship and neglect our worldly lives. We can study, work and play on Juma, but we must create some space in this day for something bigger than our daily worldly concerns. Allah calls us on Juma to rise above our petty concerns, to see them for what they really, to take a step back and observe the course of our days.

Sometimes worldly concerns can feel like an octopus with all eight tentacles digging into us. Juma reminds us that we can drop all matters to turn to Allah, even temporarily. The world will not come crashing down. We do not hold it up. Allah does.

All Fridays are good for Muslims if we choose to make them so. May all our Jumas be good.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What does a nagging parent really mean?

We have all been nagged. Actually let me rephrase that: I hope we have all been lucky enough to have been nagged by our parents. Have you ever thought what nagging really is? It is a parent saying to a child: I care about you. I love you so much that I wish for every good thing for you. I remind you ten times to pray because I know how important praying is. I threaten not to remind you any more, and then do so anyway, because I know you are young and forgetful and I was young and forgetful not so long ago ( and am now old and forgetful!)

Parents are peculiar. They want their kids to do well in this world and the next and yet they know that as the child grows older they should give less advice. Yet somehow, parental love is expressed best in those reminders and words of caution that are given out. We find ourselves nagging and wonder if we are driving our kids crazy. The answer is probably yes, yet we still go on, fearing somehow that our love with go unexpressed if we do not pass on our life lessons, and pass them on again, and say it just one more time.

So parents will nag. Please realize the intention behind the words. They do not indicate a lack of trust in the child. They do not indicate a lack of faith. They are a show of love, of caring and the concern that parents constantly feel for their kids. Nagging is love without makeup on.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

All the ingredients are not enough

More on the subject of drought. At first we just had a few wispy clouds in the morning, which blew away rapidly leaving a bright blue sky and scorching sun. For the past two weeks, the forecast has called for rain. Clouds have gathered; grey and black, blotting out the sun, making everything dark, even some lightening and rumbles of thunder. A few days ago, the wind also picked up producing the perfect recipe for rain. We stared at the sky in joy from our porch as we waited for those blessed raindrops to start falling; rain that would bring relief from the heat, that would fill our lakes and bring life to animals and crops, and out some color back in the parched land around us. Nothing happened. As they had assembled, the ingredients for rain went their separate ways. The sky cleared, the sun came out again. Some areas might have received a light sprinkling, but for the most part Austin remained dry with no measurable rain.

What was missing from the recipe for rain? The command of Allah. Since Allah did not destine rain for us, it did not happen even though all the meteorological elements were there. It made me reflect on how the mercy of Allah is the biggest thing of all, which causes things to grow. It can bring rain from the most wimpy of clouds. It can bring prosperity and growth even without rain.

Surah al-Dukhan (The Drought) teaches us to pray : "Our Lord, remove from us the chastisement - surely we are believers." 44:12

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Be like a tree

We have a severe drought here in Texas. It has been dry for so long that we have forgotten when a good downpour sounds like and feels like. We could loose our umbrellas for good and not miss them at all, or we could use them to protect us from the scorching sun. In the midst of withered plants and straw colored, dried grass, the trees endure. We live in an old neighborhood that has an abundance of trees, by the mercy of Allah. Huge, towering trees, twisted and gnarled in interesting shapes and complex formation. These trees stand day after day, providing shade and shelter for humans, animals, birds, a world unto themselves. I see their outstretched branches as hands spread out in prayer seeking the blessings of Allah for themselves, for the world. As they shade our cars, gardens, and homes they scorch in the sun, uncomplaining, serene, dignified. I love watching the trees and wish I was more like a tree. I wish I had the calmness to withstand all weather conditions without a whimper, to stand tall in a crisis, to be a place of comfort and help for others even when times are tough.

The Quran says a good word, or faith, is like a tree, with roots running deep, seeking out nourishment and bringing forth fruit in every season. May our roots run deep and seek guidance from Allah, even when water is not found around us and may we always bring fruit in this world and the one unseen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How to really read a good book?

When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, good books, or any books were not that readily available. Libraries would only let us check out two books at a time and it was too expensive to buy all we wanted to read, so we kept re-reading the books that we had. The good thing about it was that those books went memorized and dearly loved and lessons were learned from them, lessons that are still with me. Nowadays kids have access to a seemingly unlimited number of good books and they rapidly read one and move on to the next. I have a feeling this means they do not spend much time thinking about a certain book they read. They may just enjoy the thrill and move on to the next exciting thing to do. Lesson learned from book? Probably not much.

