How not to Waste Ramadan

This is the second year that Ramadan has fallen during the summer holidays. As a result there are many that have no obligations such as school or work (for those lazy bums that couldn’t get a summer job). I envy those people. The list of things that I would do to make the most of this Ramadan if I had the amount of free time they have is endless. They on the other hand have been wasting it by staying awake all night browsing on the net and sleeping all day only to wake up around iftaar time. If thirst and hunger is all that they gain from this Ramadan, then they might as well not have fasted at all. I have made a list of things that they can do to make this a spiritually fulfilling Ramadan, apart from the two obvious ones: reciting the Quran and praying Taraweeh. Also want to mention that this is a reminder for me as well.

I had mentioned this video previously, but it is a good start.

Ramadan, a gift for Muslims by Sh. Nouman Ali Khan

Reciting the Quran is great, but it’s even better when you try to understand and reflect on its meaning.

Tafseer of Surah Maryam by Sh. Abdul Nasir Jangda

Tafseer of Surah Yaseen by Sh. Abdul Nasir Jangda from Ramadan 2011

Daily Reflections:

Ramadan Reminders by Sh. Yasir Qadhi

Ramadan Chronicles by Dr. Tariq Ramadan

Ramadan Reflections by Imam Khalid Latif

The Shaykh It Show

Quran Recitation: Sh. Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy is my favourite Qari

I know that already 8/9 days have gone by. If you’ve done nothing substantial up until now, it’s never too late to begin, the only time it will be too late is when you are dead and gone…

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The Hijabi Network

It is a well known fact that men do not like to ask directions, which can be attributed to their ego and ‘I-know-it-all’ machoness. Well you know what, not only men but I too don’t like asking directions from random people. My reason being is the awkwardness that comes along with approaching people you do not know and making them aware that you are incompetent at following map/directions. Also, what if they turn out to be a psycho, or a serial killer. God knows, there are too many of them roaming around these days #JamesHolmes.

However, you do not have to worry about such things when you are part of the ‘Hijabi Network’ aka all the Muslim women who wear a wrap around their head to outwardly pronounce their submission to Islam.

Similar to how men wearing turbans are recognized as Sikhs, women wearing head scarves (common term is Hijab) are recognized as Muslims. Amongst us hijabis, we have this unspoken bond. Kind of like a ‘Sisterhood of Floating Hijab Heads’. While walking through crowds and two hijabis make eye contact they acknowledge each other by saying Assalaam Alaykum (May peace be upon you). They are basically saying “I come in peace and I wish the same for you”, very ET/hippy-ish. So when someone immediately claims that they wish peace upon you, you immediately let down your guards/fears and any inhibitions you have towards meeting a stranger. Think of it like an ice breaker. This makes it easier to have a cordial conversation with someone who up until a minute ago was a complete stranger.

Being part of this hijabi network has so many benefits, especially when you are in an unknown environment and in need of guidance. Last month, my best friend and I were vacationing in New York City. We had taken the double decker tour bus and gotten off at Greenwich village in hopes of trying to find the Islamic Centre at NYU to do our mid-day prayers. Two Torontonians, with incomprehensible maps, and no data on phone resulted in us being lost. We were just walking around trying to find our way until my friend spotted a hijabi. “Ask her, she should know, she’s probably going there herself”. So I ran up to her, said Salam and asked her if she can direct us towards the IC. Just like my friend said, she was also a student of NYU and was on her way to the IC so she would gladly take us there. We were delighted :D, lost no more! On the way we found out that her name was Janine, initially lived in Chicago with her family, did her bachelors in Biology at the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi and is now doing her masters at the NYC campus. She was very friendly (common traits of hijabis :P), pretty and when we saw her interracial/mixed gender group of friends we concluded that she was an uber-cool hijabi (like me :)! She showed us the wudhu (ablution) areas, prayer area and the cafeteria before she said goodbye. I absolutely loved the Islamic Centre at NYU, sorta like the multifaith centre at U of T but faaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrr better (will write another post on the NYU-IC). We had thought we saw the last of Janine that day, only to see her again that night at Olive Garden in Times Square and one last time at Friday Prayers. Its amazing how we form relationships with complete random people, hmm isn’t that how all relationships form apart from immediate family…

