Monday, September 06, 2010

Afraid of Your Neighborhood Mosque?

Are you afraid of what happens at that mosque down the road, or the one across town? Afraid they're training terrorists? Afraid there's a madrasa* teaching kids to be violent? Afraid the imam is teaching men to abuse their wives?

Or maybe you're not afraid; maybe you're concerned because you believe that's actually going on.

But I'm fairly certain that it's not. In fact, that mosque is probably America's best line of defense against terrorism--and that's one of many reasons that a community should support their local mosques. And why, in general, Americans should support the construction of mosques for American Muslims.

Sadly, the efforts of soldiers fighting and dying overseas (and killing Muslims) foster terrorism by increasing hatred from Muslims and further radicalizing them. I say it's sad because people are dying (on both sides) and the efforts only make the situation worse. American mosques combat the radicalism among Muslims. Visit one--listen to what the preachers are saying. Mosques are open, free, just visit and see what they're teaching. What you'll hear is talk about prayer, fasting, charity, kindness to parents.

If a Muslim has been radicalized, he's probably not going to be too regular at the mosque--he won't hear at the mosque the rhetoric he wants to hear; that is, the kind which validates his radicalism, basically. Instead, he'll be told to be patient, to increase in worship, and act in service to his community. But if he does visit the mosque, then perhaps he'll find a community there who can help to guide him aright.

So don't be afraid of the local mosques. Feel free to visit them--encourage a group visit if you don't want to go alone. Take a group from your church or synagogue--or invite a Muslim you know to come speak at your Sunday school class. Open mutual dialogue at interfaith or multi-faith events--ask them what they are doing, subscribe to their newsletter if they have one. And when you see they're not up to any trouble, consider that the faith of Muslims can positively affect the community in which they live. That it can help take care of the poor, and refugees, the hungry, the homeless, the battered women and orphan children. That it can promote positive activities for youth to keep them "off the streets" and out of trouble. And that it can even help keep the country safer.

Please, visit a mosque.

*By the way, madrasa is just the Arabic word for school.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Being Fair About Gender Segregation

I wrote an article that was just published over at (Being Fair About Gender Segregation)

I have heard many complaints from some converts to Islam, even from non-Muslims, about gender separation in Islam—in fact, it was one of my biggest fears after marriage. And the issue of segregation in Islam and Muslim cultures relates to women's rights and the concept of hijab.

But I have come to prefer gender segregation, usually, now that I have a better understanding about what it means and how to apply it...
Instead of posting the entire article here (which I may do later), I've just linked it so you can visit the site, read the article, and vote on the quality. Feel free to leave comments here of improvements I can make to articles in the future.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Taking My Own Advice

A few years ago I posted some thoughts about being a recent convert in Ramadan. In my first few Ramadans, meeting many new people (at iftars, at the masjid, etc.) made a huge impact on me. So I would strongly encourage anyone who can to try and invite new Muslims when hosting iftars. It's a great time to help them learn more about Islam by observing, rather than reading.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to host any iftaars myself for the last few years because of my living arrangements. So this is my first year hosting--and I did take my own advice and host a few this Ramadan. And alhamdulillah, it's been a lot of fun. I announced my own iftars at other events and a mailing list for local sisters, to have a sisters-only iftar. I've had three, the last one tonight, and saw a different crowd each night. I've also seen many of the same sisters at other iftar events.

Alhamdulillah, the sisters in Seattle already recognized the importance of having iftars for converts and singles who wouldn't otherwise have anyone to celebrate with, and already scheduled weekly iftars. These were another opportunity for me to meet even more people.

It's sad that I'll be leaving soon and won't see these sisters again until next Ramadan, but I'm looking forward to it. And now I'm much more optimistic about stabilizing once I get back from Texas inshaaAllaah, since I feel much less like an outsider than I did even a few weeks ago.

Monday, August 23, 2010

National Tragedy vs. Muslim Holiday

With all the controversy about the non-ground zero non-mosque, a lot of misinformation about Islam has been raining on the internet and even some television shows.

Beyond the obvious irrational discussion about Park51, I'm afraid that Americans are being lied to regarding how Muslims feel about the tragedy of 9/11. And it's important this year, because those Americans might see their Muslim neighbors celebrating a holiday on that day--it's Saturday this year--for a completely unrelated reason.

