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Sumi is a little over two months old now. She is a cute, cuddly, lovable 12.5 pounder with smiling half moon eyes. I try to take in the moment, knowing that these days are precious and she is already growing up so fast. My father told me that the one thing he regretted was the fact that he didn’t get to enjoy us while we were children. He was too worried about work, buying a house, providing us with an education. Alhamdulillah, we came out alright thanks to his emphasis on hard work. He would always tell us that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes improvement and, “Success is beautiful.” He usually said that after Pete Sampras won a Wimbledon or U.S. Open.

Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I try to think of what would make the biggest impact on my child. I can overwhelm myself with thoughts of responsibility, how I have the potential to provide her with a great start or seriously dampen her chances, or I can concentrate on myself and my own improvement.

We all know the adage, “Do as I say, don’t do as I do.” We know that that’s never the case with children. I want Sumi to do as I do, but that means:

a) I need to always be mindful of what I’m doing. Am I raising my voice because the bathroom sink is filled with remnants of shaven beard hair? 🙂

b) I actually need to do, setting projects for my own self development. Alhamdulillah, with the encouragement of good sisters and my husband, I started running and getting back into shape. I hate running. I would much rather play volleyball, but it feels good not to always succumb to what I want. I had gained 63 pounds during my pregnancy and thus far have lost 53, alhamdulillah.

c) Prioritize what’s important. Am I instilling values and principles as opposed to pushing her to accomplish milestones and essentially creating an award based environment?

d) I need to surround her with people that also do. This is a huge worry for me. Not so much now, but when she is older. Will there be a good Muslim community for her to thrive in, where she doesn’t feel self conscious about being herself, and yet is motivated and inspired by the characters of others?

e) I need to trust in Allah. Trust so much in Allah that it is contagious in our household.

Allah has given me the immeasurable blessing of nurturing one of His servants. It’s time for me to buckle down, work on myself, and, here it comes…stay consistent. For if I can do that, then I am assured that Allah will help me with the rest.

Enjoying the car ride to the park.

Fifty years ago thoughts of community would have been images of people gathering together maybe for a townhall meeting, neighbors breaking bread, or simply waiting at the bus stop alongside other parents.  Now, different communities abound that have the potential to isolate us from our neighbors. With the computer as our medium, we slice through physical obstacles establishing relationships with people we may never meet. There is an unspoken sense of unity when we join a google group or receive responses on forums we check as religiously as our email.
This is good. I video chat with my aunt abroad whereas fifty years ago and a thousand dollars later I would have had to fly to see her. I can ask like-minded moms why my two month old is constantly spitting up. I even receive encouragement to remain consistent in my running program, if you can call it “running.” Yet feelings of isolation remain.
I have been wanting to write a blog post for a long time. However, every time I thought about what was going on in my life, it was laced with a tinge of negativity. Should I just vent about how difficult it is to breastfeed that I simply have become a voluntary prisoner in my home? Or, how tired I am from lack of sleep that I sometimes wish I was hooked up to an IV pushing caffeine?  No one would like that. Maybe some would commiserate. Others may think of me as a wimp. After all, how many mothers before me survived the first couple of months with a newborn without assistance and are looking forward to their next bundle of joy? And, anyway, isn’t this much better than being pregnant? The little voice inside me tells me to count my blessings.
And finally two days ago, it happened. I finally had something positive that I wanted to share. For one beautiful day, that feeling of isolation had disappeared. I was with the local community, sharing my first experience at a Farmer’s Market about five minutes away from home. I spoke to vendors asking them about their farms and fruits. We bought bread and if my husband wasn’t there, I would have splurged all my money on cheese. Maybe the advocates of buying local prioritize their reasoning based on the smaller ecological impact it has on our environment. I wonder if they realize the huge social impact it has on our community that no Stop n Shop or Wal-Mart can ever compete with. At the market, my dream of one day owning a farm was reignited.
“I can make due with just a couple of acres. I think one of those farmers would sell a couple of acres to us.”
“Okay, but where would we live?”
“Oh yea, we’d have to build a house.”
“Hmm…”

My husband has a good way of bringing me back to reality.
After the Farmer’s Market, we went home, had lunch, and then made our way to the beautiful local park. Ice cream cones in hand, baby snug on daddy’s chest, we walked and walked and walked. We cut through the grazing geese, gazed at the flowers, and watched as three different brides posed behind the backdrop of cherry blossoms and rose bushes all the while discussing the various things I can do on my imaginary farm.
We walked and smiled and people smiled back.
It was a good day.

