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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.