And I want to clear up the confusion.

One disconcerting (yet utterly false) claim I've heard regarding Park51 is that Muslims supposedly like to build mosques on the sacred sites of conquered lands. How is that related to Park51? (Yeah, it's a leap; bear with me.) The enemies of Islam have been portraying the tragic loss of some 3000 lives 9 years ago as a "victory" for Islam. Let's be clear--it was nothing but a brutal tragedy, and has only been condemned by Muslim leaders--including the imam behind the project, by the way. Islam did not attack, but the terrorists (they don't even represent Islam--let's clear the air of that foul and false association) who did attack are hiding in caves--not what I'd call a victory by any definition. Ground Zero hardly resembles a "conquest." And nobody's building a mosque (or anything else I'm aware of) on Ground Zero.

The reason I say it's a false claim in the first place is because I've never even heard of Muslim building mosques on "sacred sites." In fact, there's a story about 'Umar ibn al-Khattab at the conquest of Jerusalem acting in order to preserve a holy site, so that a mosque would not be built on top of it. The reasons Muslims do build mosques, however, is to pray in them. And they build them in locations where Muslims live and work--since it's recommended to pray in them daily. So when there are Muslims in Manhattan, there need also be a mosque, or at least a "prayer space" for them in Manhattan. Nothing sinister about that.

But the fact that this claim is polluting the airways is causing a problem--corroding the barrier of common sense in people's minds which protects them from irrational paranoia. And I'm afraid that one piece of information might tip the balance. What information? The trivial date of an Islamic holiday--Eid al-Fitr.

You see, it's possible that Muslims might find themselves celebrating a festive day in their religion on the same day that Americans (and Muslim Americans too) are mourning the tragedy of 9/11. And I fear that anyone swimming in the sea of misinformation about Islam might find themselves drowning without a proper understanding of the context of this holiday.

Muslims celebrate essentially two major holidays each lunar year of the Islamic calendar. The days are called Eids, and they are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The lunar Islamic calendar has 12 lunar months, each 29 or 30 days--depending on the lunar cycle. Here's a bit of math:

There are 12 months, each having an average of 29.5 days (average of 29 and 30), resulting in a yearly total of about 354 days. In a solar year there are 365 days--probably what you learned back in grade school, since the calendar followed by the Western world, which runs from January to December, is based on a solar year, with 365 days. Why the discrepancy? Because they just don't line up.

It's okay, except that the Islamic lunar calendar--with only 354 days--will seem to move forward each year, since it's about 12 days shorter. There's no leap month every once in a while to keep the lunar calendar fixed against the solar one, it just keeps on moving, every year.

This means that Ramadan starts about a week and a half earlier (in the solar calendar) each year than the previous year. Two years ago it started on the 1st of September, last year it started in mid-late August, and this year it started in early-mid August. Next year, God willing, it will start at the very beginning of August or end of July.

But let's get back to the holidays--one of them occurs right at the end of Ramadan. It's called Eid al-Fitr. And this year, Ramadan ends right around September 11th. The Eid will consist of a congregational prayer early in the morning, just like it does every year at the end of Ramadan. Muslims will then celebrate it with family and friends by cooking, visiting, eating, maybe even sharing gifts.

Because the start and end of Ramadan is based on different criteria in different communities, it might not be universally celebrated on one day or another. But the day on which Eid is celebrated has no significance to the solar date, as it moves every year as well. So the holiday itself has nothing to do with the tragedy of September 11th, which I might point out was nowhere near the Eid 9 years ago, the year of the tragedy.

And while the prayer associated with Eid really can't be moved, I think it is wise for Muslim communities to try to schedule Eid-related weekend fairs and carnivals around the tragedy (by having them on Sunday the 12th instead of Saturday the 11th, or Saturday the 18th instead of the 11th.) However, this decision is up to local communities and the resources available to them. I've heard of many communities scheduling events deliberately off of the September 11th date in order to avoid local controversies, and to be more sensitive to Americans who choose that day to mourn that tragedy.

