Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spicy Spaghetti

Now that I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable in my new Bellevue apartment with my husband, I'm trying to cook occasionally. My husband is actually quite a good cook and took it upon himself to prepare meals for our first few weeks together. I appreciated it, since upon arriving in Bellevue I was frustrated and disinterested and not really up to household duties.

But now I'm starting to share the workload. I just realized that I need to get a head start on dinner if I want to have a hope of cooking anything before he gets to working in the kitchen when he gets home. So tonight when he told me he'd be home around 8:30pm I was prepared. Since he had plenty of spaghetti noodles and a few jars of tomato sauce, whipping up dinner was relatively easy. But since I didn't have any meat to put in the sauce (hadn't had any picked up from the halal meat shop yet) I wanted to make it a little more interesting than just tomatoes (though I did add some extra tomatoes.) So I decided to add some oregano (I normally do), and some garlic powder (why not?) and some crushed red pepper (hey, husband likes spices!) and even some ground red pepper as well.

I let it simmer on the stove while I went to the masjid to pray. One nice thing about this apartment is its proximity to the masjid--a 5-10 minute walk. So I prepared myself and made wudu, and left the house about 6:50. But as I approached the masjid, I realized that the salah was not at 7pm, like I had mistakenly thought, but actually at 7:30.

Now, I haven't been able to find a table of iqamah times listed for this masjid, which is why I keep getting confused. I think it's something like fajr at 6:45am, dhuhr at 12:30, asr at 3pm, maghrib at 4:30, and isha at 7:30. But for some reason I just can't keep it straight. So I arrived at the masjid, prayed isha by myself and then left. While I didn't mind leaving the stove on for 30 minutes or so, leaving it on for an hour made me nervous. I do like being able to walk to the masjid, though. And since it hasn't been raining lately, it's been especially easy. Last Friday I walked to jumu'ah, happy to not have to worry about parking in an already cramped masjid parking lot. This way, someone else could utilize the space. Plus it's more environmentally friendly (they're all about that up here!) and healthier for me as well, since I get a bit of exercise.

Around 8pm I started boiling water for the pasta, and tossed it in after about 10 minutes. Unfortunately my husband was a little late (and I was very hungry) so I started without him but once he got home he was quick to eat everything left. And what made me most happy of all was that he really loved the spaghetti. First I had him put a lot more sauce on it than he was used to. So even though he had cooked spaghetti himself before, he assured me he liked mine better--though not because of the spices, just because it wasn't "dry."

A few days ago some sisters told me that it was satisfying to cook for one's husband but I was skeptical. I'm far from becoming some kind of foodie or gourmet chef but it's nice to have my own home, and someone who likes my cooking.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Welcome to Washington



On Tuesday, December 15th, 2009, I entered Washington state for the first time. And I've been here since then. It was actually very late, and dark, so I couldn't see much other than the road. Since my husband had been driving for most of that day along a very rainy Oregon coast and was too tired to keep going, but yet insisted on making it the rest of the way, I drove from the southern areas of the state along I-5 northwards until we got to Bellevue.

The only thing I could really notice about the state, which I'd noticed in Oregon as well (and maybe even in northern California) was the roads. First, the use of these round bumps in place of white paint to mark lane divisions. Easier to see in the rain and dark, even with glare from streetlights, and also a way to make you feel if you've crossed into another lane accidentally. And second, that Washington highway shields are a very funny shape. At first I thought it was a bush--and from far away it kind of looks that way--until I realized it was actually a silhouette of President Washington's profile! See how the little things amuse me! Of all the states we traveled through, this was definitely the most interesting. Most states will use circles, diamonds, squares, or even the shape of the state. But I've got to say that Washington takes the cake on this.

The first thing we did in on Wednesday after breakfast was to go pick out furniture for our new apartment. My husband had heard good reviews about Mor Furniture in Kent so that's where we went, and were pleased enough with the selection to buy a dining room table with chairs, a sofa and ottomans, and some mattresses. These items were delivered the same day. We also bought a recliner, however, but that item was back-ordered and hasn't yet come in.

Our next step was to purchase some essentials for the apartment--silverware, and cookware, for instance, but also bed linens and towels. But after a lot of time shopping at Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, we were mostly set for the first day. I had to make many subsequent trips to both stores, plus a stop at a Wal-mart and a Pier 1 Imports, before becoming mostly satisfied with the apartment. I have some more things being shipped from home which should arrive next week, and today we finally ordered the tableware that I really wanted, so it should soon be on its way.

Since arriving we've been able to dine with a few different families in the area, and it's been nice to meet some other sisters. So far everyone I've met has a connection with Microsoft--usually that their husbands work there, and that's how we are connected. Microsoft seems to import its employees from all over the world, allowing for a tremendous amount of diversity in this area.

The last few days have also had unseasonably (I'm told) excellent weather, with plenty of sunshine (during the mere 8 hours that the sun is actually above the horizon), despite being more on the chilly side. One plus side to a short day, on the other hand, is that it's very easy to fast. This Sunday was Ashura--the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic calendar, a day Muslims are recommended to fast in order to remember Moses, and the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. It's recommended for Muslims to fast two days, either Ashura and the previous or following day. And with a fast lasting from 6am (the start time of fajr) until 4:30pm (maghrib), it's hard to complain. Although the summer is surely going to be a completely different story.

Although there are many things I miss about Raleigh (I'm sure to elaborate on these in subsequent posts) there are some things about Bellevue which just can't be beat, like the view of the mountains on a clear day, or a Starbucks in every nook and cranny. And it's time now to make it my home.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Journey North

Once we hit Bakersfield, CA, we were pretty much just heading north. Because of snow, we weren't planning to make any stops in Eastern California, so we just drove north. From Sacramento, we went north to Redding, CA, but from there we went further west again because I wanted to see the coast. There's a scenic route up the CA, OR, and WA coastlines, highway 101. But the job on Sunday was to get to the coast. Traveling up I-5 to Redding wasn't a problem at all, but going westward meant driving through Shasta-Trinity National Forest. In the middle of the day, with clear skies and beautiful weather, it didn't seem that doing so would be a problem. But this "scenic drive" is not for the faint-hearted.

It twists, and it winds. And it is absolutely gorgeous--smoky mountains, giant fir trees, gentle rivers. (I take it those rivers aren't always gentle, given the number of rafting houses we passed.) There are tons of RV parks but not really any towns on your route once you pass Weaverville. It was really a beautiful drive--but not for the driver. And I'd recommend anyone who gets carsick to avoid it. But those obstacles aside, it is pretty beautiful.

Unfortunately, in Weaverville some locals told me that they were expecting snow that night, so husband and I wanted to get through as soon as we could. And we were out by the time it was dark--although every time we passed a snow plow we got kind of nervous. It wasn't a road to travel in snow. We stopped to pray in the forest, by a river. That was nice--another interesting place serving as a masjid. And by the time we were out of the forest we were almost at the coast. We decided to go north and stopped in a place called Trinidad, CA, for dinner.

We dinner ate at a local seafood house that was very nice, but our waitress suggested not staying the night in Trinidad and instead driving south to Arcata, which we did. In Arcata, we ate breakfast at a place called Toni's (finding an IHOP or the like in this area is pretty much out of the question, so we asked at the hotel for a breakfast place.) And honestly, the food was delicious. And the pancakes were huge. Seriously, huge. Being in the MM FitLife, our second habit to master is avoiding processed foods. I'd say pancakes are processed, so I wanted to have pancakes at my last opportunity. And it was worth it: they were really good.

Monday we drove north up the coast, and it rained. My husband especially loves the Pacific Ocean--and it is nice, but compared to what all we had seen I was slightly underwhelmed. Rainy and overcast conditions didn't make it easy to see much either. Along our route was Redwood National Park, so we stopped there. We even got out of the car this time and took a few side trails. The trees, in case you haven't been there, are huge. Some of the fallen trees you can take a picture beside, and as they're laying on the ground, they're still taller than you. It was pretty neat.

On the north side of the park was a little museum and shop (Trees of Mystery), with huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe (the blue ox.) We looked around, and the museum was particularly interesting. It was called the "End of the Trail Museum," and had a variety of different Native American displays and information.

This symbol is used to mean "End of the Trail." I learned that from a Navajo lady back at the Grand Canyon. She told me they use it for their children, their youth who end up leaving their culture behind, and so for them they are at the end of the trail.

It's sad to see what has happened to so many cultures, so I'm glad we stopped at this museum--it was interesting.