Another such incident happened at my workplace. I had gone to meet my friend on the 14th floor and as I was leaving I met a hijabi while waiting for the elevators. We started talking and introduced each other. I’m only 2 month old so I asked her who had access to the key to the prayer room. She told me to email her the next day and she will get me connected to the person with the keys. I did so first thing the next morning and she immediately replied with the key holder joined to the conversation. The key holder was very jovial and I immediately clicked with her. By the end of the day we had planned a lunch for the next day so we could all meet in person.

The next day I was waiting for the key holder at the lobby. I didn’t know how she looked like so I was wondering how old she might be. From the emails she sounded about my age. After about a few minutes I saw a hijabi come towards me, she said Salam, shook my hand and hugged me. I felt sooo welcomed and ecstatic to have finally found some hijabis at my workplace to connect with. She had invited two of her co-workers who weren’t Muslim and of course the hijabi I met at the elevator the day before. The five of us took a quick walk to a Thai restaurant [bad service, descent food]. I was the youngest at the table, that was clear but I still couldn’t pinpoint the age of the keyholder. I’d guess late 30s to early 40s but her mannerisms were like that of 20 somethings  (I later found out that she was near her 50’s, I was amazed!). Not in an immature childish way but she was just overflowing with joie de vivre. She had been with the company for 11 years. Seeing that she could still have so much life in her after being at a place for 11 years gave me some reassurance, that I too can last long at one company without growing bored/cynical. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed their company. The conversations were very lifey (kids & family) and mostly about upcoming month of Ramadan. After lunch, we stopped at Timmy’s. I was too full to get anything but the elevator hijabi bought me tea :). The key holder took me to her desk and gave me the key as she will be on vacation during Ramadan, so I am the new key holder :D. This means, that I get to meet more hijabis in the building. Actually meeting someone today for afternoon prayers as she is new too and needed help with finding the prayer room. So this key to the prayer room has become the baton in this relay of connecting hijabis at my workplace. This key and of course the hijab signifies our faith as it is the reason for this connection amongst random people who otherwise would never meet.

Fasting Fatigue

Today’s the third day of fasting for me. In the past, first day has been really hard to endure and the rest is usually a breeze. This is the first year I am working full time, commuting whilst fasting.  So I was a bit apprehensive as to how I would be able to cope with it. The first day was a Friday, which I was happy about as I can use the weekend to allow my body recover from first day fasting exhaustion. I think I got really excited on the first day and overexerted myself.

I first felt my body reacting to the fast while I was at the Masjid for Friday prayers. It wasn’t really the hunger, but more the lack of sleep and tiredness as a result. As soon as I went home I crashed on my bed and had a 3 hour nap. My mom had cooked some scrumptious food for Iftaar and I swear food had never tasted this good, EVER! No one will fully appreciate food until they had to be deprived of it, which is one of the purposes of fasting. To comprehend how much of a luxury it is to have 3 meals a day. After ingesting the food went to the Masjid for Taraweeh (Night prayers during Ramadan). Got back home around 12:45 and slept for few hours only to wake up again at 3:15 am for Suhoor (meal before sunrise). Then went back to bed around 5 ish and was woken up by the alarm 12:30PM and I couldn’t get up. I’ve never felt soo lifeless, weak and fragile. I could feel my body breaking down the sugar stored in fat in order to keep functioning. Spent most of the remaining day in bed hoping that lying down will somehow increase the energy level in me. I failed miserably! I did not accomplish much yesterday. After breaking fast I felt a bit better. However still went back to lie on my bed for about 20 minutes before mustering up the energy to get myself to the Masjid for Taraweeh. I didn’t think I could last the entire but I did manage to only thanks to the support of my bf. Sadly, today wasn’t all that better. Woke up around 3PM.. :$ and still felt very slothy, so slothed around a bit more. It was only around 5PM that I properly got myself out of bed and was a bit active, the most I’ve been all weekend. I realized it was all the sleeping that made me feel like a sloth. Plus, its mind over matter right?  We shall find out tomorrow when I will be functioning on 3 hours of sleep 😀 !