But more importantly, it is critical for us, as Muslims, to explain what the holiday Eid al-Fitr is about, and why its celebration has nothing to do with 9/11, despite the overlap in dates this year. If anyone is mistaken about why Muslims are celebrating, maybe it's our fault for not explaining ourselves in advance--and that's all I'm trying to do.

I'd like for this to be distributed and widely read--any recommendations for edits would be greatly appreciated in the comments section or by email. Thanks!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Praying At Home?

I get it now.

Alhamdulillah, a visit from family (my husband's parents, sister, and her two sons) taught me an important lesson. I knew that it was allowed, even recommended for women to pray at home instead of at the masjid, while men are strongly encouraged to pray in the congregation at the masjid.

Until the family visit, my understanding of this subject had been purely academic--sure, women can pray at home or can go to the mosque. But I didn't realize what a mercy and blessing that is. My understanding went from "Yeah, it's nice," to "SubhanAllaah, this deen is amazing."

When my sister-in-law was visiting, with her two sons, whom I love dearly, I realized just what it might be like for a mother watching children at home. Children demand attention all the time. They don't take breaks, and sometimes like to misbehave even though your schedule doesn't really have time for it. With just two boys, it was difficult to find time for us to pray--though there were three women in the house to watch the kids! I simply can't imagine how she handles them on her own. And it's not because they boys are just being bad or trying to cause trouble, they just require lots of attention and supervision. Neither of these can be had from a mother during prayer.

In addition, taking care of a household full of people (as a newlywed, my house is not so often full) requires time--a lot of it. Things require cleaning--not to be "spic-n-span" but just so they aren't dirty. Like what? Like bathrooms, so they don't stink; tubs, so the water drains; dishes, so you can eat off them; pots and pans, so you can cook in them. Cooking meals for several people daily means constantly cooking, or cleaning in the kitchen. Then there's laundry, and the rest of the house to maintain.

Without children around, I can find extra time around my prayers to go to the mosque--but with children, the 5-10 minutes each way (10-20 minutes each prayer) will add up, and would be a tremendously difficult burden on women, if they had to go to the mosque for each prayer.

If it's hard enough to find time to pray at home, how much harder to find the time to get children ready to go pray as well--especially young ones, who need to be diapered, dressed, and fed with the help of their mothers? I didn't realize, until this last visit, how much of a blessing it is for women that they are encouraged to pray at home, their minds at ease from the difficulty of praying at the masjid.

It also pretty much negates any concept that women have an easy life, or that their jobs (as mothers, and caretakers of the house) are less important than men's. It seems like the job of women is so important that while she does take a break for prayer, she has the benefit of being able to do it at home, so she can devote more of her time and energy to her responsibilities.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fitness-Related Ramadan Advice

Because I'm trying this year (more than in previous years) to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it's nice to see all the advice from Muslims about maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Ramadan.

Unfortunately, when the information is posted, some people criticize it by saying that Ramadan is not the time to focus on fitness, and thus the information isn't relevant. First, they make a good point--Ramadan is not the time to focus on fitness. Worship of Allah should be the focus, and the priority. When I hear people make this criticism though, it makes me sad, because it's like saying that fitness isn't important at all, and that we should disregard it in Ramadan.

But I don't think that's realistic. In general we can't disregard school, or work because it's Ramadan (though I get the impression that in some countries people do.) But since fitness can actually make us stronger and better Muslims, and requires year-round consistency, I think it's worth talking about fitness in Ramadan. Not to the exclusion of the importance of worship, of course, but after reading several articles and listening to short talks about the subject, fitness is never placed above worship. Workouts are scheduled around suhoor, iftar, and taraweeh times so as not to conflict with worship and practices from the sunnah.

This audio advice from makes special note of the importance to not set high fitness goals in Ramadan--rather, the goal should be to maintain one's current level of fitness. It's not practical to do much improvement--which requires a specific calorie intake and exercise routine while fasting. In fact, attempting to do so might actually negatively affect the body.

But for people who are used to eating healthy (whether to maintain blood sugar or other health reasons, for weight loss/maintenance, weight gain, or other kinds of training) why should they stop in Ramadan? For people who are used to regular exercise (for its many health benefits) why should they stop in Ramadan? And lose what they work for the rest of the year?