Some one wise said that we should spend as much time thinking about what we read, as reading, and I find that to be true. Good books are a blessing. They need to be savored and digested and absorbed to get the full benefit. This does not mean that we should write a book report about everything we read, as is the way in school, but it would be nice to write a couple words down in a journal about why a certain book was enjoyable, why we liked the characters we liked and what we learned from our journey through it.
Reading enriches us like nothing else. Let's slow down to get the full flavor.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dry a tifferent accent

Sometimes our problems can seem like having a wad of icky chewed-up gum stuck to our shoe. We can't seem to get it out. Sometimes all we need is a fresh perspective, or a different accent. At our home, many problems seem less burdensome when we add a light coating of humor to them. A Texas drawl, crisp British accent, nasal twang, or even baby language or "Runny Babbit" (see Shel Silverstein's book) is good to lighten up the problem and bring a creative solution. When we giggle, we don't feel as stressed and are able to focus better. Being overly serious does not help anything or anyone.

The blessed Prophet had a good sense of humor, even though, for most of his life he was in one prickly predicament followed by another, mostly with his existence threatened. Yet he did not take himself so seriously as to be unable to laugh and make others laugh. Let us follow this wonderful example.

Never meet a problem you can't draw a funny mustache on!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Do we let Allah's blessings take us away from Allah?

I heard this strange idea at the Friday sermon this afternoon. When I thought about it, it did seem true in many instances. Allah has blessed us with so much, yet often these blessings cause us to be unmindful of Allah. Books are a blessing. Having a well-stocked library nearby can be a huge blessing and a joy, yet when we come home with lots of thrilling books, we may be so engrossed in them that we can't tear ourselves away when it is time to pray. We feel as if we are not in this world, but the fantasy world of books, which, fascinating though it may be, is not real. Also, we may find that we do not have time to read the Best Book of all? Can it be a good day for us in which we make time to read about goblins, dragons, and the heroic adventures of others, yet we do not engage or progress in our own lives as we should? The book, the video game, the television show, the computer, the cell phone, all are temporary entertainments that are blessings of Allah if we use them as blessings. If we do not let them dazzle us into forgetting the One who gave us the blessings: the money, health, brains, eyes, ears, time to use them.

My good brother Fazeel recently remarked: Allah says in the Quran that our families are a source of fitnah or temptation for us. Allah warns us lest we let our families divert us from the remembrance of Allah. Of course our families are indeed a blessing for us and our dealings with them are intended to bring us closer to Allah. They only become a temptation or trouble for us when we neglect Allah in the process, who gave us the loving relations to begin with.

Let us resolve to put aside all matters when we hear the adzan and put our heart into prayer. Let us all set a time to read the Quran and truly see how fascinating it is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Custom build your Fatihah

Imagine a magical prayer that could work for any and every occasion. We are so blessed to have it! And we get to recite it every day, many times in our daily prayers. The key is to not go through it automatically, but to really immerse ourselves in this prayer and to pour out our heart to Allah in it. Imagine we have a big test or quiz coming up. Surah Fatihah gives expression to the anxiety we feel. We beseech Allah by saying, "Oh Allah, all praise is due to You, who gave us everything and help us move from one stage of learning to the next. You bless us with knowledge without asking and also help us when we work hard. The final result is in Your control. We worship You by our seeking knowledge and ask only You for help. Please guide us on the right path, let us follow those methods and strategies that lead us to success, and keep us away from distractions and being unsuccessful. Please accept our prayer". Wow, that covers it all. This prayer leaves nothing out. It sums everything up and helps us pray with a humility and eloquence that must surely be pleasing to Allah, since He is the One who taught it to us.

How can we use Surah Fatihah as a template for other pleas to Allah? What about if we lost a textbook? What if we have a difficult decision choosing a class or subject? What if we are simply finding it difficult to focus or pray?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Towers and small huts

Today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the day that changed the world. As we look back at the ten years that have passed since this day ( if we are old enough), we find that we have come a long way, the world has come a long way. My 9-year old son asked me yesterday, "Mom, what happened on 9/11?" and I realized that I had always assumed he knew, even though he had not been born when it happened. Then I wondered how to explain the happenings of that day. I told him what I could and hoped he would understand. I also realized that everyone will look back and remember 9/11 through the lens of their own personal experience. Most Americans remember it as the day they realized that they were not as safe as they thought they were. Immigrants like myself were shocked and scared for different reasons. Our children will view this experience through a different lens entirely. Whatever we think and remember, it is important to realize that all life is sacred and when planes crash, or rain bombs, it strikes terror in hearts, in all people rich and poor, those with skyscrapers, those with none, those with hundreds of firefighters, those with none, those with the ability to tell the story and those with none. Our fear, our pain is indeed recorded and accounted for by Allah, even if it is not acknowledged on national television.