From there we went further north and made it into Oregon. We stopped at a vistor's center to pray shortly before they closed, and planned to drive a little further north Monday, and then head on to Portland the next day. So we stopped in a place called North Bend--actually we had a hard time finding anywhere to eat. It seemed to be a coastal town that was pretty much shut down in the off-season. For breakfast though we stopped at a place called the Pancake Mill, and had a really good breakfast (albeit, no pancakes, sadly.)

Tuesday took us the rest of the way up the Oregon coast--rainy, mostly, with a few scenic views, and some small towns along 101--and we went in to Portland for dinner. My husband wanted to eat at an Afghani place called Kabobi. So we stopped and ate, and then decided to keep going!

So that night, Tuesday night, we drove all the way to Bellevue. I drove most of the stretch between Oregon and Seattle so my husband could sleep--driving in rain really takes a lot out of you and he was exhausted. We then spent the night in a local hotel so we could get started with the apartment shopping on Wednesday.

So now I should be caught up, at least to the end of the honeymoon. So now I'm only one week or so behind. We actually do have pictures of all these things but haven't uploaded them yet, sorry.

Death Valley Rain

After visiting the Grand Canyon, we had one more night in Sedona, AZ before heading further north and west. We intended to leave Thursday morning and visit Hoover Dam along our way to Las Vegas, NV. We ended up leaving later than we'd have liked, however, in part due to my insistence on stopping at one more pottery house (Kacina House) before leaving town. I guess it was worth it, I bought a few more things there. We also stopped for sandwiches that we'd take as our lunch from a shop called Sedona Memories. Those sandwiches, however, won't be our best memories of Sedona. They were just too huge. We each had a few bites of ours and ended up throwing most of it away just because we couldn't eat it--and it wasn't all that good to begin with.

But with all our (my) delaying, it was getting dark by the time we reached Hoover Dam so we didn't really see much. But the drive towards it from the Arizona side is just beautiful. On the other hand, traffic there isn't any fun--though it should improve by the time the new bridge opens up. We drove over the dam and onwards towards Las Vegas, which wasn't far.

Friday for jumu'ah we went to the Omar Haikal Academy, which had been recommended to me by someone who used to live there. Afterwards we went back to Hoover Dam to see it properly, and were there nearly until dusk. From there we went back towards Vegas and continued on towards a small town called Pahrump, NV.

The plan for Saturday was to visit Death Valley National Park, but we wanted to stay somewhere closer to the park than Las Vegas, and we actually had a hard time finding a hotel. But we stayed at a fairly decent place in Pahrump, and for the first time on our trip took part in the complimentary breakfast. (No pork served this time.)

On Saturday we drove up to Death Valley, and through it. One of the first places I was able to take off that new winter coat I'd bought. It was chilly in Death Valley (after all, it was December) but not like the other places we'd been. While I definitely preferred the Grand Canyon, Death Valley was certainly an interesting place to see. The mountains jut out of the landscape at crazy angles--you can see the lines of the different types of rocks, but it's all turned to an angle. And the colors were just shocking. And then there were sand dunes right in the middle--just weird, and alienesque. The colors and scale of the Grand Canyon, just the sheer immensity of it, keeps it at the top of my list.

On our way out of Death Valley we encountered some heavy fog, and even rain. But then we had a decision to make--after Death Valley, where to go? We had originally planned to travel north, towards Bishop, CA, but they were getting pretty heavy snow, so we took a turn south, went around towards Bakersfield, and then up north towards Sacramento. We actually stopped for dinner in Fresno, CA, but wanted to get as far north as we could, so made it 3 more hours to Sacramento, where we stopped for the night.

I've got to say, I saw some parts of California that day that I had never imagined could exist--the weirdest looking cultivated hills, for example, and driving for miles and miles in rainy deserts. It was strange. But thereafter everything was pretty much as expected. So Saturday night we stayed in Sacramento, CA, and Sunday went north from there. More to come...

The Grand Canyon Musalleen?

Sorry for not writing in so long--it took us almost a week to get north and after leaving Sedona we had some pretty long days and by nighttime I was too tired to write much. So let me begin now where I left off.

We did have to buy new coats, and that was a really good decision--we would have frozen at the grand canyon with what we had. It had been really cold when we visited Petrified Forest National Park, and that was difficult with the coats we had. But we didn't suffer too much when actually visiting the Grand Canyon since we were bundled up pretty good.

As we traveled further north on Wednesday morning, and into higher elevations, we encountered more and more snow. First it was pretty, when the roads weren't too bad. We were driving through Coconino National Forest, which looked really pretty with the fresh snow. Closer to the canyon, roads weren't in such good condition. We had checked with the visitor's center in Sedona before leaving town and were told that all roads were open except for 180, which we could easily avoid. And alhamdulillah we didn't have any road problems on the way.

We did stop at Sunset Crater but found the roads along the route to visit there to be very bad (they hadn't been cleared at all, so the only clear sections were where the sun had melted the roadways.) It would've been nearly impossible to go see the crater anyway, so we went back to 89, the road we were taking northward to the canyon.

Around the Little Colorado River Gorge, there were a few Native American ladies who had set up their stands to sell jewelery and pottery. The piece on the right (the black one, glazed outside and inside) is one that we purchased, for about $50. The lady we bought it from also explained the meanings of all the different symbols on the pottery. My tip for anyone traveling to the grand canyon area and wanting to by some native-made (or "indian") pottery, is to buy it from stands like this one, off the side of the road.
We got a much better price from her (and from everyone there) than at any other shops we visited. We also bought a bracelet at a nearby stand. We did buy a few more pieces of pottery, but I'm really glad we stopped there and bought that particular piece. You can find basically the same kinds of stuff in tourist shops, trading posts, and these road-side stands, and you can still get the cards explaining the etchings, or how the pot was made, but I really think I had the best experience at the road-side stand. (And conveniently, the best price.)

Inside Grand Canyon National Park, the roads between those two extremes. Sections of the road which were in shade were still covered in snow, so it was at times a scary drive. When we arrived, we found about 2 feet of snow on the ground. While much of the parking areas at the scenic viewpoints had been cleared, the walkways hadn't. So if you wanted to get close enough to take pictures, you had to brave the snow. I tried that once, while my husband waited in the car, and after crossing the pile of cleared snow from the parking lot, I fell face first into that 2+ feet of snow on the sidewalk, camera and everything.

Fortunately it dried/evaporated pretty quickly, and I didn't get soaked or have to deal with freezing cold water melting on me. We stayed at that viewpoint for a while, as I tried to take pictures and then we prayed there as well. The Grand Canyon is probably the nicest of places where we prayed--on a road trip like this one, many different places can become a masjid. We took tons of pictures of the snowy Grand Canyon, but from the distance it looks like only a dusting of snow--seriously, there were feet of snow at the highest elevations.

Walking around at Desert View, it was especially nice to have the new coats, as the wind was intense. Seriously, every woman walking around there was a hijabi--the cold was nearly intolerable without wrapping up your head as well. But the view truly was beautiful. It's still my favorite place that we visited.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Laundry Day and Airport Views

Yesterday husband and I had to do laundry together. After spending nearly a week on the road (and neither of us willing to carry more than a week's worth of clothes) it was time to get our clothes washed. And with nothing but rain and fog to see in the area (and roads too risky to try driving out of town), other than snuggling and watching Star Wars, laundry was pretty high on our priority list.

I actually thought it was cute. I'd never used a laundromat before, but it was kinda fun because it was something we did together.

Today we started with another gourmet breakfast--savory today, as yesterday's was sweet. There was snow on the ground but then the sun came out and most of it melted pretty quickly. That is, at this elevation. We were able to get some pictures of the red rocks with snow on some and not on others. Sedona is truly beautiful--even more so when it's not raining! Mostly we just stayed in town. We did a little bit of shopping and some sight-seeing (there a lots of scenic vistas here.) There is a church here that's built into a mountain which was neat to visit. Also, at the airport, which is on a mesa, we were able to look down on the entire town (photo above) and see many of the red rock formations from there very clearly.

Since Flagstaff supposedly had 26 inches of snow last night, and higher elevations will likely stay below freezing temperatures tomorrow, we bought new winter coats for our trip to the Grand Canyon tomorrow, inshaAllaah. If we can get there inshaaAllaah--roads clear and all--then we're sure to see a spectacular view.