For anyone who isn't used to exercise, Ramadan might not be the best time to start with intense workouts, but a brisk or moderate-paced walk wouldn't go amiss.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flight or Invisibility?

I was listening to a story today on NPR, on the program This American Life, about choosing superpowers--would people choose to be invisible, or to fly, if given the choice between the two?

Since I was a little kid, I have wanted to fly--it's something of a passion of mine. I love flying and things associated with flight. So if anyone ever asked, I could answer without any hesitation or thought. And then I would wonder why anyone would want to be invisible?

It was kind of disturbing, actually, to hear people talk about being invisible. One person at the end said that everyone, if they were practical, would choose invisibility so they could sneak into movies and in other ways cheat society. One man talked about listening to what people said about him behind his back, and watching women take showers. (Yeah, seriously.)

But apparently, according to the lady who said that everyone would choose invisibility if they were honest, described people who would choose flight as having some kind of mythic/heroic complex. The contrast between flight and fading was also described as being related to people's "guile." So if they had guile, they would want to be invisible. And that people who wanted to fly wanted to be heroes or to show off or something. And apparently women tended to answer "invisibility" more than men, who tended to answer "flight."

I'm not sure about drawing too many conclusions about someone based on their answer to the question, but I do find the trends interesting. Any thoughts? What would you choose?

Ramadan Protocol Meal Checklists

Just for my own benefit, really:

Suhoor Checklist:
  • Multi-Vitamin with Iron (2) -- Multivitamins are important for general health, especially when reducing or restricting calories. It's even more important during Ramadan, I think, because I'm eating even less. I take a supplement with iron because I'm a woman basically.
  • Fish-Oil (3) -- Good for general health, also for lowering cholesterol (which is why I take a lot of them, as prescribed by my doctor.)
  • Protein (>20g) -- Important for muscle-building and fullness. The challenge is to get enough protein in without too much fat. Lean proteins include chicken breast meat and egg whites. Really 20g isn't enough, 40g is more appropriate but these days I'm not hungry at suhoor time and have a hard time eating that much food without feeling sick. 20g is about 3/4 cup of egg whites.
  • Healthy Fat (10-15g) -- It's part of my daily habit to eat at least 10g of fat with my breakfast, as it helps stave off sugar cravings normally. I might eat a little more fat in Ramadan suhoors than a normal breakfast because it needs to last for longer.
  • Complex Carb (1/2cup) -- A slow digesting carbohydrate food like whole wheat bread (I like Dave's Killer Powerseed Bread personally), oatmeal, lentils or other whole grains.
  • Fruit -- I like oranges in the morning because they're full of water which helps with hydrating. Dates might also be good, since it's from the Sunnah and you don't have to eat a lot volume-wise to get the calories. (1 date is about 70 calories.) Fruit is a simple carb though, so best not to have too much.
  • Water (32oz) -- In a day it's good to get 64oz of water as a minimum. I try to break it up by having 32oz at suhoor, and 32oz at iftar.

Iftar Checklist:
  • Date (1+) -- It's from the sunnah to break fast with dates, and it helps raise blood sugar quickly while helping you to rehydrate. I have to remind myself not to eat too many, because as I mentioned before, each date is about 70 calories, which adds up fast.
  • Water (32oz) -- The rest of that 64oz. I try to drink a glass when I break my fast and then sip it for the rest of the night.
  • Fish Oil (3) -- I take six of these each day (if I remember) according to a doctor's recommendation. And I do have to remind myself to take it both times or else I'll forget.
  • Protein (>30g) -- Important to have plenty of protein after breaking fast as well, especially from lean sources.
  • Complex Carb (1/2 cup) -- Half a cup at suhoor and iftar is really enough.
  • Veggies (1 cup) -- Too many reasons to eat veggies.
Why a Ramadan Protocol Checklist? So when I'm insanely sleepy (like right now, although I'm bright-eyed and bushy tailed compared to my husband who got even less sleep) I can check my list and see if I remembered to eat everything I was supposed to.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Weird Attacks

Do you ever hear weird comments from the enemies of Islam? For instance:

that Islam isn't a real religion, but just a cult, and referring to it as a "so-called religion"

that if people only read the biography of Muhammad they'll understand why Syrian Shari'ah makes a woman burn herself

that face veiling is just "Arab culture" and has no basis in religion

that Muslims try to "sugarcoat" Islam and they don't actually follow the Qur'an?