My Daily Respite

So far work hasn’t been all that hectic, which will however change very soon. I decided to make full use of this time by going to nearest Masjid for dhur (mid-day) prayer. Initially I was planning to walk there, a 20 minute walk that I didn’t mind as it is summer time and gives a break for my chair that I sit on all day! I was telling about my plans to my non-Muslim co-worker and she immediately gave me her metro pass and told me to take the subway instead of treading through the heat. I was touched by the gesture to say the least. So thanks to her and another friend who also lent me the metro pass I was able to go to the Masjid five days in a row last week. This has never happened before, and it was wonderful. Nothing equates to the feeling of praying in a Masjid, the house of God. As soon as you enter all the worries of this world vanish into thin air. The heart feels content, the soul is ecstatic at the thought of connecting with God and the mind is finally at rest. I was elated that I get to do this every day and thanked God for blessing me with such a luxury.

The commute is as follows: 10 minute walk to the subway station, 2 minute subway ride, 2 minute walk to the Masjid. Last Tuesday was the hottest day ever in Toronto, it had broken all its previous records. As I was walking through what felt like a furnace I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be able to do this whilst fasting. Also, how did people who fast work and go about their day in parts of the world where it’s extremely hot throughout the year. As I was pondering this thought a verse from the Quran came to mind “Verily, with difficulty comes ease” (Surah 94, Verse 6). I repeated it to myself as I walked and knew right then that I shouldn’t be worried about the difficulty of the task at hand, but look forward to the rewards. That night as I was about to go to sleep, a realization hit me like a brick of rock. I wouldn’t have to walk through heat waves, thunder storms or even blizzards during the winter time if I wanted to go to the Masjid, I could take the PATH! The PATH is an underground system that connects subways and major office buildings in downtown Toronto. It is temperature controlled so I wouldn’t be sweating or freezing. So YES, it is possible for me to do this while fasting irrespective of whatever the weather is, which can go to either extremes here in the T.O. !

What Ramadan Teaches Us

This is an article written by Dr. Tariq Ramadan and I really liked how he has explained the virtues of Ramadan:

The month of Ramadan is at hand, and with it, the world’s Muslims will be entering into one of the finest and most beautiful schools of life. The fasting month is a school of faith, of spirituality, of awareness, of giving, of solidarity, justice, dignity and unity. Nothing less. It is the month when introspection among Muslims should be deepest; the month of their greatest contribution to humanity. The month of Ramadan is the world’s most widespread fast, and yet its teachings are minimized, neglected and even betrayed (through literal application of rules that overlooks their ultimate objective). Small wonder then that we should return to the subject, and as the fasting month returns each year, we too must repeat, rehearse and deepen further still our understanding of what Ramadan teaches us, of this school of divine nearness, of humanity and dignity. The fast is each individual’s quest for the divine; it asks of each of us to look beyond self: Ramadan is, in its essence, a month of humanist spirituality.

During the fasting days we are called upon to abstain from eating, drinking and responding to our instincts, the better to turn inward, to our heart and the meaning of our lives. To fast means to experience sincerity, to observe our shortcomings, contradictions and failings; no longer to attempt to hide or to lie, and instead to focus our efforts on the search for ourselves, and for the meaning and priorities of our lives. Beyond food, fasting requires us to examine ourselves, to recognize our limits humbly, and to reform ourselves ambitiously. It is a month of renewal, of critically summing up our lives, our needs, our forgetfulness and our hopes. We must take time for ourselves, to look after ourselves, to meditate, to contemplate, simply to reflect and to love. Seen in this light, the month of Ramadan is the best possible expression of anti-consumerism: to be and not to have, to free ourselves of the dependencies that our consumption-based societies, North and South, not only stimulate but magnify. In calling upon us to master our instincts, the fast calls into question the modern notion of freedom. What does it mean to be free? How are we to find our way to a deeper freedom, and to move beyond what we crave? An entire month, year in year out, to remain human, to become a human being before God and among humankind. The true fast is at odds with appearances.