The Plains Meet the Mountains

Driving I-40 through Oklahoma and Texas is not very exciting. There's a lot of sky, a lot of wind, an occasional windmill and lots of flat land that's really just not very interesting most of the time. The further we traveled west the less vegetation we would see, the less cultivation, the less animals (mostly we just saw cows and horses anyway) and the less people. It was interesting to see how vast this part of the country is--the part I've only seen in Westerns and cowboy movies. The sunsets in the plains were lovely--a colorful sky in every direction.

New Mexico was nicer--a more interesting landscape--but just as bitterly cold as Texas, unfortunately. Especially on the Eastern side were people very friendly and helpful. By the time we got to Arizona the landscape of New Mexico seemed boring in comparison. Arizona has been nothing short of amazing. We visited the world's largest tepee (which definitely had the best gift shop at the AZ-NM border) and Petrified Forest National Park. I'm actually so unhappy with our pictures from there because they don't even begin to capture the stunning beauty of the Painted Desert (the northern part of the park.) I'm really glad we were able to drive through the park (about 28 miles, and our 2nd national park on this trip so far.)

A national park annual pass costs $80--but now we have access to all the nation's national parks for a year. Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually didn't charge, but now we've also been to Petrified Forest, and plan to visit the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. With regular admission at $20/car, it will be worth the cost if we can make it to any other parks this year, and that we certainly intend inshaaAllaah.

In general I'm loving the desert. Despite the cold, biting winds (Petrified Forest was so cold we barely left the car--one reason perhaps the pictures aren't all they could be) the views are amazing, all the way around.

As the sun set we drove onwards towards Sedona, AZ, taking a tiny little winding road (Hwy 89A) down from an elevation of about 7000 ft. to 4500 ft. Unfortunately it was dark, but I'm sure the view of Oak Creek Canyon would have been amazing. I'm hoping we can take that road back out of town during the daylight to see it.

We arrived in Sedona in the freezing cold to a wonderfully charming room at the Sedona Views Bed & Breakfast. We're staying here until Thursday inshaaAllaah, and it's really wonderful. Two nights so far in a lovely room, followed by two delicious gourmet breakfasts. The host even prepared turkey bacon and turkey sausage since I informed him beforehand that we don't eat pork.

The first day here in Sedona it rained pretty much all day. And with that kind of weather we didn't want to risk taking the Hwy 89A up the hill (it's very twisty, but one of the most scenic roads in America we're told.) So we stayed in town, but after all the driving we've been doing, it was nice to just chill for a while. We stayed in, watched some Star Wars (husband's first time seeing it--we brought all six with us) and ate at a few local places. We also did some laundry in the afternoon since we'd been traveling for almost a week, and it was just time. But all in all, a nice way to spend a rainy day. Last night we got a little bit of dusting snow and ice, that's pretty much all melted now. But apparently Flagstaff got about 26 inches of snow, so no plans to drive that way today. For the moment, we're hoping that the roads will all be open tomorrow so we can drive up to the Grand Canyon.

Today we'll stay in town, check out some local sites and do a little shopping. Oh yeah, and buy some warmer clothes because it is frigid!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Rockets!

I think I had way more fun than any adult should be allowed to at the space and rocket center. I even bought myself a "rocket scientist" T-shirt. I was squealing and grinning the whole time, thoroughly amusing my husband.

The shuttle (which is actually not my favorite part of NASA) was over in the Space Camp area so we couldn't get in. I snapped this shot from the parking lot--this mock-up is called Pathfinder.

It was just so much fun, despite the gray cloudy skies and low temperatures. But it's only gotten colder the further we've come West. After Alabama (and hey, we actually went through Georgia for about 10 minutes before getting into 'Bama and we picked up a magnet there) we went through Mississippi briefly, and I've got to say, there wasn't much to see along the way. Could've been the clouds, but I'm not sure.

But then we made it back into Tennessee to pick up I-40 in Memphis, where we stopped for dinner. It was dark when we actually crossed the Mississippi, so no pictures, but we did pick up a few nice postcards to see and remember what it might have looked like. I love this picture that Umer took at the restaurant in Memphis, experimenting with the "close-up" feature on the camera. Meanwhile, I was showing him where we are on the map--we were planning a long drive, even after dinner.


We stayed overnight in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and on Friday we drove the rest of the way across Arkansas. We stopped in Fort Smith for Jumu'ah, as Friday is the day of Jumu'ah (i.e., the day of congregational prayers.) While it's not obligatory on the traveler to pray Jumu'ah, we thought that since we could, it would be a nice thing to do. And it was. We found this mosque on islamicfinder.org in a town along our route (I-40.) Fort Smith

There were only about 20 brothers, my husband says, and only 4 sisters, but it was nice. They did not have an imam so a brother from the community was giving the khutbah. MaashaaAllaah. We give this masjid a 10/10. It was small but it definitely had suitable accommodations. While the women were praying in a separate room (which is never my preference) there was a great sound system and a high quality television set so the sisters could see the khateeb as well. Plus there were chairs and pillows available for sitting on the floor, and a clean spacious bathroom for wudhu. When making announcements they mentioned their attempts to find an imam and also to expand the masjid (as for Eid and Taraweeh prayers it was becoming too full.) May Allah help them and increase them and bless their community.

After jumu'ah we asked about a halal restaurant in town, and there was one, called the Silk Road Grill. My husband, watching me write this, says he just felt a need to drink water, just remembering this place! This is the first desi-style restaurant I've eaten at outside of the Raleigh area, and really I felt spoiled by Olive Green.

This chicken tikka masala that my husband ordered was so spicy (the highest spice level on their menu) that even though it was four stars on the menu, he says it's like 20 stars. I asked if it was too spicy for him, and he responded that it's too spicy for humans. And I tried it. So... I agree with him on that. But the dish I ordered, chicken qorma, was pretty yummy. Oh, we also had some hummus there and tandoori bread--which I'm told was very close to the taste it has in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

After lunch, we went on towards Oklahoma. The scenery there wasn't very exciting, but the sunset alone made everything look just stunning. We had dinner in Oklahoma City (a shockingly Christian town, I think--as there were crosses on the downtown highrises) and kept going a little further to Clinton, OK, where we spent the night at a Days Inn. So far it's the cheapest of the hotels we've stayed at, has the nicest TV and a microwave!

Tomorrow or the next day we'll need to do laundry, either at a hotel or laundromat. But by tomorrow night we should be in Sedona inshaaAllaah! Yay!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Smokies and Rockets


It rained most of the day on Wednesday--all through the mountains. We tried to drive some on the Blue Ridge Parkway--twice--only to find it closed down, and that we had to turn around and go back. So we had to take a different route. Getting to Cherokee, NC, was nice. It was a quaint little town, I wish I'd taken more pictures there.

We stopped at the visitor's center for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and then drove through it after buying a few souvenirs. It was beautiful, despite the rain. But we couldn't see much of the mountains, just lots of waterfalls. Coming out of the hills we went through Pigeon Forge, TN and stopped for lunch there.

Then we went on towards Knoxville then south to Chattanooga, by which time it was pretty dark. We actually made it all the way to Huntsville Wednesday night, so we were all set to visit the Space and Rocket Center this morning. That was super-fun. I practically squealed the first time I saw the rockets and who knows how many pictures of rockets I took while we were there. (Especially the super-huge Saturn V mock-ups!) We haven't uploaded those pictures from the camera yet, though.

Right now we just pulled into Little Rock, AR, and are about to fall asleep. We were planning to try to cross the entire state of Arkansas tonight and end up in Fort Smith but an hour before Little Rock sleep was knocking hard. This is our hotel (not our photo, however) and it's quite nice with a lovely staircase. As it's only two floors, there's no elevator! I think that's so cute!

But not cute enough to keep me awake for another minute. Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Rainy Mountain Morning

I have to admit: I cried. When saying goodbye to my parents the tears started to come--helped in part by my dad's emotional speech and my mom's sad face.

But after sharing a late lunch with them and after our heartfelt goodbyes, my hubby and I set out on the first day of our honeymoon. We made it as far as Asheville where we spent the night.

As expected, thanks to the Weather Channel app on my iphone, this morning greeted us with cold rain. We just finished eating breakfast at the IHOP and now are ready to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fwd: Suitcase

How to pack for a 16 day trip to move all my belongings across the country? I'm trying go as light as is reasonable, planning to wash every 5-6 days.

I'm all about the Ziploc baggies, too, to keep certain items together--like laundry detergent, and scarves (though they took 3 bags total.)