I've heard each of these over the past two days and I just get confused. The first one I've seen in two places, so maybe it's getting popular (on forums and blogs, anyway) to say that Islam isn't a real religion. It's kind of a crackpot statement, since it's the world's second largest religion (by number of adherents) and the world's largest purely monotheistic religion. The characteristics which define Islam should be defining for any religion--Islam should be the standard, really, as it's so pervasive globally. So to say it's not a real religion? It requires the logic-defying arrogance equivalent to declaring the earth is flat.

The second one I heard on NPR on Friday, during an interview of a particular published enemy of Islam whom the host didn't bother to ask any meaningful questions. The woman hails from Syria--which she upholds as a bastion of Islamic idealism, even Shari'ah (I find this particularly laughable, since Syria is well-known to be quite far from Shari'ah and actually makes it more difficult for Muslims to practice Islam there than here in the USA.) And then bases her entire argument against Islam on an emotional appeal--the tragic (if true, it was indeed tragic and inexcusable) suffering of a female relative. She then bizarrely tries to claim that abuse and oppression of women is based in the biography of Muhammad (pbuh) and encourages listeners to read it in order to verify her claims. I find that pretty odd since I would encourage listeners to do the same thing--read his biography--to see through her weak and unsupported argument.

To be more specific, she highlighted an instance of forced marriage--yet in a clear hadith a woman is permitted a divorce simply because she was married without her consent. In fact, the woman went to the Prophet himself and asked her the question. So she wasn't locked up, forced to stay at home, not allowed to talk to men, or considered to be shameful by the Prophet (pbuh) to speak to him about her husband and to question the marriage.

Then she (the aforementioned enemy of Islam) pointed to the marriage of the Prophet (pbuh) to his wife Aisha, who she claimed to be 6 years old. Again, actually reading the biography would clear up that matter as well.

The third point above comes from a discussion about the burqa banning and arises from Americans who I can only imagine feel that if 20 or 30 women in their city choose to cover their faces, that society is going to collapse, their wives will be cowed into submission to male dominance and forced to wear a suit that looks like--actually, I won't even say how it was described, lest I offend my sisters who choose to wear it. In short, those fears are totally baseless, and I can't see them as anything other than pure bigotry. Moreover, it seems to be a convenient excuse for those who do hate the face veil to pretend that veiling actually doesn't belong to Islam. Without delving too deeply into the religious argument for the veiling of the face, I will say that we have clear evidence that the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) covered their faces, and as that is true, who on earth has the right to prevent a woman from aspiring to such nobility and modesty as maintained by the mothers of the believers?

The last remark is the most curious of all, though I know it's not new. In fact, it's a remark which brought me to Islam five years ago--when someone claimed that the Qur'an promoted violence which Muslims were just hiding. I have relatives who still believe this to be the case. But the difference between me and them on this issue is that I have actually read the Qur'an. The obvious result is that now I am a Muslim. So if anyone is going around claiming that, the refutation is simply to actually read the texts.

Why doesn't the truth speak for itself? Because society likes to watch the shadows on the wall instead of looking at reality and the light of day.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Planning Practice

After spending months of idling in Washington, my life is picking up speed. My days are filled with more tasks, requirements, more things I need to accomplish. And so it seems like time is becoming short.

In the past several months I've been able to enjoy being a newlywed, focus on my health, and become lightly involved with the local Muslim community. In the past several weeks I've been able to visit my family in North Carolina, and have my husband's family (who are also my family, I love them so dearly) visit me as well. In fact, they just left today.

Up until now I've been living very much "in the moment" without planning too far ahead. And it's time for this habit to change, abruptly. In little over a month, I'll be leaving Washington for Texas to spend 10 months studying Arabic. And I need to maintain some of the good habits (health-wise) I've developed here in Washington.

I will have to transition from a free and spontaneous lifestyle to one with a strictly regimented schedule. And yet find time to prepare home-cooked healthy meals like I'm used to, and also exercise on a daily basis. During this transition, I have to prepare for a cross-country move and a week-long vacation with my husband, and maintain a schedule of teaching at halaqas in addition to preparing a few iftars at my home, all while fasting.