Let us try to remember and record everyone's pain, not just our own, for true humanity requires that we consider everyone of equal value. If we wish to grieve, let it be for everyone, on every side and for those caught in the middle, without a voice, without a memorial, just the rubble of their small lives.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Runaway hamsters and faithful wondering

Yesterday, one of our pet hamsters escaped and ran behind the fridge, out of sight and out of reach. For a while we searched and fretted, peeking under sofas to find it. The pet store lady had warned us that if hamsters escape they are not to be found. We decided to take a break from searching and pray. My daughter wondered, how will Allah help us find the hamster? We thought of several ways ... a few of the unlimited ones possible. Allah controls the hamster entirely. He might tell the little hamster brain to come out of its hiding place. Allah might guide us to the right spot to look for it. Allah might keep it safe from the sticky lizard and cockroach traps we have in some spots, so it is not harmed. We prayed and wondered, but not for long. The runaway hamster was found behind the toilet and brought back to its cage. We were grateful and a little wiser for our wondering, How does Allah bring about the acceptance of prayers? This question does come to mind and is not asked with disbelief, but with great belief and wonder. How? The great Prophet Ibrahim asked a similar question: How does Allah bring the dead back to life? Our mind cannot get around many things, cannot understand the complete workings of the Supreme Intelligence, but the wondering helps us to think of the many, countless ways in which Allah is in control of everything.

This 'faithful wondering' is one of the many things each day that may bring us a little closer to Allah.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To accept means to believe in an intelligent universe

Often, we find ourselves wishing things were different; different at home, at school, in our relationships. We might feel dissatisfied and sad because it seems as if so many things, both big and small, are beyond our control. But would we really want to be in control of more things than we currently are? Controlling other people would mean we would be partially responsible for their actions, a scary thought indeed. If we were in charge to command things as we wish at home or at school, we might find out that the responsibility it brings is not fun. People who are doing a certain job in a school system, are doing it that way because of years of research and study. Methods we disapprove of may have a lot of benefits to them, many of which we cannot see because we are too busy wishing things were different. Allah advises us in the Quran to accept many of the things that happen to us, for it will bring us to greater peace inside. Allah also commands us to fight injustice. So, acceptance is not always the answer. We can ask ourselves: can we ask for this change on moral grounds, or is the matter simply not to our liking.

Allah is All-Wise and created the universe with intelligent design. May we all be better able to see wisdom everywhere. Let us save our rebellion for a worthy cause.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What does your Quran look like?

Muslims love and respect the Quran, but sometimes we respect it too much and love it the wrong way. If our copy of the Quran looks absolutely new and perfect, does that mean that we love and respect the Quran? What about our favorite novels, or textbooks we have given a lot of effort to study? Do they look perfectly new and untouched? No. A book we read every day, a book we get our life lessons from, a book that tells us what to do and what to avoid will probably look like it is being read and that will be a sign that it is loved. If our Quran has notes written in the margins, verses highlighted, question marks, sticky notes, even a stain or two, it might in the sight of Allah, be a Quran that is truly loved and respected; A Quran that is read and re-read and puzzled over and cried over, a book that is cherished and loved. Let's all make room on our bedside table for our Quran. The bookshelf in the living room may not be the best place this Holy book. For if we are to make our days holy and our moments sacred, we need Allah's words to guide us. It needs to be on our kitchen table, a part of our messy, rushed lives, handy enough for us to grab a gem of wisdom as we head about our day.

Where is your Quran? Does it look lonely?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Life is a marathon, not a sprint

We all feel more energy during Ramadzan to pray and read the Quran. After the blessed month is over, it is hard to keep up the same enthusiasm for our learning and praying. I just came home after attending the Friday prayers and something the Imam said struck a chord with me. He said we all wonder if our worship and fasting were accepted in Ramadzan. We hope we were entirely forgiven all our previous sins and shortcomings. One way to judge if we indeed had the true spirit of Ramadzan within us is to see how we behave after Ramadzan. If we drop all our devotions like a hot potato, drag our feet when it is time to pray, repeatedly 'forget' to learn the Quran, it means the lessons of Ramadzan did not run deep and we probably did not get any lasting benefit. That reminded me to make an extra effort to remind myself that even though a special month is gone, is not every day and every month a fresh chance to build our relationship with Allah? We hope not to be among those who call on Allah when they need Him and at other times forget about him. I am sure we all know people who seem to be our friends one day and the next pretend they didn't see us or never knew us. We surely don't want our relationship with Allah to be such.