Pregnancy is hard. It is physically and emotionally draining.  I played volleyball in high school and before school began, our team went to a camp in Pennsylvania to train. We’d wake up at six to run up and down a hill at least ten consecutive times. We would then do body strengthening. We didn’t touch a volleyball those first two hours of the early morning. Then it was eight and we’d be able to eat. After that grueling week was over, I felt so fit. I was sore, but knew my body would recuperate.

Pregnancy is a lot different. You definitely see physical changes. You definitely feel sore. You run out of breath, not because you just climbed a mountain, but because you had to go up the stairs to use the bathroom….for the fourth time.

I always thought that pregnancy was going to be so easy for me, after all, I’m not a light-weight. I was wrong. The first four and a half months were the toughest I ever had to endure. Being an over-achiever, it was never good enough to just “be.” I had to be better. Those 4.5 months, I was struggling to just exist. Between the constant throwing up, visits to the E.R. and migraine headaches, I wondered why any woman would voluntarily do this again. It was difficult to remain spiritually inclined when I felt like I was being punished with this tribulation.

Then the ease started to peak its little head. Slowly but surely, I wasn’t throwing up five times a day, only once in the morning. The migraines weren’t as intense, I only had to deal with swollen feet and intense heartburn. I gratefully waddle to work now, instead of being bed-ridden unable to even consider going into the kitchen. I was so happy that those days were behind me and embraced every other physical ailment as a blessing from Allah.

It’s easy to complain when you’re pregnant. It’s hard to be conscious of the fact that you’re complaining. The day to day, “How are you feeling?” questions come with a mental list of obstacles I face day in and day out. I have to make a very conscious effort not to rattle them off.

So instead, here is the list of what I’m grateful for:

– I’m grateful that Allah has given me the opportunity to experience something that many women are unable to.

– I’m grateful for my husband who has been so patient with me through this whole ordeal and makes sure the fridge is stocked with milk, baby carrots, and popsicles 🙂

-I’m grateful for my family and friends who encouraged me and were there to drop off food and lend a supportive ear and hand when we needed it.

– I’m grateful for my students and supervisor who were so understanding during the difficult times.

– I’m so grateful to be a Muslim. I’m so grateful that Allah protected me from being a pregnant teenager potentially getting kicked out of the house, not having anywhere to go. (This happens so much today 😦 ).

– At Dunkin Donuts, the cashier told me “I hope you’re having a boy.” I told her, “It’s going to be a girl.” Her friend said to her, “What’s wrong with a girl? Girls are nice.” The cashier replied, “Wait until she becomes a teenager and she goes out “poppin.”‘ I replied by answering, “She won’t be poppin,” (Please Allah let her be righteous and not “poppin” (whatever that means)). Her friend whispers to her, “Nooo….her girl won’t be “poppin.” She’s traditional, they don’t do that stuff.”

I’m grateful for being “traditional.” Alhamdulillah.

Fuzzy Da’wa

Everytime I answer someone’s question about Islam, I cannot help but think that I have failed to give them the bigger picture. Last week, I, along with the Trinity College MSA, hosted a panel discussion titled, “Ms. Independent, the Islamic Way.” Alhamdulillah, people attended with a wide variety of questions, some requiring rather lengthy answers, and others that were pretty straightforward.

I worried about the straightforward answers. Let me explain.

Audience Member: Do you have to wear the head scarf at home?

Me: No, immediate family members are allowed to see you without the hijab on.

I realized how foreign the concept of hijab was to this lady. My mind was racing. Hmm, maybe she also thinks we shower with it. The whole idea of modesty to the outside world was missing. The straight forward answer provided the guidelines without the wisdom.