So my new lifestyle (the one in Texas) will require careful planning on a daily basis to fit in classes, studying, exercise, and meal-planning. My intermediate lifestyle requires careful planning to accomplish all my tasks in a relatively short period of time with the disadvantage of being fasting during the day and occupied at night inshaaAllaah with prayers.

So for the next month (or so) I am going to practice and perfect the art of planning and scheduling until it is easy for me. May Allah make it easy and put barakah in my time.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Exercising While Fasting

If you haven't come across it yet, there's a good article about working out in Ramadan over at Suhaib Webb's blog: The Ramadan Nutrition and Workout Plan for Success.

Included are good tips and advice for maintaining an exercise routine during the fasts of Ramadan. Unfortunately, I don't think all the advice is actually practical this year--especially in northern latitudes (like Seattle.) Specifically, timing a workout after taraweeh prayers doesn't seem realistic given that isha is not prayed until almost 11pm, and the fasting starts around 4am. So in five hours there is taraweeh prayers (around 2 hours here, I'm told,) and you also want to get up for suhoor and possibly tahajjud as well (especially in the last 10 nights), so I'll say at least an hour, i.e., 3am start all that. Which gives you from 1am-3am for sleeping and exercise. (What!?)

Alright, so I'm not sure if anyone will be sleeping at night around here this Ramadan, since there's not enough time for anything more than a nap--and an extremely disrupted sleep schedule. But working out? At 1am? Seriously?

What kind of workout can you do at 1am, anyway? I have a few training sessions left that will last in to Ramadan, meaning that I have to meet with my personal trainer during Ramadan. And the earliest I can meet her is 5:30am, and the latest I can meet her is 7:30 pm. That's over an hour after fasting begins, and an hour before it ends. And I'm not sure which is better.

Personally, I think I'd rather do my workouts in the gym--where it's safe, well-lit, and a variety of equipment is available. The only exercise I can do at 1am is run. I love riding my bike but I just don't feel safe after dusk.

I've also heard other suggestions about the hours before iftar being a good time to workout. The problem is that after a day of fasting, the body will be weak and dehydrated, but afterwards the body will be extremely ready to receive nutrients. Also, you can rehydrate almost immediately.

I'm thinking I'll give both options a try in the first week and decide what works better for the remaining sessions. Thankfully, my trainer is giving me that flexibility and I won't have to meet her at our normal time of 1pm--at which time there is no benefit whatsoever, except perhaps that the gym isn't crowded.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

Ramadan Webinars

I realized today that I've been "invited" to more webinars for Ramadan than it's going to be possible for me to attend. But in case any of these spark the interest of my readers, I'll just post a list of Ramadan webinars if anyone is looking for some motivation or preparation for the upcoming month of fasting and worship.

If I get any more I'll try to update this list. I have listened to the first one, which is on replay, from Quran for Busy People, and really appreciated it. As for the rest, I can't really say. There's a second upcoming webinar from Quran For Busy People that I might tune in for, or listen if it's on replay inshaaAllaah.


On Replay:
The Quickest, Easiest, Most Productive Way to Understand the Entire Quran In Arabic... For FREE!

Monday, August 2nd, 7pm EST
Advice to Make This Ramadan the Best Ever
Register at:

Tuesday, August 3rd, 7pm EST
Spiritual Management

Thursday, August 5th, 5pm EST
The Strongest Link

Saturday, August 7th, 2pm EST
Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities: the life and teachings of Imam al-Ghazali in the modern world

Sunday, August 8th, 7pm GMT
How To Use This Ramadan To Jump-Start Your Personal Journey Through The Quran

Sunday, August 8th, 7:10pm EDT
The Fasting and the Furious: how to drive your motivation throughout Ramadan

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Roti Experiment

If you follow me on twitter, you'll know that a while ago a tried making roti without success. (Roti is a kind of flat bread eaten with many Pakistani dishes.) The dough was basically sticking to everything--the bowl, the rolling pin, the counter, and me!--and the only fruits of my labor were three little pieces of roti that made it to the frying pan. My husband likened them to the San Juan Islands (a local vacation destination--three small islands) making fun of their pitiful size and distorted shape. But he said they tasted good--although, how hard is it to mess up the "taste" of something which is only flour and water?