The tradition of fasting was prescribed, the Qur’an tells us, for all religious traditions before Islam. It is a practice we share with all spiritualities and religions, and as such it bears the mark of the human family, the human fraternity. To fast is to participate in the history of these religions, in a history that possesses a meaning, that has its own demands upon us and that is shaped by destinies and by ultimate goals. A unity of spiritual descent, of transcending the strictly human, unites all belief systems, all faiths. Islam situates it in the meaning of tawhid, the recognized and acknowledged Oneness of God that opens onto human diversity by virtue of how it is experienced and lived. The same holds true among Muslims; even though the time frame and the rhythm of fasters are similar, the cultures of fast breaking, of meals, and of the night are diverse. Unity in meaning; diversity in practice. The month of Ramadan carries with it this fundamental teaching, and reminds Muslims themselves, whether Sunni or Shia, irrespective of which school they follow, that they share the same religion and that they must learn to know—and to respect—one another. Just as they must with other traditions, for the Qur’an enjoins us to “know one another”.

The coming month is one of dignity, for Revelation reminds us that the human being is a creature of nobility and dignity. “We have bestowed dignity of the children of Adam (all humankind).” Only for them, in full conscience, is fasting prescribed; only they are called upon to rise to its lofty goal. The human being is the only creature that fasts; human beings must undertake the fast in a spirit of seeking nearness to the Unique, of equality and nobility among their fellows, women and men alike, and in solidarity with the downtrodden. The core of life thus rediscovered is this: to return to our hearts, to reform ourselves in the light of what is essential, and celebrate life in solidarity; to experience deprivation as desired and enhancing; to reject poverty as imposed and degrading. Our task is one of self-mastery ourselves; we must lift ourselves up, sever our ties, become free and independent, above superficial needs, the better to concern ourselves with the true, down-to-earth needs of the poor and the needy. The month of Ramadan is thus a place of exile from illusion and fashion, and a pilgrimage deep into self, into meaning, into others. To be free of ourselves, and at the same time to serve all those imprisoned by poverty, injustice, or ignorance.

Muslims spend thirty days in the company of this month of light. If only they could open even wider their eyes, their hearts, and their being to receive the light and offer it in the form of the greatest gift of their spiritual tradition to their sisters and brothers in humanity! To the music of the Qur’an, they are called to exercise self-control and to give, to meditate and to weep, to pray and to love. Truly to fast is to pray; to pray is to love.

 

It’s here, it’s here, Ramadan is HERE :D

It’s my favourite time of the year. Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar where Muslims all around the world fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam; fasting, sawm in arabic.

Each year it comes and goes within a blink of an eye. Each year I set some goals to achieve during Ramadan and rarely have I successfully completed it. Last year was the worst, as I was jobless at home, so I pretty much slept the entire month and meddled in random stuff that took away the essence of Ramadan. This year I’ve come to realize that I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I’d only focused on trying to be as ‘good’ of a Muslim I can be during this ONE month. However, the point of Ramadan isn’t to be good for 30 days and then go back to being devils for the remaining 11 months. It is to re-evaluate and revamp yourself by getting rid of bad habits and gaining good ones. It’s a chance for you to re-kindle the spiritual relationship with God and reconnect with family and friends.

