Monday, August 31, 2009
This year, the onset of Ramadan for me came with a few uncertainties and some big tasks on my plate. For example, I wasn't sure if I would be graduating or if I would need to take an additional class in the fall semester. I also have my own wedding coming soon inshaaAllaah which I need to plan, plus the honeymoon. While I was busy worrying about these things, I didn't make a clear plan for Ramadan, or set any goals. I pretty much had in mind some very light health and spiritual objectives, but I didn't clearly define them, so I haven't done a great job of meeting them.
And as the 10th of Ramadan is now upon us, I think my plan is past due--but I don't think it's too late, yet. Because Ramadan is a unique time of the year for spiritual development, I want to concentrate on Ramadan-specific spiritual goals (while bearing in mind that I don't want my health objectives to fall behind.) So this Ramadan, I want to finish reading a translation of the Qur'an in this month, because understanding the meaning, even a little bit of the meaning, vastly increases my faith and love for Islam. And after all, Ramadan is the month of the Qur'an, so the very least I can commit to is reading the meaning in English. I've read about 5 juz' so far, so I'm a little behind, but not devastatingly so. Another goal for me has been to listening to a Qur'an class. I found it tremendously beneficial last Ramadan, but the timing of the class is proving a difficulty. However, it might still be possible for me to fit it in if I plan ahead of time and stick to a schedule. The class is beneficial in that it helps me understand the Qur'an even more.
Another major Ramadan goal for me is to attend taraweeh prayers nightly unless I have some extreme excuse not to. Plus, I want to have khushoo' in those prayers. One night this Ramadan I spent most of the qiyyam thinking about wedding dresses--how embarrassing! Leaving the masjid after that, I decided that my worship needs to take priority. So the wedding planning will have to take a back seat for the rest of Ramadan.
I also want to make sure that I am not breaking fast alone. The first few days of Ramadan were a real blessing for me because I was able to spend them seeing people I hadn't seen in a long time--I've recently moved kind of far away from the masjid and so I haven't been around it quite as often. And truthfully, I do miss being so close. Since there are pretty much daily iftars at the masjid, I don't see any excuse to be breaking fast by myself.
These are just a few of my Ramadan goals, that I'm trying to push myself into achieving by writing them down and making them public. Maybe other people have different goals, but these are mine. Ramadan won't last forever, and I want to make the most of it while I can.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Which brings up an interesting point as we enter Ramadan (Ramadan Mubarak, by the way!) What should a person do, who is trying to lose weight/be healthy, when days are to be filled with fasting, and nights with prayer? Right before the start of this blessed month, I received an email filled with excellent tips about making the most of Ramadan, and avoiding some serious pitfalls. One such pitfall: intending to lose weight while fasting. Or more specifically, through fasting.
The problem, as the article rightly mentioned, is if a person starts Ramadan hoping that their fasting will help them to lose weight, then it's possible they're actually combining their intention. And our intentions to fast should be purely for the sake of Allah--and not for losing weight. The article suggested that some women especially might have this tendency to try to lose weight while they're fasting.
So I took serious note--am I jeopardizing the reward of my fasts? Am I fasting for other than Allah, because I want to lose weight, too? I don't think so, and I'll explain why: fasting in general doesn't necessarily help weight loss. In fact, it can actually make it harder. So for me, the fasting is for Allah, and the weight loss is something I'm just trying to work around it, something I'm trying to do in spite of the fasting.
The way I've lost the weight I've lost has been through plenty of exercise and a particular diet. Through eating, though--eating a lot of healthy foods throughout the day and as few as possible unhealthy foods. (Although I'm sure my coach would prefer I be a little more stringent on my classification of "healthy.") And even though the last few months have been successful in terms of weight loss, I never saw Ramadan as helpful to my weight loss goals. That's even as I lost about 10 pounds in both my first two Ramadans. Instead, Ramadan has seemed more of a hindrance, and I've been kind of worried about how I could deal with it. Of course I'd fast, and for the sake of Allah. Weight loss is part of my routine by now, something I'm trying for in spite of fasting.
Food is fuel. That's the mantra I've been trying to indoctrinate myself with. There are foods that make efficient fuels, and others that make not-so-efficient fuels. For example, a salad and grilled chicken breast is great fuel, while a can of soda is a very bad fuel. Every day would be filled with agonizing questions about the value and quality of my food choices--and I'm not just talking calories, but calorie density and nutrients. But if food is fuel--then going without food is going without fuel. If the food is fueling the weight loss then can you see how fasting could get in the way? (I'm trying to say that trying to utilize Ramadan fasting as a weight loss tool is a bad idea.)
But one great thing about Ramadan is that I don't have to think about food all day long--and this has always been the case. However, since I am trying to maintain a healthy diet still, I do pay a little more attention to what I eat at iftar and suhoor than I might have in previous years.
Even though fasting will create an almost automatic calorie deficit (necessary for weight loss), the hunger by iftar time has a tendency to make me just crazy and disregard all of my "guidelines." (Another reason not to use Ramadan fasting for weight loss.) Plus, the abundance and availability of a variety of rich, fried foods, sodas and sweets is an easy way to quickly ratchet up calorie counts. So in fact, even the non-fasting time requires restraint.
I can see how people gain weight in Ramadan--if you can imagine these kinds of foods as a regular diet for a month, added to a missing meal during the day which will slow metabolism (or so I've heard), a person will easily start ingesting more calories than their bodies need on a daily basis.
But that's really not healthy, and every year, everywhere (in casual conversation, blogs, emails, articles, twitter) we hear complaints about folks eating too much at iftars. Some times while fasting I used to get even more obsessed with food, somehow thinking that I wouldn't get enough. That's a mentality I think others might suffer from as well, but for health it should really disappear completely. There will be enough food. So for now I'm trying to eat a normal-sized portion of healthy (or as healthy as is available) foods at iftar time, plus healthy foods at suhoor time, just like I do outside of Ramadan.