This way it will be easy to find everything despite having to unpack somewhere nee each night.

My problem now is that all my clothes are packed either in my suitcase or in bags to be shipped once we arrive in Seattle. So what to wear? Another problem is what to do with my shoes... pack in an additional carry-on size bag those I frequently wear so I have them during the trip? Or "rough it" with just 2-3 pairs?

This is my first post by email. I'd like to see whether I can blog from the road or will need to post from my laptop at the hotel.

Any last-minute tips/advice are welcome!

Thirty-Two Hours and Counting...


With my wedding already three weeks past, then Thanksgiving, Eid, and my brother's wedding also past, my heart has only one focus: my husband.

And he'll be here, in less than thirty-two hours inshaaAllaah. And then I'll have to say good-bye to my family and friends here in Raleigh. So in one sense it is bittersweet, but I fully intend to visit often and so the prospect of moving in with my husband, moving all the way across the country to Seattle with him, is more sweet than bitter.

Tonight I had one last little party with my friends before I'll be leaving inshaaAllaah, and it was so good to see everyone. After my brother's wedding (it was Saturday) I was able to say good-bye to him and to my new sister-in-law (the photo is her by the way, after she changed shoes...) and also to my sister and brother-in-law who will be leaving for the same cruise as the newlyweds. My other sister still doesn't speak to me but I gave a warm good-bye to my nieces and nephews.

InshaaAllaah, husband and I will be meeting with my parents for lunch on Tuesday before we head out, which makes everyone happy alhamdulillah. I was worried that we would need to leave right away (leaving on Tuesday already puts us slightly behind my previously planned schedule) but my dad gets off work at 2pm, and was really bummed he wouldn't be able to see us off. He loves my husband (alhamdulillah for that!) and my husband is looking forward to seeing my parents as well. So it's good all around.

But in the next day or so, I have pages of tasks crowding my to-do list, high-priority items that must be done before I leave. (So naturally I am blogging to further procrastinate.)

Please stay tuned to the blog, inshaaAllaah I'll be posting pictures and updates along the way. And who knows? Some pictures of me might actually end up on here too. :-)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cluttered Thoughts

On any given day, I'd say at least one, if not two distinct ideas for a blog post pop into my head, but most of the time I don't get around to actually writing the posts--or even writing down my ideas! What a shame!

I tend to blog about what I spend my time thinking about. And lately, I've been thinking about my move across the country. What will my life be like there? Should I start a new blog when I move, to be more anonymous? Are there other Muslim bloggers in the area? What are the Muslims there like? What will they think of me? And even: How will I decorate?

I've also spent some time thinking about my upcoming honeymoon, the actual trip across the country. Since I've been away from my husband now for two full weeks, I'm really starting to miss him. I missed him at first but three days together was not enough time to prepare me for this separation. Frankly it's just weird--I didn't realize how weird it would feel.

Alhamdulillah, at any rate. My husband (can you tell I like saying that?) will eventually inshaaAllaah make it back to my side of the country to drive me to our new home. When he hasn't been insanely busy at work, he managed to find time to lease an apartment and take some lovely photographs of it with his brand new fancy camera. I'm excited.

The next few days will be extremely busy. InshaaAllaah, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, Friday is Eid and my brother's wedding rehearsal and dinner, and Saturday is the wedding!

On Eid--did anyone see the Best Buy advertisement saying "Happy Eid al-Adha?" What I found more intriguing than the actual ad were the complaints from some "Christian Americans" on various blogs when the subject came up. Now, these folks were not in any sense the majority, but they were certainly the most amusing, from complaining that Eid was a goat-slaughtering holiday and that Best Buy had banned Christmas. (Rolling my eyes at that one.)

These proud Christian Americans are no doubt the ones who will gather around a festively decorated table tomorrow to chow down on a carefully cooked and carved turkey. In fact, it's almost more common to hear people say "Turkey Day" than "Thanksgiving." But Eid is a goat-slaughtering holiday? Excuse my rant, but seriously? When an animal is slaughtered on Eid (and it can be a lamb, sheep, goat, cow, or camel, not just goat) it is done with a pretty clear purpose--to remember how Abraham, with his tremendous faith, was willing to sacrifice his son. The sacrifice also keeps the family in touch with nature, at least in a sense that the animal has to be slaughtered a certain way and so forth. It's not bought in a grocery store. And then the meat from the animal is to be eaten, and shared, especially with the poor and needy. So it's also a charity.

I tend to view Thanksgiving more as an exercise in gluttony than one of faith, sacrifice, or charity. Now that's just my perspective, but I find it pretty laughable to hear those "Christian Americans" complaining about Eid.

But on the other hand, I could care less (and they probably should or they might wind up with high blood pressure) if Best Buy wants to wish anyone a happy holiday, regardless of what the holiday is, and regardless of how specific they choose to be when conveying the greeting. Meaning, it doesn't bother me one bit to hear someone say "Merry Christmas" for example. So I can just keep on laughing at the whack-jobs who need to bother about holiday greetings in sale papers.

So there... a few random thoughts to say I blogged today! :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Officially Alumna

I am now officially an alumna. I graduated technically in August, received my diploma soon thereafter, and now have been initiated as an alumna of my sorority.

After a year as my sorority's president, I went way off the radar and had practically nothing to do with the sorority until now, when I had to ceremonially renew my vows in front of the active sisters. It was kind of weird--I was definitely the oldest sister present at the ceremony. There were some other alumnae who had been active while I was, and some actives as well. One sister from my candidate class was still active, the other two are alumnae now but only one was present. But most of the sisters I had never even seen before--nearly 60 of them.

When I was first initiated into the sorority, we had some of the lowest numbers in our chapter's history. One semester I served as membership educator, liaison between the actives and the candidates, and we practically doubled our membership. (I think from 11 to 21.) For the next two semesters as president, our numbers doubled again. (I think from 21 to 44.) So to see that they've only increased more since I've left is really exciting.

I would love to see this kind of growth from my da'wah. Of course it's not in my hands, but can you imagine if you had a few people giving da'wah, and those receiving the da'wah embrace Islam, only to start giving da'wah to more people, who also give da'wah to more people?

Looking back, I think that joining my sorority was one of the better decisions I made in college. It opened so many doors for me, helped me explore my personality and it exposed me to many different types of people. (Which is odd, considering that sororities tend to be comprised of only a few types of people.) But had I not joined my sorority, I would not have hung out with the people through whom I met Muslims for the first time. The sorority was an important part of my college experience, even though I only spent about 2-3 years really participating in it. It was nice to attend the ceremony, look back at all the faces, and finally bid farewell to a part of my life, a chapter drawing to a close.

And now I'm ready to move on, stronger and wiser for the experience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blog Update

Since I've been on my blog now for a few years, I am really itching to overhaul it. To change the name, format, everything. Any advice?

I feel like I've outgrown what I can do with this particular set-up, and I want to make so many changes that I think it will be easier to start from scratch. I also want to focus on my writing like I haven't done before--I enjoy blogging but I think I would like to concentrate on it a little bit more. And in order to do that I think I need to find a nitch, but my interests are so varied it might be difficult for me to stick to any particular topic exclusively.

So I'd like to ask from my readers, what sort of updates should I make? What sort of topics are the most interesting and most relevant? From those who know me, what would it be best for me to write about? So far most of my posts tend to be miscellaneous musings, notes from lectures, classes, and seminars, and personal experiences.

Thanks in advance for all the tips!

Let Them Eat Cake

(Post to be updated in the future inshaaAllaah with pictures of the actual cakes.)

I've been holding off on some wedding posts since I'd like to include pictures but I'm afraid if I wait much longer that I'll forget to write at all! InshaaAllaah the pictures will come soon--I know I've got two great but incredibly busy friends working on the project.

Last night at dinner a friend asked me about any "craziness" that happened at my wedding. And the first thing that came to my mind was the wedding cake. Since my brother's fiancee has been learning cake decorating so she and her dad can make her own wedding cake, she's been looking to practice on other people's cakes. But I'd seen a previous cake and she did a fabulous job and was excited that she offered to do mine as well, so I readily took her up on the offer.

And she absolutely did a fabulous job. The cake was beautiful, and tasted just superb. Unfortunately it had a little bit of a rough ride to the reception and got a little messed up, frazzling my dear soon-to-be sister-in-law who felt compelled to present perfection. I had organized the tables in the room so that the cake (which I knew would be lovely) would be a centerpiece among all the other trays of food--so in addition to being food, it would also be decor. (And yes, some guests even thought the cake was from Edible Art!)

