A Bid À Dieu

In the fleeting moments of the last fast of Ramadan, I became apprehensive, overcome with sadness as this beautiful month was coming to an end. I started prancing around my room trying to figure out how to make the best of the remaining minutes. I resolved to making dua, which is basically a conversation with Allah. I asked the all mighty to accept my duas, prayers and fasts while forgiving any sins I may have committed knowingly and unknowingly. I wished I had done a lot more worship during this Ramadan, all of a sudden it felt like I hadn’t done enough. I wondered if I’d be amongst those blessed with the lifespan to experience another Ramadan. As my mind was flooded with such thoughts, my eyes welled up with tears. I started to cry as my final appeal to God to accept my deeds from this holy month. I heard the call to pray signalling the time to break fast, the last fast of Ramadan.

Farewell Ramadan, you have been good to me, showed me what I am capable of achieving, pushed the limits I had set for myself, transforming me into a better being. I shall return the favour by embodying the virtues you have taught me.

Inshallah, see you next year!

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The Significance of Laylat al-Qadr

My little sister wrote the following essay for a competition:

Ramadan is the holy month of Islam. It is the month where the Quran was revealed to our mankind for guidance to Jannah. It’s the generous month where our good deeds, our worship to Allah, and our charity acts are multiplied. Moreover, the gates of Jannah are unlocked, the gates of Jahannam are closed, and Satan is tied up. Fasting is an obligatory act for Muslims to retain from eating or drinking from before the starting of dawn, till the sunsets. Ramadan isn’t just for humans to experience thirst and hunger, it is to stay away from un-Islamic possessions and become devout. Prophet (S.A.W.) said, “Whoever fasted Ramadan out of belief in it and sincerely seeking the reward from Allah, all his past wrong doings will be forgiven”.

In this particular month it includes a sacred night, Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power), which is a night that is better than a thousand months. This night has a big significance in Islam. This is the night where the very first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), when the angels were sent down, and the night where your destiny is written.  Allah revealed the whole Quran from the preserved tablet, to the lower heaven. From the lower heaven, few verses of the Quran were revealed in the span of 23 years. The Quran was revealed through Angel Jibril in Mount Hira, the mountain that Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) went to meditate.  Angel Jibril asked Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) three times to read the verses of the Quran, but each time he answered saying, “I don’t know how to read.” Each time Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) didn’t read the verses, Angel Jibril would vigorously press him against his chest until he couldn’t tolerate the pain. The fourth time he was asked, our Messenger recited, “Read, in the name of your Lord, who created: the human being from clotted blood. Read, for your Lord is Most Generous, who taught by the pen, taught the human being what he did not know.” Surat al-‘Alaq [96]. After this, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) received the revelation and went home. He told his wife, Khadija that he was crazy or he became one of the Messengers of Allah. He realized he was definitely a prophet when Angel Jibril kept visiting him.

On this extraordinary night, Allah accepts all the duaas asked by his slaves, and forgives all the people with the intentions to absolve. On Laylat al-Qadr, believers should stay up all night and pray with the right intentions since it’s the holiest night of the year. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) worshipped Allah on the last 10 nights like he has never done before by praying, making dhikr, reading the Quran, and making duaa continuously. If a person misses one blessed night, they’ve missed out on a lot of rewards. The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, “Whoever spends the night of Laylat al-Qadr in prayer out of faith and seeking reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.” Plus, whoever takes the time to pray all night for Laylat al-Qadr, and if it is actually the night of Laylat al-Qadr, his previous and future sins will be dismissed. Furthermore, on Laylat al-Qadr, Allah tells his angels what will happen throughout this year (this Laylat al-Qadr to the next Laylat al-Qadr). Some Muslims perform Itikaf in a masjid by remaining in the mosque for the last 10 days to pray and recite the Quran. Laylat al-Qadr can be on any of the last five odd nights of Ramadan (21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 29th). When Prophet (S.A.W.) was going to tell the Muslims when the day of Laylat al-Qadr was, he witnessed two men bickering with each other and forgot what he was going to say.  The rationale of why no one knows when Laylat al-Qadr is because Allah wants us to praise Him throughout the last 10 days of Ramadan. A person can find out if it was Laylat al-Qadr after it has passed. If the sun appears weak, reddish, and has no sunrays, the night before was Laylat al-Qadr.