But what might be more important is constantly renewing my intention, that my fasting is solely for the sake of Allah, and praying that He accepts it.
Friday, August 21, 2009
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Today I didn't really have anywhere to go, except for the gym. I meant to go this afternoon but lost myself in more wedding planning (which can be superfun) and didn't want to run into the late afternoon crowd. A lot of people are at the gym between 4 and 7pm, and I didn't want to have to compete with anyone for equipment (since I would be doing mostly weight training.)
And since Ramadan is nearly upon us, with fasting almost surely to lead to some loss of lean muscle mass, I made sure to get in to the gym today. But this evening rolled around, then it was suppertime, and then I needed to wait until maghrib, since it was almost in. So I waited, and prayed, and then I got ready to go.
On most of the days that I don't go to the gym, I go for a walk around the parks near my house. A lot of times I take my dog, just because it's less boring that way. At first, he didn't seem to care if he went for a walk or not, but now that we've done it a lot, I think he's really taken an interest. (Plus, I just recently bought him a new harness with more comfortable straps, since the old one was chafing him a little bit.) So tonight, he saw me come out of my room dressed for exercise and then started tailing me around like he didn't want to lose me for an instant in case he might get left behind.
Unfortunately for him, I wasn't planning to take him for a walk tonight, but he was pretty adamant about it. Even without wearing a leash, he was not going to let me leave the house without him. He was even scratching the door when I wouldn't open it with him standing there.
So I caved for the little dog, put on his harness and walked him around the block. That made him happy, since he got a little walk in (usually we'll walk for over an hour, not just 5 minutes). So then I took off for the gym. But by then it was getting late--and remember how I said I didn't have much gas? I should've stopped for gas on the way there but I didn't want to eat into my time any further, since the gym closes at 11. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time and didn't feel rushed on my way out.
And I got there fine, spent the better part of an hour doing the weight training I'd meant to do, and then added some cardio there at the end. Afterward, I calculated the day's energy intake and expenditure. (That is, I counted the calories in the foods I'd eaten, and in the exercise I'd just done.) And at that point I'd only eaten about 800 calories--which is really low. My understanding is that it's not good to have less than 1200/day for a woman. And since I'd just exercised ~700 calories, getting something else to eat before going to bed seemed like a good idea. (Especially since I wasn't sure if I'd be fasting the next day.)
So, I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way home. The grocery store was closer to the gym than the gas station, so I went there first, and didn't find anything I really wanted, so I left. But then, my car wouldn't start!
Could it really be so low on gas? Only, it wasn't acting like it was out of gas. I wasn't sure if it was gas, or the starter, or maybe even the battery. It turns out that it was the battery. I called my dad (which I feel pretty bad about, since it was late and he had to get up really early in the morning) and he brought me some gas, and jumped the car so I could start it. (Adding gas didn't help it to start any, it behaved just like the first time I tried to start it.) So it was definitely the battery, and my dad suggested I drive around on the highway some to charge the battery.
Being a little bit hungry I took his advice and stopped at a late-night drive-thru (afraid to turn the car off!) place to get a very small low-calorie bite to eat. While I was in line, I checked the (new) masjid website, which was supposed to announce by 11:30 whether or not there had been a moon sighting, since our masjid waits to see on the 29th if there is a moon sighting anywhere in the USA before declaring Ramadan. And this was just past 11:30 so I checked, to find out that there had been no sighting and that we would start fasting on Saturday.
Then as I pulled up to the window, I saw that there was a Muslim working there! (He was an Arab with a pretty typical Muslim name, so I figured he might be a Muslim, though I didn't ask.) He actually asked me (because of my hijab) if I was Muslim, and of course I answered affirmatively. And then he said that he had a quick question--he asked me if I knew if Ramadan had started tonight! And subhanallah, I had just checked, not a minute before. So I told him that there hadn't been any moon sightings, thus fasting would start on Saturday.
Then I went ahead and drove around for a while on the highway, and finally came home.
I thought it was interesting that I went through all of that, but it led me to get to tell another Muslim when Ramadan was. And since I haven't blogged in a while, the night's events made it into a post!
(And, I think the reason the battery failed was because I left my phone charger in all day, so the battery might've been low when I started the car at the house, and then the short trip from the gym to the grocery store wasn't enough to charge the battery enough to start the car again. InshaAllaah it'll start fine again tomorow.)
Friday, August 14, 2009
As my tentative wedding date approaches, one fun thing I get to do is plan my honeymoon! My fiance and I have decided that this is one thing that we would like to do, take a honeymoon. A while back he actually mentioned Hawai'i to me, and I was kind of lukewarm about it, until I actually started doing research on Hawai'i. And then I decided that I want to go to Hawai'i. Really, really badly. So I pray inshaaAllaah that one day I'll get to take a vacation in Hawai'i.
However, a number of reasons make it not the ideal honeymooning place for us. One such reason is that another trip he and I would like to make is a cross-country drive before I move in with him. The cross-country drive would solve a few logistical issues and be a nice time to spend together. The drive alone, however, will take at least 4-5 days of solid driving. That means a lot of time spent in a car, but it doesn't (to me at least) amount to much of a honeymoon.
So inshaaAllaah, if we go through with this plan, we'll make a number of additional stops along the way, at State Parks and the like. In some parts of the country there are so many places to stop, that we'll have to turn some down. And some other places we'll just be driving right through.
A few days ago I bought a giant Rand McNally road atlas to start looking at potential routes. This book is huge, with maps of some states taking several pages. For instance, there are 16 pages of maps for just California! The maps also show state parks and "scenic routes." Since it's a cross-country drive, we'll try to maximize the amount of natural beauty we can see by taking scenic routes where possible.