But the really funny part was that about an hour before the wedding I got a phone call from one of my guests, telling me that despite the late notice, she would be bringing a wedding cake! Really I had no idea what to expect, or what to say. These cakes take days to prepare so I couldn't very well turn her down an hour beforehand when she was presenting it as a gift and only right before the wedding.

So when I arrived at the wedding reception, there were two cakes. Surprise! And the second cake was a full wedding cake as well, set up on an adjacent table looking oddly out of place. A groom's cake? Hehe, perhaps. What confused me is that the guest who brought the cake expected my husband and I to actually cut her cake as well (we had engaged in a typical American cake-cutting photo-op) which to me felt supremely odd. So I didn't do it.

But since the first was so delicious (some guests informed me that they found themselves eating several pieces) it was handy to have a second cake. One of the brothers actually asked me if he could go ahead and cut the second cake--because the first one had vanished before everyone had tried a piece!

So in the end it worked out, but how awkward to have a second surprise wedding cake. A nice gift, to be sure, but one which should be announced beforehand. And a word to the wise about wedding cakes--fondant may be easy to decorate with but truly guests will appreciate the taste of home-made buttercream.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Taking Back the Gym

Click for Photo CreditAlhamdulillah, my masjid has a basketball court--although depending on who you ask, that could be good or bad for the youth. The good is that it brings youth to the masjid, but the bad could be that it takes them from the halaqaat and into the gym, giving them an excuse to avoid the blessings of the masjid. But today I'd say it was mostly good.

A friend of mine, one of the more athletic sisters in the community, has organized some weekly basketball time for sisters, on Friday afternoons. Last weekend with the wedding and everything I was much too busy, but this week I wanted to give it a try. Six sisters showed up, and found the gym occupied for about a half hour past the time we had planned to start. So we tried various stretches and exercises using body weight. Then we had to basically kick some brothers out of the gym so we could play.

Honestly, I didn't feel too bad about it since pretty much it's almost always just brothers playing basketball in there. There should be time for sisters too. When we came back to play again after breaking for maghrib, however, a larger group of guys (including an adult, unfortunately) were not interested in letting the sisters play at all. To be honest, though, they did have a point because the gym wasn't officially reserved, and so I'll imagine that if it had been (and that next week when it will be inshaaAllaah) they won't mind clearing out for a little while so sisters can play.

As I haven't played any basketball in over a decade, I thought I'd be pretty much useless on the court. On the other hand, while I couldn't quite run as fast as the other girls and had little experience in practical maneuvers, I wasn't a terribly bad shot. So I had a lot of fun (it's so fun when you score!) and really enjoyed the workout (mostly running.)

I hope that other masajid with gymnasiums and basketball courts make arrangements to ensure that sisters are also able to play. A lot of times sisters aren't given the chance to exercise--sometimes it's even frowned upon or considered too masculine--and that only makes it more likely for sisters to turn to other, unhealthier avenues to vent their frustration. Exercise promotes health, no doubt about that. And if we as Muslims promote health, we should also promote exercise, even, if not especially, for sisters. And having an environment where it is "safe" to exercise (without the leering eyes of men) is just one important step.

Aggressive Da'wah

I don't think it's in the nature of most people, at least here in the US, to aggressively push their beliefs on others. And I think it's quite natural for someone to feel defensive in a situation where someone is being pushy in the matter of faith. At the same time, I think an effective da'ee avoids putting anyone in a defensive position, at least on a personal level. That's because if someone is defensive they have basically closed themselves off from your position, and they won't listen to your point of view.

Imagine, if you are Muslim, how you might feel if someone comes to you telling you about your own religion. Imagine someone who isn't Muslim telling you that Islam teaches this, preaches that, and you believe thus-and-such, and that this person is actually wrong. Because you don't believe whatever it is he's saying you do believe.

In fact this happens quite a lot--many people like to get up and say what Muslims believe. Usually it's in the context of trying to blame Islam for terrorism (or even to use Islam for terrorism.) It's popular to hear people who aren't Muslim saying "Muslims believe that..." and launching into an absurd rant about killing infidels or something equally ludicrous. Because this happens, as Muslims we should be easily able to understand the sentiment I am about to describe.

Imagine now a non-Muslim being told about his beliefs by a Muslim. In other words, the Muslim is telling that non-Muslim that he believes something in particular--and the Muslim might even cite the Qur'an--but that non-Muslim actually doesn't believe it. For example, I've yet to come across any Jews anywhere who say that Uzair (I guess in English it is Ezra?) is the son of God. And I don't mean to dispute the Qur'an on the issue at all--though it certainly doesn't say that all Jews espouse such a belief. And without bothering to really listen to our Jewish neighbors about their beliefs in the first place, it's kind of arrogant, I think, to try to prove what they believe when we are in fact the ones in error. It does nothing to strengthen the position of Islam or Muslims, or to further the da'wah.

I can't imagine it to be anything but rude or offensive to tell a person what he believes. Now that is just my opinion, but does anyone have reason to believe that such bullying da'wah techniques could ever be effective?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rainy Day Chili

Alhamdulillah, yesterday I had the opportunity to make and serve some chili. Actually I opted to make chili since it was cold and rainy--a condition that's only gotten worse, as today was colder and windier I think, albeit maybe less rainy. It was a good choice I think, and as far as I could tell everyone enjoyed it. It's a very simple recipe, unlike Br. Siraaj's over at MuslimMatters. Actually I thought I'd try that recipe until I realized it involved chopping onions, peppers, and blending cashews, for instance.

So I do what I do when I want to fix something from an old family recipe--call my mom! And here's the recipe she gave me. It was very simple (no chopping involved, for instance) and was tasty and comforting, especially on a blustery day. Here is my mom's recipe:

1 lb ground beef
2 cans of kidney beans (I used 1 light red and 1 dark red for variety)
1 cans of diced tomatoes (can use the ones with chilis or chili seasoned variety)
1 can of tomato sauce
chili powder (to taste)

Like my mom, I have a tendency not to measure anything, especially spices. But I actually made three batches, using two dutch ovens (maybe I'll get a stockpot in a new kitchen set when I move inshaaAllaah.) So here is how I made it. In each dutch oven (~5qt?) I put:

1 1/2 lb. ground beef (browned, with grease drained)
3 cans of kidney beans (1.5 cans of light, 1.5 cans of dark red)
2 cans of tomato sauce (yep, more than called for, but I like it)
1 can of chili seasoned diced tomatoes
1/2 can of petite diced tomatoes (petite for variety)
chili powder (about 1 tbsp each pot, maybe more)
crushed red pepper (maybe 1 tsp) just for fun!

It wasn't too spicy (some down-home Southern folks don't like things too hot) but had just a little kick. I'd say it was just right for the occasion.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pineapple Wedding Punch

It's been my experience that punch is a mainstay at some particular social functions--showers and receptions, for instance. So I wanted to have some at my wedding reception. Since the event wasn't catered, punch was definitely something I would have to take into my own hands. Alhamdulillah it worked out really well, and many people enjoyed the punch. (And if anyone didn't, they didn't tell me!)

While punch recipes abound on the internet, with varying degrees of difficulty, I decided instead to use a punch recipe that my mother has kept from her mother. It's actually a recipe for "Champagne Punch" but according to my mother, they never used champagne in it. And of course I didn't use champagne in it either, so I've renamed it "Pineapple Punch."

I thought I might not want to share the recipe on the internet--since there really are so many recipes for punch out there--but really, if a few people use the recipe, what of it? So here it is.

The simple recipe makes "50 servings" according to the recipe card, but I'm inclined to think it makes 25 at best. I basically multiplied the recipe by 4--and made two batches of that. It's difficult to make so much at a time, however. It took me two dutch ovens to make it, and that's the biggest pot I have.

The recipe on the card calls for:

1 1/4 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
Boil the sugar in the water for 10 minutes
Add the following ingredients:
2 cups orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups pineapple syrup
2 cups crushed pineapple
Then at the last minute a 2 liter bottle of ginger ale is added.

On the other hand, when I made it, I did it a little differently. This recipe is how I actually made it, which is roughly 4x the amount in the recipe above.

5 cups of water
10 cups of sugar
Boil the sugar in the water for 10 minutes
Add the following:
1 half-gallon of orange juice (I used the kind with extra pulp)
1 large bottle of lemon juice (~42-48oz)
1 large can of pineapple juice (I think it was 40 oz)
2 large cans of crushed pineapple
And at the last minute, add ginger ale in an amount equivalent to how much punch you're using.
4 bottles (2 liter) of ginger ale.