On a daily basis we spend so much time thinking about/preparing and eating food. Take away the chore of ingesting meals and you are left with an abundance of time that can be spent elsewhere. You starve your stomach to feed your soul and heart with spiritual samosas. It also makes you realize how fortune you are to have the capability to feed yourself 3 times a day when there are million others around the world that barely have 1 meal a day. When you feel the hunger pangs you appease your stomach by reminding it to just wait a few more hours for dusk. However for the unfortunate ones, even the arrival of dusk won’t put an end to their stomach’s anguish. This is where another one of the five pillars come into play: Zakat (charity). Muslims are required to give a certain percentage of their savings towards charities to help those that are a lot less fortunate. This collection is done throughout the year, but more so during Ramadan by the Mosques and then dispersed across various charity organizations.

To brush up on the importance of Ramadan I watched this video by Sheikh Nouman Ali Khan and here are some facts that I was reminded of :

The Muslim’s holy book, Quran was revealed during this month and in it there is only ONE verse that advises the followers of Islam to fast during the month of Ramadan. One of main purpose of fasting is to gain Taqwa (god consciousness), which is mentioned over 200 times in the Quran. So the month of fasting is to train your heart to win over your body; to put aside the physical needs of your body to tend to the spiritual needs of the heart and soul. The best way to attain Taqwa is through the Quran itself as its whole purpose is to guide us in this world and lead us into the hearafter.  During this month, Muslims re-establish their relationship with the Quran. Through recitation and in depth analysis of the Quran believers attain taqwa, which provides them the guidance and eases the hardships endured in this world in order to reach the best of places in the world waiting for us.

I prepared way ahead of time this year; printed the time table and posted it onto my cubicle, sent an email to my manager explaining the importance of this month and requesting specific accommodations, made a list of goals I want to achieve during this Ramadan and also made a prayer list. I’ve been waiting for this month for so many reasons and I’m psyched that it’s finally here : D. Allhamdullilah (praise be to God) it’s already off to a good start!

Ramadan Kareem to one and all the Muslims around the world : )

Women of India, Find your Voice !

In light of the recent molestation of the young woman by 20 drunk despicable men in Guwahati, Assam it can be reaffirmed that India is one of the worst country in the world for women to reside in. India and Indians should be ashamed that such incidents are still happening in the modern era, I sure am!

The following outcry is from this site and they succinctly express my anguish:

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A Shame On Humanity : Guwahati Girl’s Public Molestation

Dear All,

A teenage girl was sexually harassed in Guwahati on 10th July. Not in a dark lane or an empty warehouse, not by one man or a man with his friend; she was molested, in full public view, in an alert hour of the evening, right on the main street, by a group of 20 men. Evidently, some men were provoked when the young high school girl responded to a detestable remark made on her. She tried to stand up for her self-respect ended up being subjected to harassment.

The heart does not stop beating and fingers don’t stop shaking while one reads this news or watches the video tape. Yes, we have a video recording of the incident. That’s us; human beings residing in complete harmony, we record a live molestation like we  record a marriage reception. HILARIOUS. I will come to the ironical part regarding the video in a short while. First, I shall talk to the multitude of people who stood right there, made round eyes, opened their mouths to reveal their shocks and looked at each other, or maybe even called some of their friends to give a firsthand narration of the once-in-a-lifetime scene they were witnessing.

SHAME ON THEM. These were the kind of people who will never be disgraceful, not even a tad bit, about what they have done. Because they have a million excuses. Who are we to call them wrong? They were just standing there. They didn’t touch the girl. And moreover, how could they stop the mob of those 20 barbarians. Weren’t they concerned about their lives? Sick! This shows we are sick and crazy bunch of living organisms. The onlookers of this crime are as much criminals as the other wild animals who were after the young girl.