So far, I'm planning a trip that lasts about 12 days. We'll be taking a southern instead of a northern route, even though it's shorter to go north, because the trip will be in wintertime, inshaaAllaah, and I'd like to minimize the amount of snow we'll have to deal with. While I think that routes through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are gorgeous, there probably won't be so much to see if it's all covered with snow--plus, it's likely that if we take a northern route, we'll be in snow for most of the way. Interstates and such will probably be fine, but we don't want to have to stick to the interstate.
So even going south, there's still a ton of options, so I've made a few notes as to destinations I'd really like to see. The full country map in the atlas looks like this right now, with post-its labeling all the sights I'd really like to see.
I don't know of anything in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, or even New Mexico that is really important for me to see. Has anyone traveled that way of know of some good stops along the way? That's probably where we'll be on Friday, so we may be stopping around the Texas panhandle for jumu'ah wherever we can find a mosque inshaaAllaah.
Any thoughts about cross-country driving?
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Some of these I thought of myself, and others were brought to my attention through comments on my previous post. One major and upfront concern was being able to dress appropriately--a problem that the bride herself has helped to alleviate. There are many options for me to be able to meet my Islamic obligations of covering while still fitting into her bridal party, by coordinating the color if not the style of the dress.
Another concern for me was being sure of understanding from (her) family so nobody would be harassing the bride for having a muslimah in her wedding. On the other hand, the major audience objections are likely to come from my own family, and some family members who persist in their objections to my wearing hijab. But I share the opinion of the bride, that this is her day and really she should be able to do what she likes.
Some concerns that Jamilah brought up also required some thought from me. The issue of drinking is quite serious, I'm not sure if everyone realizes it, but it's quite clear that not just drinking is haraam, but even sitting at a table where alcohol is served is haraam. That's something important to consider--however, it would affect me by my presence at the reception, and not be impacted by whether I decide to be a bridesmaid. And whether I am or not, I'm sure I may still evade the situation like I do at family events--by sitting at the "kids' table." Since the reception will not be formal (though there will almost definitely be alcohol served), I think I can remove myself from that uncomfortable situation.
Another issue is pairing up at the end of the ceremony--something I didn't even think of. But I'm sure it won't be a problem. Firstly because the ceremony is not going to be especially formal, I don't think something so simple (avoiding looping arms with the groomsman) will be a problem at all. Plus, I know who the groomsmen will be, and I don't think it will be difficult to arrange.
There is also the matter of music and dancing at the reception. I hate dancing in public. However, it's something I can't even seem to avoid at Muslim weddings, where I feel uncomfortably pressured to dance in the first place. On the other hand, I've always found non-Muslims in general to be more understanding when someone refuses to dance. This said, I certainly don't intend to dance at all, but I don't think there will be any problems with it, and again it won't be impacted by whether or not I am a bridesmaid. (I.e., no special bridal party dances or anything.)
Reading the question answered on islamqa.com, the question being similar to my own situation, I think the greatest concern was that participation in a non-Muslim ceremony, specifically a Christian one. But for me I don't think this will be the case. Though the ceremony is non-Muslim, it's not specifically Christian, involves no rites or sacraments in which I must take part. It doesn't require that I invalidate my own faith in anyway, nor is there going to be an overt display of any faith at all that my presence would implicitly condone.
On the other hand, being a bridesmaid provides me with a unique opportunity to actually foster familial ties, especially with my two sisters, who are also going to be bridesmaids, and my nieces, who will be flower girls. I don't think it will require that I compromise on my faith or ideals, but is in fact a good opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my family. Whereas my refusal (to be a bridesmaid) would hurt that relationship, and my absence (from the wedding, if I didn't go) might cut me off entirely.
So ultimately (or at least so far) I have decided that yes, God willing, I will be a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding, while taking precautions to avoid situations that might compromise my faith.
The worst part is that it becomes difficult to be a good student, without any sort of respect for the teacher. Maybe it's a deep inclination I have to disrespect those who disrespect me, but that's an awfully lame excuse. But if the teacher treats me as though I am unimportant, what opinion should I have of him? And if he doesn't prepare for class, why should I?
And there's another problem--sometimes the material might be so poorly presented that instead of increasing knowledge on the subject, and strengthening faith (for material on Islam) it might be possible to actually feel my faith goes down with the information.
How can that be?
Perhaps if the instructor frequently answers questions without actual evidence, but with his opinion instead. Or if he doesn't understand the material he is presenting enough to answer questions at all, beyond the material prepared. Or if he mentions things on other subjects during the presentation with the students know to be incorrect. Or in his general presentation he uses circular logic and insufficient evidence to prove his point.
I think it's possible that some people can be so poorly equipped to lecture that the audience's understanding of the material might actually be detrimentally affected. Any thoughts?
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Last week I was at a meeting of an interfaith club I participate in--we meet about every three weeks. Unfortunately I was the only Muslim present, in company which can't help its inability to view me as a credible source on Islam. And due to the recent indictment and arrest of seven local Muslim brothers, the main topics were them and jihad, leaving me with a lot of explaining. I'm not convinced I did a great job, either.
But since our next meeting will fall during Ramadan, inshaaAllaah, I mentioned as much near the end of the meeting. I and the other participating Muslimah will be fasting, inshaaAllaah, and I just wanted to make them aware of that. So the idea of fasting in Ramadan received only a brief overview.
And so did the concept of fasting in the Jewish faith. And according to the Jewish woman present (the second Jewish lady who comes was also absent on this occasion), Islamic fasting isn't "real" fasting. I had to smile. It isn't she or I who decide what fasting is, because it's prescribed by Allah.