I had to revisit the question.

Me: The hijab is foremost something commanded to us by God in order that we may be modest and noticed for our Islam. However, there is a clear distinction between being modest to the outside world and being with family at home. The majority of men and women do not go to work dressed in their pajamas and would probably be reprimanded if they did. Why? Because there should be a level of respect that is maintained in the workplace atmosphere.

I didn’t say that last part. I wish I had. But, it still wouldn’t have been enough. It still fails to answer the bigger question, which is, “Why do any of this at all?!”

Audience Member: How does Islam view homosexuality?

(As a sidenote- I think it’s rather easy to be tofu. Soak up the flavors of those around you. It is much easier to be accepting of everything society tells us to be accepting of than to stick to certain principles, especially if those principles are not popular)

Me: Islam is pretty clear that any act of homosexuality is forbidden. This is not to say that some people may have homosexual feelings, however, acting upon those feelings would not be condoned, just as an unmarried heterosexual man or woman would be forbidden to act upon their desires.

Still not adequate.

I attempt to continue…. Islam has given us a set of guidelines to live by in order that we may live the best life in submission to God. Some of these things are quite clear- Do not murder, slander, cheat. Others are a bit fuzzy and we may not always see their wisdom depending on our context- do not deal in interest, you must pray at certain times of the day etc. Within those guidelines, God tells us that the best way to raise a family and express our sexuality would be between a man and a woman in the confines of a marriage.

I guess that was closer to what I wanted to say.

As Muslims, we are here as an example to humanity, and yet, how can someone who is gay not feel like I’m judging, or at least, not feel a bit alienated from the Muslim community?

I continue…

It is quite sad that homosexuals are sometimes judged so quickly in the Muslim community and we have Muslim men and women who have committed heinous acts, are in prison, and with that are given a Muslim chaplain who will hear their narrative and encourage their repentance towards God. For the Muslim community, we must be accepting of all people, even if we are not accepting of their decisions.

The same question keeps racing through my head, “Why? Just why do any of this?” Just live morally to the best of your ability. Treat people with respect, be driven at work and school, raise socially-conscious children.

This is why, “We hear and we obey,” (2:285). When God commands us to do something, this should be our answer and not for anything but for our OWN sake and I think that obedience is our most difficult struggle.

Does this mean that we do not question and reflect? Absolutely not.

Do we however live in an uber-argumentative society that molds us not into reflective creatures, but rather, beings that need to be right? I think so.

“As for those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful ones. And as for those whose scales are light: those are they who lose their own souls,” (7:8-9).

It does not take that much humility to realize the greatness of God, but it does take a great deal of humility to act in accordance to what has been decreed. We refuse, we fight, we have defense mechanisms, we rationalize, we do everything except say, “If this is what God wants, then I hear and I obey.”

For my own sake.

The Rat Race

Assalaamu alaykum everyone,

It’s been a long time! As my murrabi reminded me, “What happened to your blogging?! Is the river frozen during the winter?” Lol, so that was the kick I needed to revisit something which is actually really important to me- writing.

I was reading Relationships 101 by John C. Maxwell. It is a quick read, and like many self-help style books, relevant when it comes to everything except implementation. I mentioned this to my husband the other day, noting that the information is true and valuable, but in the end, it all depends on whether we implement into our daily lives. Then he responds in his pithy style, “Wouldn’t that be the same with the Qur’an?” Touche.

We can only implement however when we have hope. Hope for a better future, for a better character, for success. This was one of the major themes of the Relationships book. The best thing you can give anyone is your belief in them to succeed. Maxwell then gave an example of two rats. Scientists dropped a rat into a jar of water that had been placed in total darkness, and they timed how long the animal would continue swimming before it gave up and allowed itself to drown. They found that the rat lasted little more than three minutes. Then they dropped another rat into the same kind of jar but instead of placing it in total darkness, they allowed a ray of light to shine into it. Under those circumstances, the rat kept swimming for thirty-six hours! Because that rat had a ray of light, he had hope. So, it’s not just enough that we have hope, but that we can visualize our future success- whether it be in our studies, in our marriages, or whereever.