I poured the punch mixture into empty 2-liter bottles and it filled four of them. Then 1 bottle of punch mixture and 1 bottle of ginger ale were poured into the punch bowl. The punch mixture should be refrigerated, and if the ginger ale is also refrigerated beforehand then the punch will be cold. I didn't add any ice or anything else.

Some slices of oranges, lemons, or pineapple would be a nice touch for someone who has time to cut them. This recipe worked really well because it was easy to make beforehand (I guess it took me about an hour from to get it all into the bottles and everything) and at the reception it only had to be mixed with the ginger ale, and it was a 1:1 ratio of punch mix to ginger ale, thus easy to keep track of how much to add.

Alhamdulillah it went over pretty well. We had about 100 guests at a 2-hour reception, and we had four bottles of punch left over. So the reception used 4 bottles of punch mixture and 4 bottles of ginger ale, i.e., just one batch of 4x the original recipe.

Which means I had 4 bottles left over. Anybody want some? :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wedding

Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!

On November 7th, 2009, Umer and I were married at the Islamic Center of Raleigh. Alhamdulillah! My husband (yay!) kept asking me to write about the wedding but I put it off until he left--he'll come back and get me for our honeymoon in a few weeks inshaaAllaah. I've got so much I want to write about now, especially about the preparations and what it was like for me. But for now I'll try to describe the events for anyone who wasn't able to come.

I spent the last week wrapping up the "last minute" preparations, with my fiance coming in on Thursday evening. On Friday morning, his sister and brother-in-law flew in with his nephews, and after jumu'ah I went home to make some more punch and get ready for my bachelorette party. Umer's sister put some henna on my hands and then we went to the party, hosted by a great friend of mine and her mom, who is also a friend.

Saturday was the wedding day. We had the nikah after dhuhr prayer at the masjid. Actually dhuhr prayer was at 1:35 but I wanted to make sure there was time to set up the room for my guests (we had it in a conference room instead of the musallah). Unfortunately, some of my preparation cost me a little more time than I'd budgeted and I got to the masjid at about 2:30. My family arrived with me, and my friends met me at the door--some taking pictures.

I sat at a long table facing the guests. The man conducting the ceremony, who also acted as my wali (as my family is not Muslim) sat behind the center of the table, and my groom sat on the far end. This was not the imam, a man whom I dearly love, only because he was at a conference for the weekend. He suggested another member of the community, and that was who performed the ceremony. I was asked initially for my consent, which I gave, with confirmation that terms and mahr had been agreed upon. And then the officiant proceeded to deliver the wedding sermon and supplication (du'a) in Arabic and then in English. Then the state marriage certificate was signed by the brother acting as officiant and two witnesses--husband's brother-in-law and a local friend.

That was the nikah, after which the guests came up to me to offer their congratulations. At about 5 til 3 I left the room, and the guests and everyone went then to the reception site. My new husband and I rode to the reception site, and met my friends taking pictures in the hallway. Basically the reception, more an American custom I think than an Islamic one, was an opportunity for us to greet people after the wedding and to share some snacks with them. It wasn't an all-out wedding feast but people seemed to think it was pretty nice. We had hors d'oeuvres, punch, and wedding cake.

It started at 3 and we arrived a little bit after that, with some guests arriving even later. The time for asr prayer came in at about 3:45 so we stopped the reception at 4pm for the salah. After that we cut the cake. My brother's fiancee made the cake for us--and she did a great job. Umer and I cut a small piece and fed each other small pieces from that. Then we let someone else cut the cake and serve portions. I tried to make rounds and greet everyone who came to the wedding to see me.

We wrapped up at around 5pm, had some more pictures taken while my friends (thank you all! jazakumallahu khayran!) and family helped to clean up. I have so much more to write about, inshaaAllaah there will be more to come.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My American Wedding Dress

This weekend I took my wedding dress to a local seamstress for final alterations, cleaning, and pressing, so it will be picture perfect come Saturday. I don't feel comfortable posting picture of the dress (for obvious reasons, right?) but I don't mind describing it.

Though I and my intended are Muslim, and though he is from Pakistan, I still wish to incorporate some "American" traditions into the wedding so long as they do not violate the restrictions of Islam. That is from my understanding that it's acceptable to do so. After all, as Islam has traveled the world it has taken on the customs of each various locale--adopting those permissible customs of the people.

And many people have asked me about my wedding attire--my wedding dress. And so I will say that it is a traditional (American) white gown. Although, technically it's actually ivory. It has lace, and beading, and all sorts of beautiful details. Since it has a halter top instead of full sleeves, I intend to pair it with a matching ivory satin jacket and, when in public, a beige headscarf as well.

I didn't choose my gown to disrespect my fiance--in fact I truly hope to dress in a more Pakistani style for our walima in Pakistan. I'm looking forward to that, but since we are having the nikah here where my family is I thought it worthwhile to incorporate some of my own local traditions.

And those traditions don't really stop with the dress. Planning the wedding has been a tedious balancing act between family traditions and Islam. Many of those family customs are based in superstition, and others in a religion which I do not follow--and it is those which I will avoid inshaAllaah. But what I hope for observers to really see from the wedding here in Raleigh is that while it is fully Islamic, it isn't simultaneously foreign.

And even though my initial wish about a wedding was that it be very simple and quick has not come to fruition, what I have been planning is an inclusive affair with diverse attendees--all of whom I want present on my happy day. I've gone to (what seem to me to be) great lengths to normalize the wedding as much as possible according to American customs--especially for my family, who are not Muslim and do not understand much at all of what will transpire. So I will include some things that not every Muslim girl in my position might, and some things which might not be at all necessary. Like my American wedding dress--it shows a part of my life and though small and seemingly inconsequential, a part of who I am.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

With soap, please

I like soap. I like how it gets all foamy and makes your hands all slippery. I think it's cool how the soap decreases the surface tension of the water (making bubbles!) and bonds with the dirt. So it lets the water mix with the dirt so it can wash it off your hands, instead of just washing over the dirt. But I especially like when soap leaves your hands smelling nice after you wash.

So I buy soap at Bath & Body Works, and I like nothing if not variety. In my bathroom, at the moment, I have four different soap dispensers available for use, plus a bottle of aromatherapy lotion. I have one dispenser that matches the bathroom decor, with some generic kind of soap in it. I have two containers of "gentle foaming" anti-bacterial soap, one is "Coconut Lime Verbena" and the other is "White Citrus." I also have one dispenser of the "deep cleansing" anti-bacterial scrubbing soap in "Rain-Kissed Leaves" scent.

With all this variety, I started to wonder what other people would choose, as far as soap, when they visited my bathroom. Do people prefer the deep cleansing or foaming?

Well, last time I had company I asked a person, after exiting the bathroom, which kind of soap they used. Imagine my shock and dismay (or, um, disgust) as the following conversation ensued:

"I didn't use soap."
"Why not?"
"I didn't want to get my hands wet."
"So you didn't even rinse your hands?"
"OKAY! I'll go wash my hands!"

Weird excuses, huh? I guess I've been thinking more about soap since the recent study about what kind of messages are likely to prompt people to wash their hands with soap. For the record, a wide variety of soaps available might not be enough to convince people to wash with soap. But if any of you ever decide to visit me, please remember... the soap is there for a reason, and not just decoration.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Making Hijab Easy

Click for Photo CreditEven though I might normally get very bored, very quickly when talking about hijab, it's an issue I had a hard time dealing with in the first stages of my entry into Islam. For many people, however, it can be a very important issue, including those who don't wear it, just started wearing it, or aren't even Muslim at all. Maybe it's because hijab is so visible, and very easy to cause polarizing points of view.

When approaching Islam, I think it's better to start with the fundamentals of the faith, instead of tackling an external issue like hijab. So I will say upfront that a Muslim is someone who believes in God and submits to His will and His commandments. A Muslim woman, therefore, should strive to obey God's commandments and instructions, including covering herself in a manner appropriate in Islam, as mentioned in the Qur'an (24:31.)

And even though the obligation of hijab gets a lot of people talking, what I really want to say here is something that I don't think gets as much discussion. If we get past the issue of why wear hijab (here are some good reason why, if you aren't sure), what comes next is actually putting it on, the how, and steps you can take to make wearing hijab easier.