Now, there are many observant Jews who fast on occasions throughout the year, but as I understand it, there's one day when almost all Jews will fast. That's right, one day. And it's a 24-hour fast, so it's a fast for the entire day. It starts at sunset (which is the beginning of the day in both Jewish and Islamic calendars) and ends at the next sunset. But as I was informed, it's really a more than 24-hour fast because there are services that they must attend before they break their fasts.
(Mind, I'm not sure if this is representative of all Jews, just Conservative ones, her congregation, or maybe just herself. I just want to clarify as much.)
So in comparison to these 24-plus hours, our 29-30 days of fasting is, according to her, not real fasting. I can't help but smile when I say that.
Other people have their own ideas about fasting. Some people talk about "juice fasts" or "water fasts" and the like--basically they abstain from solid food and drink only liquids, like juice, or maybe only water. So they find that the way Muslims fast--because they eat food at night, or because they don't drink any water during the day--isn't real fasting.
But I say they've missed the point. Muslims don't fast to be hungry. If they did, maybe they would adopt a Jewish model and prolong the hunger (i.e., for a whole day) that comes from not eating anything. And Muslims don't fast to clear their digestive systems or lose weight. Else, they might adopt the other model, by permitting water or juice during fasting.
Muslims, on the other hand, fast for the sole reason that it was prescribed by Allah. They do it (a) because Allah commanded it, and (b) in the manner that Allah commanded it.
Maybe all that some people get out of Ramadan is being hungry. And maybe all some people get is eating less food. But as we all know, the purpose of Ramadan fasting, according to the oft-repeated ayah from the Qur'an:
O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious - see V.2:2). 2:183So we fast, in short, to become the people of taqwa, the people who have taqwa, Al-Muttaqoon. And after 3 weeks of diligent fasting, abstention from food and liquids during the time, can have a profound spiritual effect on the heart. And that's when we kick it up a notch, with even more prayer, and istighfar. Fasting does so much more on a spiritual level, towards achieving piety, than can be quantified or explained.
The Jewish day of fasting I referred to above is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and it is preceded by 10 days during which Jews will seek repentance, and try to amend their behavior through extra acts of worship. So they might fast and perform charity, and of course ask for forgiveness. Sounds a bit like Ramadan, doesn't it? So maybe we don't fast for some 25 hours but in fact as Muslims we have a much longer period during which we are trying to amend our behavior, and seek forgiveness.
Furthermore, the month of Ramadan is divided into 3 sets of 10 nights--the first for mercy, the second for forgiveness, and the third for salvation. The fasting intensifies, and the worship intensifies. As Ramadan progresses, it's not that the fasting becomes harder--in fact, our bodies begin to adjust early on to the new schedule--but we start losing sleep as well. In fact, the loss of sleep has typically been for me the hardest part of Ramadan. And the fasting is only a reminder of the importance of worship and righteousness in Ramadan; a stepping stone towards everything else--the mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. It's not the end in itself.
And like Islam, it's a gift from Allah.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Now if I can only finish my opamp project, I might actually graduate! But I keep putting it off, even though everyone keeps asking me about it and telling me to just go ahead and do it, hurry and finish it. And they're right.
But I would rather do just about anything (seriously, I would rather do yard work, or clean the bathroom) than this project. Why can't I just do it?
Talhah ibn 'Ubaydillah said, "A man from Najd with unkempt hair came to the Messenger of Allah, and we heard his loud voice but could not understand what he was saying, until he came near and then we came to know that he was asking about Islam. The Messenger of Allah said, '(You have to offer) five prayers each day and night.' The man asked, 'Do I have to do anything else?' The Messenger of Allah said, 'No, unless you want to offer voluntary (nafl) prayers.'" [Bukhari and Muslim]
There are longer versions of this hadith, which includes mention of the other pillars of Islam, but since I'm writing about salah what is written above will suffice inshaaAllaah.
The man from Najd in this case is a bedouin, and though the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions lived in Arabia they were not all bedouins. Mostly they considered themselves to be city people, whereas the man from Najd was what we might think of as a country person. So we can think today of someone living out in the country--that they might tend to be in their manners and speech less refined, and less subtle.
In this hadith, the man is basically asking for the minimum he has to do in Islam--the very basic question as to what is obligatory. And the man said that he would do this much, the five obligatory prayers, and not add anything to them of what was nafl or voluntary. And the Prophet ﷺ told his Companions after this incident that if the man kept his word, and kept up the five obligatory prayers, then he'd be good to go.
So what are the five obligatory prayers? The bare minimum we have to do as Muslims, and without which we will be deficient? They are fajr, dhuhr, 'asr, maghrib, and 'isha'.
Fajr prayer is the dawn prayer, consisting of two rak'ahs. Dhuhr is prayed after noon and is four rak'ahs. 'Asr is prayed in the late afternoon, also four rak'ahs, followed by maghrib immediatley after sunset which is only three rak'ahs, and the day concludes with 'isha', the night prayer, also consisting of four rak'ahs.
The witr salah is not included among these five, but the ruling on it basically includes two opinions, that it is a recommended sunnah (according to Imams Malik, Ash-Shafi'i, and Ahmad), and the second opinion that it is waajib, i.e., obligatory, (the opinion of Abu Hanifa). The question has come up even in some reports of hadith, and there are evidences to both sides. The Hanafi school would consider an obligation waajib if it were based on a hadith that was not mutawaatir (multiply narrated,) whereas Qur'an and mutawaatir hadith were sources of obligations classified as 'fard.' For the other schools, the terms waajib and fard are mostly interchangeable, and a hadith could be used to classify something as fard without being mutawaatir, provided that it was authentic.
The evidence to support the Hanafi opinion are the following two ahadith:
'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As narrated that the Messenger said, "Verily, Allah has added on you a salah, which is the witr." [Ahmad]The evidence to support the opinion of Imams Malik, Ash-Shafi'i, and Ahmad, that witr is a recommended (mu'akkadah) sunnah are the following two ahadith:
Abu Ayyub narrated that the Messenger said, "Witr is haqq (obligation) on every Muslim."