We must try hard to be mindful of Allah and to recreate the joy we felt in Ramadzan.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Food again

Now that Ramadzan is over it's easy to fall right back into our old habits of eating. Out come the cookies and chips and snack bars. So did nothing change? It would be wonderful if we did make some changes to our eating habits for the better, after this month of purification and improvement. We buy so many snacks thinking they are convenient and healthy. The truth is that nothing beats good old fruits and vegetables for a snack. A banana can be peeled quicker than a granola bar can be opened. It is less sticky than fruit leather. An apple, pear, plum, orange: so many fruits just need a quick wash before they make a quick, nutritious and healthy snack. We don't need to walk around with all those plastic packets. Let's be honest. Nothing really compares to the taste of fresh fruit, the sweetness gushing into our mouths. No vitamins in a bottle can deliver what Allah has prepared for us in nature. Once we get back to the "real snacks" the bars and fruit strips don't taste as good. Just as we plant seeds of goodness in this world to reap rewards in this world and the hereafter, so do we plant seeds of health in our body, to benefit in both worlds. What a delicious proposal! I'm off to peel a fresh orange.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Share the joy of Eid

Eid is a day of happiness, of sharing, or family and friends, of enjoying the blessings of Allah. Yet, sometimes happy occasions, and happy people may make some people sad, because they are away from their loved ones, or do not have good health or good friends. When our hearts are brimming with joy on Eid, we must be mindful and remember that it is Allah who bestowed the happiness on us as a special favor. It is our duty to share it with others as much as we can. Could it be that our sincere greeting and warm embrace after Eid prayers, could be the best part of someone's Eid? Maybe inviting a new family over for tea or snacks could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. This Eid, let our own happiness not make us insensitive to the feelings of others. Instead, let our happiness and gratitude to Allah, and our prayers and efforts in Ramadzan make us the kind of people who include everyone, who spread smiles and happiness wherever they go, who greet everyone like family.

We are indeed all one big, extended family.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why not?

Chapter 71 in the Holy Quran is about Prophet Noah. I found verse thirteen very inspiring. It asks us "What is the matter with you that you hope not for greatness from Allah?" I found this verse to contain a universe of love and mercy from our Creator. Allah is the One who nourishes us to perfection, if only we make a connection with Him. All of us openly or secretly wish for greatness, for it seems that desire has been built into our minds and souls. But sometimes we might mistake that for "magazine greatness", or what the world thinks is great. It is worthwhile to remember that glossy magazines do not really represent anyone's life or achievements. It is all a show that has been put on, just like a play in a theater. Greatness in real life requires us to be humble and good in the everyday things that we do, and it leads us to be successful in all parts of our life. While most of the Prophets were not hailed as heroes in their time, they certainly are heroes now. They showed us what Allah wishes for us; to grow and flourish in all matters, spiritual and physical. To lead a complete life serving the Creator and His creations, giving love and receiving blessings.

May we all hope for greatness from Allah, pray and work for it, and be fit to receive it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lessons of Ramadzan

The blessed month is almost gone. What did we learn? It is worth taking time to think about this. Some of us may have learned that they can bear more hunger and thirst than they thought they ever could, and still be pleasant and patient in the process. This leads me to think and wonder about the hidden strengths Allah has placed within us. Who knows our full potential! This thought gives me much hope. It helps me calm my worries about future problems. It tells me that when I cross any future :'bridges', any 'gear' I may need will be certainly and surely given to me. I may not have it now, or I may have it and now know it. But when the challenge arises, I shall not be left without the skills to cope with it.

Tawakkal is an Arabic word that means trust in Allah. Once we firmly have this trust, it is easier to put doubts to rest and believe that as long as we have faith and put in an honest effort, Allah is on our side. Can there be any greater comfort?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Questions about heaven ...

Sometimes an inquisitive mind may become curious about heaven and wonder what it will really be like. What if you don't like milk or honey? What if your idea of heaven is spending an afternoon reading in bed? Will heaven really be everything for everyone? Here we have to use our faith and trust in the Almighty Allah, who gave us the brain to think about heaven in the first place. Who remembers being a tiny baby, yet to be born into the world? Could you have imagined this world as it is? I don't think anyone can claim to have done that. We all had a very limited view of our existence when we were so tiny, and could not have imagined the things we would do, the world we would explore, the things we would learn. When we think of the next life, of heaven, it is like we are still a baby in a womb and cannot see or imagine much beyond what is around us. Allah gives us clues and examples in the Quran to reassure us, that a lifetime of good deeds shall lead to a happy existence forever, yet we do not have a clear idea of heaven. Thankfully we have a clear idea of how to get there. The path is simple and straightforward. We seek the pleasure of Allah through following his commands and guidelines. We plant the seeds of heaven with our own hands and may Allah bless us all with a happy harvest.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stories of the prophets