The first step is to learn more about Islam; not about Islamic history, or fiqh, but learn about Allah, and learn about the Hereafter. Read the Qur'an, for instance. This can help increase your faith in Allah, and will make it easier to love and follow Islam.

The second step is to sincerely make du'a to Allah, that He make Islam easy to follow. Pray that He joins your heart to what He loves, and makes you hate that which He hates. And pray that He turns your heart towards His obedience, because He is, after all, the Turner of the Hearts.

Another thing that will make wearing hijab easier is to spend more social time around other women or girls who wear hijab. It's easy for us to adopt the habits and behaviors of our friends and companions, and harder to be different. So if we spend time around people who don't wear hijab or aren't even Muslim, it will be even harder to start wearing it. The opposite is also true, that it will become easier to wear it when you are spending time around others who wear it. This step and the previous two are also useful advice for sisters who are trying to wear jilbabs routinely, or even niqab.

And one more thing to do to make wearing hijab easier is to find some scarves and clothing that you would like to wear. In the northern hemisphere now it's becoming colder, and that should make wearing hijab easier because wearing more clothing in general is becoming acceptable. This is a great time to start wearing hijab as a habit, because by the time spring rolls around it should be much easier to wear it. So find clothes that are comfortable, or fashionable, or whatever it takes to make you wear them, provided that they can qualify for hijab. So instead of wearing an ugly skirt that doesn't fit, for example, try wearing a trendy one you feel comfortable donning in public. Find scarves that can match or even enhance your outfits. If you can see it as a potentially fashionable accessory instead of a dowdy afterthought, that might make it easier to start wearing regularly. If you don't know where to find headscarves, try looking at local malls and department stores. Even Target and Wal-Mart now carry many kinds of wrap style hijabs at great prices--take advantage of that.

And the very last step is just to put it on. Don't talk yourself out of it by overemphasizing the commitment. Set small challenges--try to wear it just for one hour, then just for one day. Looking at it as a small commitment instead of a long-term one might help fight the whispers of Shaytaan--he's only trying to make you doubt yourself, and delay you from the path of righteousness.

And when things get hard, as they inevitably will, go back to the first two steps, and ask Allah to make it easy, to strengthen your resolve, and to guide you along the Straight Path.

Have We not opened your breast for you (O Muhammad (Peace be upon him))?
And removed from you your burden,
Which weighed down your back?
And raised high your fame?
So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,
Verily, with the hardship, there is relief.
So when you have finished (from your occupation), then stand up for Allah's worship (i.e. stand up for prayer).
And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your intentions and hopes and) your invocations.
Surat Ash-Sharh (94)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Disappointment

I was pretty disappointed with myself today. I wanted to talk to my Sunday Schoolers about Halloween, and I wound up doing exactly the thing I wanted to avoid--telling them things are "haraam."

I guess what I want to do with the class is convince them about the superiority of Islam, and its applicability to their lives. I thought I could do it today, when talking about Halloween, but now I think now. May Allah help those girls--increase them in faith and ease their difficulties.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adventures in Salad

So, I know a couple of my friends are excellent chefs, and that's great for them, really. I'm just not in that club of people who ever learned how to cook anything properly. And there are very few things that I know how to make with any degree of confidence, if they require more than two ingredients.

But that doesn't stop me from trying. There's a restaurant here in the Raleigh area that has some really excellent salad called fatoush. It's got cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers in it, with a dressing of olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. And it's got some herbs in it, too. And since I've been trying to eat healthier myself (and hopefully get my parents to eat healthier), I ambitiously attempted to make the salad myself, at home.

First I went to the grocery store--the new Harris Teeter (I love Harris Teeter... I'm gonna miss it when I move inshaaAllaah) that's just opened up by my house--and bought the ingredients. Peppers, tomatoes, a cucumber, lemon juice (since I don't have a juicer I didn't buy fresh lemons) and I also bought some fresh parsley, mint, and cilantro.

When I got home, I went about learning how to chop herbs. That's right folks, I didn't know how to chop fresh herbs. And some might say that I still don't. The recipe called for about 2-3 tablespoons of each kind of herb chopped, so I pulled some from the bunch, chopped off the stems, and went about chopping as best I could. But I didn't measure and really had no idea how much would amount to 2-3 tablespoons of chopped herbs. And I apparently cut way, way, too much. Of everything. I had probably about a cup of each type of herb.

Then I went and cut up a huge tomato, a longish cucumber, one green and one red bell pepper. This I knew how to do (more or less) since I'd at least done it before. But with me, any kind of fresh vegetable (or fruit) always means adventure. I was putting my veggies and herbs in the same dish and realized that I had nearly as many herbs as everything else! So I took out about half of them and set them aside.

Then I realized I didn't have any garlic--and asked my mom to buy me some on the way home. Garlic is something I've only just learned how to chop. Actually, what I learned is that if you squash a clove of garlic under your knife (like a chef's knife) then it's really easy to peel, and then I just put it in a garlic press. The recipe called for about 3 cloves. I added 5, just because it was kinda fun to squash them.

Then I added some olive oil and lemon juice. But I didn't feel like measuring, really--so I've got no real clue how much oil or juice I added. I know I was supposed to add about 1/2 cup of oil, and the "juice of 2 lemons." But since I didn't have actual lemons, it's not like I could tell how many lemons' worth of juice I was actually adding.

Now I've got a huge bowl of salad that will burn your lips, and nobody will eat it but me. I know my problem with it is that there's just too much parsley, or cilantro, or mint, or garlic, although probably all that. So I just pick out the other pieces with a fork, toss in some pita bread (which thankfully dulls the potency) and try to eat it as fast as I can before the taste catches up with me.

Engagement Picture

Haha... not mine.

My brother and his fiance had their engagement pictures taken a week or so ago. Most of them are crooked like this one, so you have to tilt your head to see. But anyway, they look cute so I thought I'd put a photo up here.

Their wedding is 3 weeks after mine inshaaAllaah, on Thanksgiving weekend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Changing Worship

Last week my dad and I went to Red Lobster for lunch. We hadn't gone out just the two of us in a while so it was (mostly) nice to have a while to talk to him. One of the things that came up right as we came home was a change in worship practices (in Christian churches.) I would've liked to pursue the topic further but I was already late to a meeting and had to rush out again right away.

At the time, he implicitly suggested that one reason he doesn't like attending church nowadays is that the worship services have changed from what he was used to. His question: God doesn't change, so why should we change the way we worship?

I don't think he knows, but that alone is a very clear argument for Islam. What bothers him, I think is that more "contemporary" services cater to a younger crowd, trying to bring them into church rather than push them away. So they use contemporary music, live bands in the worship service, instead of singing the same old tired hymns with an organ and a choir. But that's what he finds comfortable--the hymns and the choir.

But did people sing these hymns with a choir and an organ while Jesus was alive? Surely not. What about in the first millennium of Christianity? Nope! In fact, singing hymns is a fairly recent development that at best only goes back a few hundred years. That means that yes, sure enough, worship has changed. It changed language (from Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, before ever making it into English, and it's taken many other courses as well) as has even the very "Word of God" according to Christians. It's changed in many ways over the years and will continue to change. Do you know why?

Because Christians aren't worshiping the way God told humans to worship Him. What makes a person think that God likes hymns any more than he likes rock? The proponents of contemporary worship would certainly consider that any grateful noise they make should suffice if it makes them happy and elevates their spirits. And isn't that what it's all about? Maybe, if you're Christian.

That's why it works as an argument for Islam. You see, Muslims have been worshiping the exact same way since the time of the last Prophet of Islam (Muhammad ) and that's over 1400 years! They pray the same way, they read the same book in the same language, and conduct worship services exactly the same way. Do you know why?

Because they were taught, by God, how to worship Him, and that's what they do.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Muslim Day of Prayer?

How can there be an event called a "Muslim Day of Prayer" when Muslims pray 5 times (minimum!) every single day? Even Friday, the day of Jumu'ah, is a day of congregational prayer. So what does it mean to have a "Muslim Day of Prayer?"

I saw the flyers for the event at my masjid, though I've never heard any Muslims refer to the prayer on capitol hill as a "Day of Prayer," a title I've seen only from non-Muslims. Trying to make it sound... I dunno, evil? What's evil about prayer? Or public prayer?

I don't know how the event went overall, but when I found this article in my Google Reader I was just a little confused about the legitimacy of the criticism.