This is beneficial after Ramadan because we become more pious. One gains taqwa by fearing Allah and staying away from the deeds that upset Allah. When we recite and reflect the Quran and pray Taraweeh it drew us closer to Allah. It takes a lot of patience to fast and give up eating and drinking. People become more charitable by donating money, making food for others, and even smiling. Fasting has medical benefits too because it teaches Muslims to take care of their bodies.  All in all, if a person is accustomed to these qualities in the month of Ramadan, this person can also continue being a deferential believer that feels closer to Allah and wants to cherish Him even more after Ramadan. One can change for the better.

-N.W. Khan

UPDATE : She won second place, only 4 marks behind the winner. She received $50 as the prize money! 

This maybe the VERY last 10 days, last Ramadan…

It has been a very emotional Ramadan for me, a very teary one. Each Ramadan is somewhat different than the previous one, but this year specifically has uniqueness unmatched to its predecessors. My uncle (Mother’s elder brother) suddenly passed away in March. The days leading up to Ramadan, I would be overcome with the realization that he is no longer alive and my eyes would well up with tears. I cried for the first time ever during the first day of Taraweeh (night prayers during Ramadan) as I was engulfed in thoughts of my uncle, who we were supposed to finally meet this Ramadan after 10 long years.

He had moved to the states about 6 years ago to work a menial job at a gas station on top of the hills in Clearwater, California. He lived alone, worked long tiring hours, 6 days a week, rarely had proper meals, neglected his health and his well-being just so he can provide for his wife and kids back home in India. His only source of happiness, comfort and motivation were the few minutes he spent talking to his wife, kids and mother every day after work.

Ramadan 2011 was a joyous one for my uncle as he finally got his green card, something he had been fighting for. We were all happy, it meant that he could go back to visit his family. My family lives in Toronto, Canada and we are the closest relatives in terms of geographical proximity. Mom and I tried to plan a trip to California about a year ago. But my uncle told us not to come as he was literally living in the middle of nowhere and had no means of hosting us. He said he will come visit us in Canada on his way to India, Inshallah (God Willing)…but Allah never willed it.

He had finally gotten another job and moved to Vallejo, CA five days before he passed away. Now he was living with some family friends. The job was easier, the boss was nicer and more importantly he had access to a Masjid. In Clearwater, due to the long hours, dictator like manager and the lack of Masjid, my Uncle did not get to pray properly. It had greatly saddened him that he couldn’t pray Jummu’ah  (Friday Prayers). So he was extremely content when he moved into Vallejo on a Thursday and attended Jummu’ah the next day. Little did he know, that would be his very last Jummu’ah as he would pass away the next Tuesday.

Overcoming many obstacles and unlikelihood, Mom and I flew to California to arrange/attend my uncle’s funeral. My grandma, aunt and cousins were eagerly awaiting this Ramadan so they can finally see their son/husband/father after 6 years. My mom had thought her elder brother would come visit her in Toronto and they would finally meet after 10 years. Instead, Mom and I saw him wrapped in three pieces of white shroud, lying in a coffin, ready to be transported to the burial ground right after the Janazah prayer. And all his loved ones, relatives and friends back in India got one last glimpse of him from the video of the Janazah that was streamed online.

Last Ramadan, I had been very disappointed with myself in regards to how I had spent the month, basically I wasted it as I did not gain anything spiritually. I told myself that I will make it up next year. Allhamdullilah (Praise be to God), I had never been happier to be alive to experience another Ramadan.  We all think there will always be a ‘next year’.  However, I learned this year that we should think, ‘What if this was our LAST Ramadan?!?!’. The last 10 days are upon us and it is this thought that should motivate us through it. In the spirit of the Olympics, go for GOLD, aim for JANNAH.

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…

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.

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.

 

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