'Ali ibn Abu Talib reported, "The witr prayer is not obligatory as the prescribed salah, but the Messenger of Allah observed it as his regular practice (sunnah.) He (the Prophet) said, 'Allah is witr (single) and loves what is witr. So perform witr salah. O followers of the Qur'an, observe witr salah.'" [At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud]I mention both opinions and their evidence lest anyone wish to dispute the matter. What is clear is that we have as an obligation (at minimum) five daily prayers. Allah calls us to remember him (at minimum) five times a day, five daily opportunities for spiritual nourishment. And for five times during the day we have a means of forgiveness for sins committed throughout the day and night. As Muslims we should build our lives around the salah, let it organize our day and serve as a tool for self-discipline.
Al-Mukhdaji heard from one of the ansar, nicknamed Abu Muhammad, that the witr prayer is obligatory. He went to 'Ubadah ibn us-Samit, and mentioned to him what Abu Muhammad had said. 'Ubadah observed, "Abu Muhammad is mistaken, for I heard the Messenger of Allah say, 'Five prayers are ordained by Allah for his slaves. Whoever fulfills them properly without any shortcoming, he will have a pact with Allaah that He will admit him into Paradise. Whoever does not do them, he will have no pact with Allah, and if He wills He may punish him and if He will He may forgive him.'" [Ahmad and Abu Dawud]
Five prayers a day is a blessing as much as an obligation, a mercy and means of purification.
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, "If there was a river at the door of any one of you and he took a bath in it five times a day, would you notice any dirt on him?" They said, "Not a trace of dirt would be left." The Prophet added, "That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out evil deeds." [Bukhari and Muslim]
So when we next approach our prayer, we can be grateful for the opportunity to pray, to devote a small amount of our time each day to worshiping our Lord.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
And she clearly spent some time thinking about the issue as well, including the fact that I cover. She's having her bridesmaids wear color-coordinated dresses, though with different styles. When I brought up the issue of my scarf, she suggested I could wear a long dress with a jacket and a coordinating scarf--see? she'd thought it out. The only excuse I was really left with at that point was that I wouldn't want for me to be the focus of her wedding--she should be the one in the spotlight, and I was afraid that in a scarf I might just attract to much attention. But I think she really did want me to be a bridesmaid.
I don't know of any Islamic objections--it's not a very religious ceremony, not even in a church, and if I could certainly be properly covered, I don't know that there's any reason on that front for me not to do it.
She asked me to think about it for a few days and then tell her later. InshaAllaah I'll pray istikhara on it, but just wanted to air the question to see if any of my readers might have some advice to contribute. Jazakumallahu khayran.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Over the last 6 months or so I've had the opportunity (alhamdulillah) to work with a personal trainer. In that time, I've seen my energy skyrocket, my entire body enhance its muscle tone, and I've even lost weight. It didn't happen sitting in a chair, and it didn't happen just by going to the gym.
Lifting a weight won't necessarily make you stronger. If it's a light weight, and is easy to lift, then you're not improving or developing your strength to lift it. And even if it's heavy, just lifting it once doesn't do much to improve your strength either. But if you want to get stronger, you have to take the hard route, and push yourself as far as you can, repeatedly. Ideally, to failure, again and again.
It's the opposite of the "If at first you don't succeed..." mantra. The goal is in fact to push yourself to the limit, i.e., to failure. And when you can't lift any more, you've pushed yourself out of your "comfort zone" and you know that you're getting stronger. (Provided of course you didn't actually injure yourself and that's the source of pain and reason you can't lift anymore... and that's very bad.) And if every week you go in and perform the same exercise, with the same intensity, and for the same amount of time, eventually you're going to stop getting results. You have to actually increase the intensity or time to see further improvements.
I know it might sound weird, but how about applying this concept to ibaadah? (worship) Instead of just performing our acts of worship (like salah, for instance) the same way all the time, why don't we push ourselves to do them better? With more sincerity, with more khushoo'. We have to move out of our "comfort zone." Now, a comfort zone for each person might be something different, and we might have different things to work on. We can't expect to just immediately have more khushoo' in our prayers, can we, without making an effort to have more khushoo'? Without making a conscious effort to improve our khushoo'?
I guess if we feel like we're in a rut with our ibaadah, then we should make a conscious effort to improve upon our weaknesses. That means, get out of the "comfort zone." And don't keep doing the same thing expecting improvement, without holding ourselves to a higher standard. A good tip might be, for example, to create a Khushoo' chart, or a chart for whatever it is you're trying to improve. List all the prayers out and give yourself a rating for each prayer on your chart, like a rating for khushoo' on a scale (like 1-10.)
I'm not sure it's even possible to get better without making a conscious effort towards improvement. And one thing about improvement--once achieved, there's motivation to keep it up and continue to avoid backsliding. Just some thoughts...
Friday, August 07, 2009
In fact, the remark seemed to me to be a poorly veiled attempt to mock my decision to cover in hijab. Because I wear hijab, my skin (except for my face and hands) receives even less sun exposure than the average person. But my skin isn't really "average;" in fact it's quite fair. So I told the person that I was already at ultra-super-high risk for skin cancer, and "getting sun" is just about the worst thing I could do. And that even if I didn't cover (in hijab), I would be wearing sun screen over every inch of exposed skin.
Why am I ultra-super-high risk for skin cancer? Because I have very fair skin with light eyes, received severe sun burns as a child and a teenager, and on one occasion even used a tanning bed. The first two factors cannot be helped--that is how Allah made me. The latter two were my choice, something I have lived to regret. Unfortunately, I was so inundated with the popular notions of beauty that I would deliberately forgo sunblock even when I knew I would be in the sun, just to try to get some semblance of a tan. While most of my peers would tan quite naturally, I would burn, and freckle, without my skin becoming noticeably darker.