The experiment may seem cruel, but it is a microscopic view of our own lives. We all know that our fate is death- everyone has an even playing field when it comes to that. And yet, the value of each life is different. Some may have drowned long before their actual death- losing any motivation to meet their fullest potential. Others, never stop trying. They are the “36-hour Rat.” Resilience and Hope.

When we feel like we are about to drown, how can we give that last burst of energy? I think that’s where we need faith. If we never lose faith in Allah’s promise of ease after hardship, that may just be the ray of light that we are all looking for.

So, my usra and I are memorizing Suraht al-Mujaadilah and the story of Khuwaylah bint Tha’labah raises many interesting points. Khuwaylah (ra) was married to a very old man, and during this time, it was common within Arab culture to curse one’s wife by saying, “You are to me as the back of my mother,” which is known in the Qur’an as dhihaar. When a husband would say this to a wife, this meant that he would be depriving her of intimate relations and it was akin to a divorce, but a) the husband can say this an unlimited amount of times and b) when he feels like making amends, he just returns to his wife. This essentially would leave the wife powerless. As one can gather, this is what happened to Khuwaylah, as I’m sure it was happening to other women in the Peninsula. The only difference, however, is that Khuwaylah demanded justice. She would keep going to the Prophet Muhammad (sas) waiting for revelation from Allah to grant her her rights. Initially, (pre-revelation from Allah) Sayidna Muhammad (sas) said, “Oh Khuwaylah, your husband is an old man, be conscious of Allah in him.” Khuwaylah, however, had a deep faith that Allah would reveal to Sayidna Muhammad (sas) and the rest of the humanity that she was being unfairly treated and the idea of dhihaar was not aligned with the teachings of Islam. She persisted, staying with Saydina Muhammad (sas) until Allah sent down the beginning of Suraht al-Mujadilah, and with it, came a very difficult punishment for those that abuse their wives through dhihaar.

First, Allah reminds those who do curse their wives in such a fashion that clearly, your wives are not your mothers, your mothers gave birth to you. SubhanAllah, sometimes we really need a wake-up call by stating the obvious. Also, we can just adopt sayings that really are not their literal meanings and be so unaware of the obvious. For example, the idea of saying “That’s so ill” (meaning it’s cool). Or, the story of the two fish and a turtle asks them how they enjoy the water and they respond by asking, “What’s water?”

Then, the punishment. Allah commands those who commit dhihaar and then want to return back to their wives that they must first free a slave. If they cannot find a slave to free, they must fast two months straight. Straight! That means, there is no “I am tired today, I’ll just skip this day of fasting and make it up.” If they are not able to do this, they must feed sixty needy people before they even touch their wife. It should be noted, that these are not three options, of which a husband can pick from. He must first try to find a slave, then try to fast the two months, then if those two fail, feed sixty people.

The story of Khuwaylah is impressive in so many ways. We see the persistence of a woman who knows that this Arab custom must be eliminated and has a deep faith that Allah will reveal something regarding her particular situation (remember, she was married to an old man, and Allah gives three ways of purifying him from his error). We also see the justice and mercy that Allah has towards His creation. This is a clear directive that husbands cannot deprive wives of their rights and vice versa, and yet, if we do err, “Inna Allaha la’afuwwun ghafur” (al Mujadilah, aya 2)- Indeed Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving. Then, we think of the punishment. We obviously think of it as a punishment, but in reality, Allah says why He issues it, “thaalika litu’minu billahi wa rasulihi”- this is so you can believe in Allah and his Messenger (sas) (aya 3). When we are fasting, it gives us time to reflect and make amends, and in a two month period of fasting, it would be hard to come out of it with a lower state of imaan.

Some questions that I do have: “Since the Qur’an is relevant at all times and places, and we know that this was an Arab custom that has been eliminated (I hope), how does it pertain to us today? Are there any phrases similar to it that the scholars would say the punishment would be the same?”

My second question is, “What if a wife said something akin to that phrase to her husband? What would the ruling be then?”

If anyone happens to know, please inform us 🙂

Any thoughts about the story of Khuwaylah (ra)?