Conservative Christians need to learn be taught the values that they in fact share with Muslims. Don't they know that Muslims value the same things they value? I don't say this to capitulate to non-Muslims, but just as a simple statement. What's our excuse as Muslims (and on a personal level, my own excuse) for non-Muslims being ignorant about our beliefs?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Analogy Technique

When my dad asks me question that starts with "What do you think about..." I should be on my guard. I would normally interpret such a question to mean that the questioner is seeking to learn my thoughts on a particular matter. But when it comes to my dad, apparently not. Rather, it means, "let me see if you have any good reason for not believing the same thing I do." Or something to that effect.

Since my dad met my fiance (whom he loved,) he's been a little more open to talking about Islam with me. That's great, really, since I kind of botched my best chances to give da'wah to my parents. But yet my dad, as with most of my family, is swimming so deep in propaganda he can't see which way is up. After hearing him describe how my fiance would discuss Islam, I decided to try a change in tactics when the "What do you think about..." questions come up.

And I got that chance yesterday while driving to a nearby town (about an hour away) to visit my brother and sister et al. The question was, "What do you think about people who say Muslims are trying to take over the country?"

Now, what I think is that it's a lot of inane propaganda, vitriol from neocons and zionists, largely unfounded attempts to poison the American psyche against Muslims by perpetuating a state of fear which weakens the public defense of liberty in favor of "security." But I didn't say anything like that.

What I said was that America goes through cycles of having a targeted bias against a particular group of people, and I pointed out that some years ago there was widespread fear of and hatred towards Polish, Irish, and Italian immigrants, and there was even religious tension. Many Americans feared that if Kennedy were to win the White House in the 1960 presidential election, that the Pope would have a say in the running of the American government. People were afraid that Catholics would be taking over the then-mostly Protestant nation.

In retrospect, that fear seems wholly ridiculous, and except in very tight circles, Protestants and Catholics are more or less considered to be equally Christian. Especially, that is, in light of other non-Christian faiths, like Judaism or Islam. And in fact, Jews were for a long time a very unpopular minority in America. Although I didn't mention that.

But by mentioning Kennedy and Catholics, my dad could recall from his own experience how his family was reacting to the idea of a Catholic man running for the highest office. And I think he really started to see my viewpoint, acknowledging the possibility at least that the right-wing media's targeting of Muslims might be in the same vein as similar propaganda campaigns throughout American history. Instead of seeing Muslims as a true and legitimate threat, he explored the notion that Muslims are just the modern-day victims of a smear campaign. I'm not sure he was convinced of that, but at least he seemed open to the idea. While in fact I said very little to illustrate my point, more than making a simple analogy.

My dad then compared my technique to that of my fiance, which I will take as a compliment.

Regular Prayer

My Lord! Make me one who establishes regular prayer, and also (raise such) among my offspring, O Our Lord! And accept my prayer.
O Our Lord! Cover (Us) with Your forgiveness: me, my parents, and (all) believers, on the day that the reckoning will be established! (14:40-41)

One of the first du'aat I learned to make in my salah was one from the Qur'an, a du'a of Ibraheem. In it, Ibraheem asks Allah to make him someone who establishes prayer--although the translation I learned inserted the word "regular," i.e., "establishes regular prayer." This du'a reminds me, at the end of every salah, the important of salah, of establishing it and praying it regularly.

On just about every prayer timetable I've seen, part of an ayah is listed somewhere on the page. One translation of the part of the ayah, 4:103, is "Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed hours." The idea is to remind whoever reads that prayer table about the importance of praying regularly at the appropriate times.

Now a person can view the idea of regular prayer as either a burden, or a blessing. I have a hunch most non-Muslims, and plenty of Muslims, probably see it as a burden. And undoubtedly Shaytan would rather us see it as a burden, so he can easily distract us from it, urge us to procrastinate it, and eventually even convince us to abandon it altogether. May Allah protect the believers from his whispers.

There are benefits in having the prayers spread throughout the day. It gives you a spiritual retreat at key points during the day, to help you break up the day and refresh you. And the times of the salah are intricately connected with ideal daily behavior.

We learn the prayer times from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who learned them from the Angel Jibreel over two days. According to Ibn Abbas, the Angel Jibreel visited the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ at the beginning of the each of the prayer times on the first day to lead him in prayer, and on the second day led him in prayer at the end of the prayer times, except for maghrib prayer. The times have been further specified by Abdullah bin 'Amr bin al-'As, based on the sun and sky, and scholars have differed slightly in their opinions as to the exact timing.

What's clear however is that the prayers are based on the timing of the sun, indicating that our days should follow a similar schedule. It also keeps us Muslims aware of the motion of the sun throughout the day, as it crosses the sky, and throughout the year as the time it takes to traverse the sky changes. In this way the timings of prayers keeps you alert, and it keeps you from forming a lazy habit or tradition when it comes to the prayer--your schedule will have to be flexible somewhat throughout the year. The beginning and end times for each prayer vary between some schools of thought, though not drastically so and not without evidence.

The first prayer of a waking day is fajr, and there is unanimous agreement regarding its start and end times. It begins at the time of the "second dawn" or "true dawn." While the sun is at one particular angle below the horizon, there will appear the "first dawn" known as the "false dawn," when the light spreads vertically. That is not the start of fajr time, which actually comes later, when the sun is high enough for the dawn light to spread laterally across the horizon. It ends when the sun rises. This means that our day should begin before the sun comes up. There's also a special blessing in the fajr time before the sun rises. While our minds and bodies are refreshed, it can be a very productive time of day before the worries and business of the day start to clog our minds.

The start time of dhuhr is also unanimously agreed upon--that it is when the sun declines from its zenith. Geographically, unless a person is at the equator he will have a small amount of shadow, even when the sun is at its zenith, but the zenith is when the shadow has reached its minimum size. There are two opinions about the end time of dhuhr, though they all agree that dhuhr ends at the time when asr begins. The first opinion, the Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali opinion, is that dhuhr ends when the length of an object's shadow is equal to its height (plus the "extra shadow" just mentioned.) The second opinion, the Hanafi opinion, is that dhuhr ends when the length of an object's shadow is twice its height (plus the "extra shadow.") This is based on a hadith that dhuhr is to be delayed on hot days until the day begins to cool off.

The start time of asr is agreed by all to be the end time of dhuhr, and the same differences just mentioned apply. There is also agreement as to the end time of asr, that it be when the sun has completely set. Scholars also agree that it is better to pray asr earlier (than later) as long as its in the specified time. Hanafi scholars prefer it to be delayed as long as the sun hasn't started to change color.

By unanimous agreement, maghrib time begins when the sun has set, though there are basically three opinions regarding its end time. The first is the Maliki and new Shafi'i opinion, that basically the time for maghrib ends once enough time has passed to actually make wudhu, adhan, iqama, and pray five raka'at (3 for fard, 2 for sunnah.) In other words, maghrib needs to be prayed right away with no "extended time." The Hanbali and old Shafi'i opinion is that maghrib needs to be prayed by the time the red twilight has faded, while the Hanafi opinion is that it may be prayed until the white twilight has faded. But they all pretty much agree that it's best to pray maghrib at the beginning of its time.

When it comes to isha, there is unanimous agreement that it begins when the twilight has faded, but there are the same differing opinions about which twilight that means. The Maliki and Shafi'i opinions, for which there is no extended time, also say isha starts after the twilight has faded. When the sun sets, the first twilight is the red twilight, followed by the white twilight, followed by the blue twilight, just as a point of reference. There are two opinions about the end time of isha. The first is the Hanafi opinion, which allows for isha to be prayed up until the time for fajr arrives. The Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali opinions are that isha may be prayed until the end of the first half, or first third of the night. This is calculated as the time between the beginning of isha and the beginning of fajr, then split into thirds or halves and added to the time isha begins.

The salah itself is an organizational tool, to help you structure your life. Sometimes people (you know who you are) will say that time is money. But no, time is life. Whenever a day passes, part of you goes with it. Following the salah forces you to begin your working day with fajr time--you shouldn't go to bed after salat al-fajr. You also see that there is time to take a break, for dhuhr, a good time to eat lunch, and maybe take a nap. Asr time, when the day starts to draw to a close, is the time to stop working and see to your family. Eat dinner and prepare for bed, these are things to do in the evenings.

Even the prohibited times of prayer reminds us of the appropriate structure for the day, so we don't turn into monks and try to pray the entire day--there are times that we should spend doing other things as well. But the larger point of regular prayer is to prevent other things, our life in this dunya, from stunting our relationship with Allah.