By the time of my senior prom, I thought having lightly bronzed skin was important enough to even consent to using a tanning bed--the one occasion I used it. (And yeah, I got burned in it, too.) For me, getting a sunburn was just part of the summer--although sometimes it did get so bad that I actually blistered (not a pleasant sight, not something I image anyone would like described.) It's not healthy, and I guess it's taken me quite a few years since my last burn (on a cruise in the Bahamas, burned my bad so bad it made me nauseous) to realize that my skin can be beautiful, and lovely, the very color that it is.
All my attempts to blend in, and try to fit the unrealistic and unhealthy standard of beauty failed, but also might have caused permanent damage. As far as I'm aware, I don't actually have skin cancer, but I'll have to live with that risk for the rest of my life. This is one more way that hijab projects women, I think: literal protection from the sun, and also from unrealistic ideals regarding skin tone.
Personally, I don't appreciate my decision to cover being mocked by my "failure" to live up to those unrealistic standards. Nor do I appreciate being held to those standards in the first place, especially since they are not only superficial, but also unhealthy.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
While there has been a lot of evidence and argument about jihad and violent jihad, this case is about a conspiracy of terrorism. --US Magistrate, William Webb (link)I agree, the case should be about a conspiracy of terrorism--that's what the charges in the indictment amount to. But for some reason, the case is actually about jihad--which is what the charges in the indictment actually say.
Why did the magistrate say that there is evidence and argument about jihad and violent jihad? Basically because the indictment and the media (don't get me started) are using these words as technical terms. That is, as if we're supposed to actually know what they mean. One local paper even reverted to calling jihad "holy war." ("A family respected in the community was arrested and charged with fomenting violence and holy war.")
Haven't they got it into their heads yet that jihad does not mean holy war? They are starting to now, apparently, as I noticed that they clarify:
And like Ali Hassan, the father of defendant Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, they longed to explain their meaning of "jihad." It is a term that has come to signify holy war, but it has many other meanings. For Muslims it literally means "struggle" and can also refer to an internal desire to improve oneself.Jihad does not, has not, and will not ever mean "holy war." It means something else, instead, and not in addition to. It does mean struggle--that's from its literal root. Thus it literally does mean struggle.
However, that's not to mean that it's only internal and self-oriented. It can be physical, and it can be violent. So the phrase "violent jihad" is not meaningless. A while back I wrote a post on jihad, in which I described four different categories of jihad, the fourth of which was the only one using force. And that was further divided into offensive and defensive. Nobody would argue with defensive jihad (somebody attacks you, invades you etc., you can fight back) but the offensive jihad with force was an interesting case. I wrote then:
Some time after the Muslims were allowed to fight defensively to protect themselves against aggression, Allah (SWT) eventually allowed them to fight offensively. Why? To end oppression, to allow the spread of da'wah (note: to allow it, not to force islam on anyone), to prevent the torture of Muslims, and to end the oppression of people who are interested in learning about Islam but are forcefully prevented from doing so. This kind of jihad must be declared by a Muslim khalifa, and is an act carried out by an Islamic state, and not a "rag-tag" group of dissatisfied youths. And as it happens, though there are 56 Muslim countries, there is not an Islamic state with a khalifa.
So if someone could perhaps figure out who the khalifah is, where the Islamic state is, then maybe the allegations of plotting "violent jihad" would actually make sense. But since I'm pretty sure that nobody can, we should simply refer to the alleged conspiratorial plot as what it actually is: terrorism.
Conspiracy of terrorism. Just that simple. Thank you, Mr. Magistrate.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Mu'adh ibn Jabal narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, "The uppermost level of the matter is Islam, its pillar is salah and the top of its hump is jihad." [Tirmidhi]Salah, we are to understand, is the main pillar of Islam. If you can imagine a tent with five "pillars" or poles--four around the outside, at the corners, and one in the center. That center pole is the one which gives the tent its shape, and that is the salah in Islam. It is the very first obligation on a Muslim after the shahadah, based on a hadith I've related earlier from Mu'adh. It was prescribed in the heavens during the Israa' wal-Mi'raaj, without any intermediaries.
The Salah has a public call, five times a day, to remind the people. This also indicates that we should be mindful of the time, and that the call is made publicly and regularly shows the value of salah--everyone hears it, regardless of where they are or what they are doing. The men and women, young and old, all hear the reminder.
Another indication of the value of salah in Islam is that there is an obligatory state of purification necessary before beginning--wudhu. A person cannot come to prayer unless he or she is ritually pure, having washed after going to the bathroom, being intimate with a spouse, or coming clean from menstruation (for a woman.)
The fact that the obligation of salah remains even if a person is sick or traveling also indicates the importance of salah. There is a hadith to the effect that salah is the best of all deeds of worship. And the first thing we will be held to account for between us and Allah on the Day of Judgment is our salah.
Monday, August 03, 2009
I for one am tired of reading headlines describing Muslims as "shocked." Thankfully the article doesn't go on to just talk about Muslims being "shocked," but unfortunately veers towards blaming Muslims for not getting a "good" (i.e., sensational) story.
For starters, it actually mentions the Open House! Yay! For a whole
On Saturday, the Islamic Association of Raleigh threw open its doors for a "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" event that drew 600 people, including two congressmen, one cabinet secretary and several mayors.600 people? 600 was my "lowball" estimate. But anyway--the event is mentioned at least. I thought that was good, but then I read on.
On Monday, the association faced its biggest nightmare: Seven men, all of whom at one point worshiped at the association's mosque, were arrested and charged with plotting to carry out terrorist attacks abroad.That is the association's biggest nightmare? Really? I'm pretty sure some bigot deciding to actually bomb the mosque due to all this scare-mongering is a much bigger nightmare. But apparently the N&O thinks the Muslim community's biggest nightmare is "bad PR." I'd say the N&O is a little bit out of touch. Read on.
