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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