So while I've been hoping that my visiting mother-in-law will teach me many of her extremely delicious recipes (I haven't tried one dish yet that I didn't like), I'm especially hoping that she will teach me to make roti. My husband has mentioned a few times that he'd really like for me to make roti (even though I can't make the accompanying dishes--he can make some of them) and it would make him extremely happy for me to have fresh roti when he comes home from work. (I guess I can take the not-so-subtle hint.)

So after being a little too late to the kitchen for a few days when roti was being made, I recently made a point to observe when the opportunity arose. And she showed me how she rolled the dough into a ball, floured it some more, rolled it flat and then patted it around to make it get big, then dropped it in the pan. I tried once with the patting it and it didn't get exactly round--sort of like a rounded oblong triangle...

But this evening when some food was left over late at night, but very little roti, I thought I'd try it again myself--in secret, so I didn't embarrass myself. I took small pieces of dough from the fridge (my mother-in-law had already made this, and I didn't want to use it all up, or try making it myself either) and made miniature dough balls. I rolled them in the flour, rolled them flat, and tried patting them too (although, they were really too small for this to have much effect.) Then dropped them onto the pan and cooked them. And although they weren't the best--not as big, soft, and stretchy as my mother-in-law's--they looked sort of decent, though small. And so when my husband came to the kitchen I proudly showed him my 2 little round mini rotis, thinking he'd be happy, praise me, and then eat them with the gravy on the stove. But no.

Right away he took the basket straight to the bedroom where my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were, and showed it to them. He was happy--and so were they--and explained that I was too shy to try making it while they were around. Actually, I was too embarrassed and his showing off didn't help any! Then they tried and confirmed that it tasted just right (again--is it even possible to mess up the taste?) even though it was small, and my mother-in-law told me that she learned this way too--by starting with small ones and working up until they're larger.

So it was supposed to be secret roti--just for me and my husband. But instead everyone knows--so I guess it's a good thing the experiment wasn't a total failure!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Haleem, Amy Style

A couple years ago at a dinner party for single ladies, I was introduced to haleem. And it was delicious. The cook had prepared it in a pressure cooker in order to speed up the process (this dish can take 8 hours to cook) and I was quick to ask how she made it. Finding that she simply used a box mix from Shan, I was pretty eager to try it. I didn't have a pressure cooker, but I thought I'd try it in a Crock-Pot that I'd had for a while (and never used.)

So I bought the Shan Haleem mix at a local Indian grocery store, and tried my best to follow the instructions. I'm still not sure if I really followed them correctly (and I left some parts out, plus I don't really know what "ghee" is), but generally anyone to whom I've served haleem has been pretty happy with it.

Tonight I received the chief of all compliments on haleem, when my mother-in-law (who really doesn't speak any English) insisted to me that my haleem was "very very very very very very very tasty." She herself is an amazing cook, whose culinary expertise has been delighting my taste buds for over a week now. So that I could impress her (as well as the rest of my family) was pretty exciting.

Because I'm using a boxed mix and a crock-pot, making the haleem is really easy. So when I tell people it's easy they often ask how I make it. So I thought maybe I'd share my strategy.

First, let the grains soak in a bowl of water. I've let them soak from anywhere from 15 minutes to about 2 hours. My sister-in-law soaks them overnight, which is another way to make them softer, I guess. It might help them cook faster if they soak longer, but I'm not really sure.

Anyway, after/while soaking the grains, fry some beef (I use the same cuts of beef used for beef stew, which we buy at a halal meat market, and it works really well) in oil. I use about 2-2.5 lbs. of beef and around 1/2-3/4 cups of olive oil to fry the beef. Heat the pan, add the oil, then the meat, and add the spices (I use about 3/4 or a little more of the spice packet, not the whole thing) while frying the beef. Once it has been browned (though not cooked the whole way through) I add it to the crock-pot, along with the grains and water. And then I had water, but I can't say how much. I add until there's about an inch from the level of water and the top of the crock-pot, about 1-3 bowls of water, depending on the size of the bowl. Also depends on the size of the crock-pot you use, I guess. Maybe 20-32 oz of water, in addition to the beef and the oil you cooked it in.