To the women ‘onlookers’: You were scared for yourselves, so you stood there, a few meters from the spot where clothes of that girl were being snatched away. But let me tell you something. Because you didn’t speak up or take any action when you saw this, you will have no right to ask for help tomorrow. Or even day after, when you come out of a bar after celebrating your friend’s birthday and find yourself being groped by a group of men. You will have no right to shout with fear when you are unable to sleep because you can feel those hands everywhere on your body, each night of your life. You will have no right to shed a single tear when your daughter comes back home torn and devastated. Why, I ask you? Why didn’t you move, tried to stop them, evoked others to help that helpless little girl, shouted, cried, shrieked to bring an end to this shameful act before it could proceed to such limit?

To the men ‘onlookers’: What were you all scared of? That those brutes will tear off your shirts as well? You stood there like emotionless clay marionettes. Would each one of you have done the same thing if she was your sister? This country is so full of such flagitious crimes, that every reader can easily predict your answer to this. You’ll say, “My sister will never go to a bar or be on the streets alone in the night. She is a ‘decent’ girl.” This is exactly what you will say, but you know deep inside that these are the words of somebody who is not a man anymore. You have been converted into a coward, incapacitated and blind creature. Will power, a desire to do the right thing, an urge to cry your heart out against injustice; this was all that was required to stop the deed committed against humanity. And those of you who did take a step forward, but only and only to join the mob and steal your chance of touching the girl, go home, look into the eyes of your wife/sister/daughter/mother and tell her that you are a mentally sick and emotionally retarded person. Wish you had the guts to do anything even close to human.

To Assam Police: Mr. DGP, we all know that the police force is not an ATM machine. We are not that foolish. But we also know that if you can’t be present at the crime scene the moment one inserts a card, you can at least be there a few minutes after that. We didn’t ask you to put on your best garments before saving the girl, what took you 30 minutes to be at the place of need? Someone’s life was being ruined there; nobody was standing to take out cash from a machine. Please think before you speak and act before it’s always, always very late.

Finally to the great heroes who made the video: Great job. You made a video tape which is now helping the police to get a hold on the molesters. 4 out of the 16 identified men arrested, after THREE long days. Four is certainly a huge number according to the police and they thank you. I won’t ask you anything, I wasn’t there, I didn’t see what you did or tried to do. My question is directed to Mr. Atanu Bhuyan, the editor-in-chief of Newslifewhose journalists recorded the event. Why are you giving hilarious statements to back your men? “The mob would have attacked them, prevented them from shooting, that would have only destroyed all evidence. The molesters would have been roaming scot free”, you said. Don’t you see the simple point here? If your men had tried to save the girl, or encouraged others to help them if they were failing to do so alone, the girl would not have been pulled, stripped, beaten and robbed of her respect. The molesters would not have got the encouragement that they can feel up a girl on the street, smile for the cameras, pose in front of them, make the girl forcefully look into the lenses, and then snug back into their hiding places. Come out of your business fenced, fantasy world; your reporters did no appreciative job.

The molesters? I can’t write in direct speech for them. But I can tell my readers that we live in a world full of wild beasts. We are no more in a place where brave men come up to save the damsel in distress. We live in a dangerous world, a world that smiles at the sufferings of others, and then joins in the stimulus of the pain. I want each of the men who dared to touch a helpless soul to be hanged, or better still, be left in prisons to decay; each and every day of their lives should pass in the darkness that would have surrounded the girl’s eye for those 30 minutes.

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This incident and other similar ones have made me realize that women need to learn to defend themselves from these vicious vultures. You can’t even expect the public to help you, they will just stand and watch or better yet, film the ordeal. Take some kind of self defense classes, karate, kung-fu, muay thai. Carry a pepper spray, dog whistle, pocket knife.

Anand Giridharadas explains the conditioning women of India have been through for centuries in his book India Calling: Women were bred in this environment behind a virtual veil; so many were encouraged not to think, not to question, not to know themselves and certainly not to express what they knew. They were dispensers of silent smiles and of ceaseless inquiries into whether you had eaten. Anything more than that would have exceeded the permissible quantity of personhood.

It’s fine time the women of India came out of  the virtual veil, found their voice and demanded the respect, dignity and humanity they rightfully deserve!

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