As we all pay more attention to Quran reading in Ramadzan, we find that stories of the Prophets are repeated often, with some details added or removed each time. As I was reading the story of Hazrat Musa, I reflected that he had to face some unique trials. One of those was when he killed a man by accident. All of us make mistakes every day, both big and small and some of those are hard to get over. Killing someone by accident would be highest on my list of terrible mistakes to make. The Quran repeatedly mentions Hazrat Musa being anxious and upset by what happened. Yet Allah provided a way out for him and led him to a safe place and made him a prophet. Allah forgave him and he forgave himself. Allah helped him to overcome that terrible trial. Hazrat Musa went on to save so many lives by leading his nation away from the cruetly of Pharoah.

Mistakes happen. We need to seek Allah's forgiveness, make ammends, and move on.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Look at all the lonely people

The first day of school can be tough. For those going to a new school, or starting middle or high school, the first few days can be lonely. One can easily start thinking that everyone else has friends, if ones attention is focused on the laughing faces, the kids in groups. A different way would be to look for others who are alone, or new, and try to connect with them through a smile or friendly comment. It may be the beginning of a new, lifelong friendship. So don't forget your smile as the most important thing you need for the first day of school. Both a friendly smile and a kind word are acts of charity.

Let's start the new school year with kindness and friendship in our hearts.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bring it on

Back to school days are upon us. While many will be groaning over the loss of carefree days, it is important to keep things in perspective. How many children around the world can only dream of a chance to go to school with clean clothes, new books and sturdy shoes, books and pens and all that is needed to succeed? For so many it is just a dream. We are living the reality of someone's dream. It is up to us to make sure that we put in an honest effort and appreciate what we have been blessed with. We pray for a day when all kids around the world are sharpening their pencils and checking their backpacks. Education is a blessing. Love it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Start the day with a bang

If we want to start our day with a bang, we can. Instead of walking around mindlessly with sleepy eyes and yawns, all we have to do is open up the Quran and read a line. Yes, just one line will do. Works for the busy and the lazy and everyone else in between. One line of the Quran with translation can jump start our brains and our day. For example, take Surah Al- Asr. "By the time" it says. That is all of the first line. It can really get us thinking. Why? What about time? Olden times or new times? What do we do with our time? Why does time pass so quickly when we are playing the Wii and so slowly when we pray Zuhr? What is time exactly?

Oh, so many questions and the whole world to study and our whole life to learn. Wake up with a bang!

Problems come and go

The hunger and thirst we feel in Ramadzan can feel overwhelming at times. We wonder if the fast will ever end, yet in our heart we know that it will. Like all problems in our life, it will not last forever. If we can take this lesson to heart, and always remember that "this too shall pass", we will not be as disturbed by the ups and downs of our life. Sitting next to a mean kid in school? Not for long, for seating assignments change. Annoyed with something or someone? People change constantly. Try to think of the situation differently and watch the problem shrink. Things come and go. Life is short. Do the right thing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Keep Your Mind on the True Goal of Ramadan

When you think of Ramadan, what is your favorite part? The Eid celebration at the end and your presents? Or is it the closeness to Allah and the reading of Quran and the Tarawih prayers, and fasting? Most of you would probably pick the first one and I would too. But the second one is also good. The second one is the true goal of Ramadan. But how can we keep our mind of Eid so we can concentrate on the true goal of Ramadan? We need to remember that Eid will make us happy in this life, but won't be helpful in the next life. On the other hand, being close to Allah, reading the Quran, and Tarawih and fasting will be helpful in the next life, Inshallah. It also gives you a good feeling inside. May Allah give us all the strength we need for Ramadan, Inshallah.
Ramadan Mubarak

A practice fast

Fasting can be very hard. Especially for kids still working on a full day fast, there are many options.
How about a "kindness and patience fast", in which you focus on these two qualities all day long. Or "break that bad habit fast" which, as the name suggests, helps you focus on a habit that really needs to be put to an end. Or "take care of the fasting fast". This is when you focus on taking care of the people in your home that are fasting in any way you can. Last but not least is the "slow fast" in which you simply try to slow down and not rush during the day. Slow down for your prayers, for Quran reading, for everything you do. Slow down and focus on the beauty of life :)

Assalam Alaikum

We hope everyone is having a blessed Ramadan. Those of you who like Lighthouse Magazine, will like this blog as well, Inshallah. It's for Muslim kids who think about their religion and like to discuss Islam with their friends, or talk about new ideas, or who like to really know how Islam applies to their daily lives. Keep reading and we'll keep posting.
Ramadan Mubarak