For years, the Raleigh Muslim community had worked to improve relations with the wider Triangle population and ease tensions caused by the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001. Now it faces its biggest public relations challenge and a potential setback to all its efforts. A family respected in the community was arrested and charged with fomenting violence and holy war.Had worked? They are still working to improve relations with their neighbors. Go ahead and ask me why? Oh, because of the teachings of Islam! That is, because of instructions to do so in the Qur'an and in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad! (ﷺ-peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful. (Qur'an 4:36)
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.'' It was asked, "Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?'' He said, "One whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil". [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. (Rights of Neighbors in Riyadh us-Saliheen)Muslims being good in their communities is not a PR stunt, it's actually just following Islam. So in reality, who cares about the "bad PR?" There is no setback for work done for the sake of Allah.
The other silly part about the above quoted paragraph is saying the arrested men were accused of "fomenting violence and holy war." Please read the indictment, and see for yourself exactly what the men are accused of doing. I'm pretty sure the words "holy war" do not appear in the indictment, and it should be widely understood by now that jihad does not mean holy war--so why did the N&O stoop to such a ridiculous level to claim that it is? The fact that the indictment mentions "violent jihad" throughout is bad enough, isn't it? I think I might write another post on the usage of that phrase alone--violent jihad, it's technical usage in this case, and its meaning in Islam, for those who are unaware of how wide the disparity is.
Daniel Boyd, a U.S. native and a Johnston County resident, is accused of recruiting young men to join the cause of violent jihad. The 39-year-old father of five was a regular at Friday prayers where worshipers form neat lines for a series of prostrations.Again we see the indictment terminology "violent jihad," but apparently Friday prayers with "neat lines for a series of prostrations." It almost looks like someone is trying to insert an informational tidbit about Islam here--Friday prayers involve "neat lines" and a "series of prostrations." I guess it's nice to mention something about what Friday prayers are, but the gross oversimplification isn't really helpful. The section goes on to call a Friday sermon a "hutba" (correct term is "khutbah") and describe Muslims as "shocked" among other things.
The second section starts telling us more about the indictment:
The federal indictment against Boyd states that he quit attending the mosque over "ideological differences." He found the theological attitudes at the Raleigh mosque too compromising for his radical brand of Islam, according to a federal indictment.If we hadn't ever read anything about this story before now, this might be a useful paragraph. It's true--the indictment mentions ideological differences when it says that Boyd stopped attending the Raleigh mosque. Other reports have described the Raleigh mosque as being "too moderate" for him, but I find it interesting that the N&O decides to describe the Raleigh mosque's "theological attitudes" as "too compromising." It suggests that the Raleigh mosque is making compromises in its interpretation of Islam--rather a bold thing for the paper to say, since it was apparently too busy to be bothered to send anyone to the mosque's Open House.
I really want to know how the indictment can make claims like Boyd stopped attending because of ideological differences. It must be from the (FISA) surveillance.
Now what really got me going on this article form the N&O is the following:
What old habits? Basically the article here is saying that the mosque is no longer the friendly "Meet Your Muslim Neighbor" center that it was at the Open House (which they could not be bothered to attend) but now it's a secretive vault refusing to indulge the media in their frenzy for juicy gossip. I mean, a secretive vault denying the public important information. Whatever.
In response to the arrests, mosque leaders reverted to old habits. They decided not to allow its two imams, or prayer leaders, to be interviewed by reporters, and returned to issuing tersely worded statements.
"The Islamic Association of Raleigh takes no official position on any pending criminal matters," read the statement on its Web site.
I support the IAR in their decision to issue such a public statement, and I think it's entirely appropriate. Interviewing the imams, however, would not do the N&O any benefit (except maybe sell a paper or two by claiming that they got to hear what "Boyd's imam" said.) And is that position really a proper place for our scholars and spiritual leaders?
I wonder, if a Christian person, or a Jewish person, or a person of some other religion committed a crime--like conspiracy to harm people in another country, e.g.,--would it be appropriate to visit that person's place of worship, and interview the administration and leadership? Would a person's priest or pastor, or rabbi be expected to provide interviews to the media? I don't think so. And if that priest, pastor, or rabbi refused, would the place of worship (church or synagogue) be attacked in the media?
The imams and the mosque administration, have no part in the accusations or the court proceedings. They don't have any more knowledge about the case than what the public already has available--the indictment, press releases, etc. So why should they have to take sides, submit to an interview, or open themselves to public view for something not related to them.
Muslims, just like anyone else, want to see justice carried out, and with due process. Or maybe not everyone wants due process, which is why the media is so quick to label these men as terrorists and worse (I even saw one headline calling them an "Islamist sleeper cell!"), before even a trial date has been set. This reminds me of how some boys at Duke were labeled rapists a few years ago by the media, only to have the charges dropped later on (because they were completely false, based on DNA evidence.) They had their names dragged through the mud for a year (March 06-April 07), their pictures in the paper and on the news--and they were completely innocent!
Right now, the public and the media do not know whether these men accused of plotting terrorism are guilty or not--and we definitely shouldn't rush to hasty judgments, either.
Over the past few years, mosque leaders made deliberate efforts to establish good relations with law enforcement officials. At its open house, an FBI agent from Raleigh as well as Charlotte attended.I've had the opportunity to participate in some mosque events with local law enforcement officials, and I have no complaints against them. They have visited the mosque on several occasions, and I even once had the opportunity to present to some officers at NCSU. As I see it, the mosque is doing its part to be a responsible part of the community.
Isn't it nice to know that actual imams were invited to an Antiterrorism Conference? (And that these are extremely knowledgeable imams, not just random folks from a mosque somewhere.) I got to look at some of the material presented at that conference, which discussed (from the Islamic perspective) the importance of an entire community contributing to its safety and security. But with the article praising the mosque's relations with law enforcement, why is it criticizing the mosque now?
Retired federal agent Steve Miller said he developed such good working ties with local imams, he invited two to participate in a U.S. Army Worldwide Antiterrorism Conference in Orlando in January.
"They were able to give an overview of what it's like to be an American Muslim, and it was very well-received," said Miller, who served as the lead liaison for the Muslim community for the Raleigh Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Still, whatever warm feelings the mosque was able to establish, many Muslims across the Triangle harbor deep disagreements with U.S. foreign policy, especially toward Israel and the Middle East. And that means internal discussion about international issues often becomes heated and occasionally harsh.
Not really a good answer, is it? In fact, it's a total distraction. The mosque established "warm feelings" with whom? And Muslims disagree with US foreign policy? Two totally unrelated concepts--law enforcement isn't really responsible for foreign policy, is it? We're talking about police officers, not the State Department, right? Apparently not--because now international issues are the focus. Doesn't it sound like the article is trying to make Muslims seem hateful of America? Many Muslims in the Triangle have relatives who are suffering overseas because of the decisions of American policymakers in regards to support for Israel and the "War on Terror." They might have family living in a refugee camp, family killed in an airstrike, etc. And it's quite patriotic to air one's dissenting views about government policy, isn't it? But still MAPAC rep Waleed Elhentaty had to defend such views:
"This doesn't mean we hate America," said Waleed Elhentaty, vice president of the nonprofit Muslim American Public Affairs Council. "We are using legal means to talk to politicians and educate them on the issues."The rest of the article talks about Muslim suspicions about law enforcement tricking a few average Muslims into getting caught up in grand scary terrorism schemes, to put them behind bars. And honestly, I think those suspicions are perfectly valid, with "informants" who seem to provide the know-how, the contacts, the finances, and critically all the brains behind such operations. On the other hand, I know that I would like to see behind bars anyone who thinks that blowing up someone's place of worship is the will of God. Just as much as I hate to see innocent people arrested, detained, and sometimes even tortured, just to make the government look tough--and sometimes, I'm pretty sure that's what's going on.
So I'm going to try to give the advertising for this class a little boost, and for many good reasons. I absolutely love the study of the Qur'an--it is the reason I became a Muslim, and for me the strongest proof for the shahadah, that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad (ﷺ) is the Messenger of Allah. And what an excellent time this is, to touch the study of the Qur'an--right before Ramadan. Improving our understanding of the sciences of the Qur'an before immersion in it is bound to enhance the experience overall, right?
The info-article on the IAR website (http://islam1.org/) lists a number of questions to be answered in the seminar inshaaAllaah, which I have summarized into a topical format below.
1) The meaning and means of the revelation
2) The means of transmission, collection, and compilation
3) Occasions of revelation
4) Abrogation and specification
5) Al-Ahruf As-Sab`ah
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur'an and indeed, We will be its guardian. (15:9)I haven't actually taken a class on this subject before (and I will definitely attend this one inshaaAllaah), but when I started asking a lot of questions on the subject to the shaykh at my masjid, he directed me to a book called Ulum al-Qur'an, by Ahmad von Denffer, which I purchased once I could get a hold of it. It's really an excellent little book--I'd recommend it for anyone who has doubts or confusion about the compilation of the Qur'an. It's also conveniently available to read online. The other book for this class (I don't think purchasing the books are necessary, by the way) is called An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an, by Yasir Qadhi, and is available for purchase online.
If you're in the area, please spread the word about the class. If you're planning to come, please register. The class will be at the Raleigh Masjid (IAR) on August 7th and 8th (Friday and Saturday) inshaAllaah. Go ahead and register, make du'a for the class and the teacher, and the exact time for the class will be announced later.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Without a doubt, the number one question people ask me whether I'm in a booth, giving a presentation on Islam, or speaking about Islam in just about any capacity, is how my family took my conversion. It's rare I get away from a presentation without someone asking me about my family.
And at the same time, it's the question I am most reluctant to answer. It's probably really interesting, but on the other hand, it doesn't include the nicest things to say about my family. And out of respect to them, it doesn't seem correct to discuss in public whatever issues we might have had. The people who know me well, and who knew me several years ago, might know the extent to which my conflict with my family has upset me personally, and might also know that some of it is my own fault. So the question has a complicated answer, and one that can't be quickly glossed over in 1-2 minutes during a presentation.
I wonder how other converts feel discussing their families. And I wonder why almost every audience I speak to wants to know about my family. And also, how do other converts discuss their relationship with their families after their conversion?
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Many of the "articles" (which so far seem to amount more to fear-mongering propaganda than actual reporting) I've read about the recent arrests talk about the "bad PR." It's one of the more irritating claims about the incident, as if all Muslims are concerned about is their public image. What's neglected almost universally is that Raleigh Muslims preempted this "bad PR," with their Open House, which took place a few days before the arrest (and which took months of planning.)
I'm confident that any one of the over 600 attendees at the Open House would consider that visit to be far more weighty in their understanding of Islam than news reports about a few people who they've never met. In fact, the more the media tries to malign Islam (by trying to associate it with criminal behavior), the more people will investigate Islam. And some people will even become Muslim based on their investigation--after learning about Islam on their own, despite the repeated attempts of hate-mongering ideologues to paint Islam as a religion of terror.
But what is the excuse of the N&O for ignoring stories about Muslims which try to clear the fog, like the Open House? If you want to complain, please send a tasteful letter to the editor.
And let it be said of the Muslims in Raleigh that they didn't wait for "bad PR" to try to teach their neighbors Islam.