And then set it--about 6-8 hours on High or 8-10 hours on Low should be plenty. So you have to start it in the morning if you want it for dinner. Don't stir it too often in the crock pot, as it adds on cooking time.

Then enjoy, and share. It's really good with yogurt and naan. And if you want to make it higher protein (as I do sometimes) then add chicken breast to your dish before you eat it, like this. Season the raw chicken breast with some remaining spices (haleem masala) like a dry rub. Fry a breast in about 1 tsp of olive oil (for up to a 7oz breast) until cooked through. Add to about 3/4 cup haleem and yogurt. For even more protein, substitute Greek yogurt. For lower carbs, cut the naan and just eat it with a spoon.

Ramadan Confusion

Want to be confused? Read different fiqh opinions regarding Ramadan. It will just blow your mind.

After being volunteered to talk about the fiqh of Ramadan at an upcoming workshop (in addition to just Eid), I've spent a lot of time over the last week reading different fiqh opinions on Ramadan, and am terrified of presenting this weekend, and unsatisfied with the ability of Shaykh Google to clarify matters.

So what is confusing?

The time to start fasting--at fajr, is obvious. But should you start 10 minutes before "to be safe?" Some say yes, some say no. Can you finish eating or must you spit it out if fajr time comes with food in your mouth? I've heard both.

What should pregnant and nursing women do if they break the fast for fear for themselves or the baby? Make it up? Pay a ransom? Both? All opinions exist.

What about injections? Definitely yes because it introduces something to the body? Definitely no because it's not a normal way of eating food? Yes if intravenous but no if intramuscular? Yep, heard all of those too.

What if you accidentally eat or swallow something, though you knew you were fasting? (I.e., you didn't forget.) One school has the opinion that even accidental swallowing can break your fast, while others disagree.

And I guess what bothers me the most about these is that the stricter opinions tend to not make any sense, but just seem like they exist "to be on the safe side." But it just makes things seem so complicated. In reading these opinions, though, it seems like they all sort of bash the other opinions, insisting that they are wrong, or even "bid'ah" (innovation.) So what if people as me questions about these subjects? "Go ask a scholar, and Allah knows best."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Adabs of the Student of Knowledge

Several years ago I listened to a lecture online between some classes on engineering, and even took notes. But I can't remember where I found the lecture or who it was teaching. But the topic was, as the title of this post, the Adab (Etiquette & Manners) of the Student of Knowledge.

Since I will become a full-time student again soon inshaaAllaah (less than two months, now), this post is mostly for myself, but anyone can take it as advice or recommendations. There are two parts--the first is etiquette of the student, and the second is etiquette with the shaykh or teacher.

Etiquette of the Student
  1. Ikhlaas - Sincerity in intention, undertaking study to improve one's iman and worship of Allah.
  2. Purify the hearts of evil feelings - like pride, arrogance, anger, etc.
  3. Purify body from sins - by not committing them, and making sincere repentance
  4. Conceptualize the importance of knowledge of the deen (Islam)
  5. Maintain good studying habits
  6. Choose proper companions
  7. Study at the earliest age possible
  8. Have patience
  9. Take notes
Etiquette with the teacher
  1. Choose proper teachers
  2. Respect the teacher and treat him properly
  3. Have proper etiquette in front of the teacher, by paying attention, not talking to students during the class, avoiding excessive jokes and laughter
  4. Pray for teacher and love him for the sake of Allah
  5. Be patient concerning the teacher's faults
  6. Sit properly in front of him (i.e., don't point your feet towards him)
  7. Speak with him in a proper manner, respectfully
The lecture also gave the following sample schedule for full-time student as part of good studying habits:
Morning: memorize Qur'an
Late morning: study new topics
Afternoon: revise Qur'an, review older topics
Evening: research for personal subjects

I think having a regular schedule is important, but I'm not sure why the shaykh picked this particular one. I think the philosophy was that you're most "fresh" in the morning, so that's when you cover new material and memorize. I've had to give some thought to my own schedule (so I can schedule proper meals and workouts especially, into the hectic study-day) and might post more on it later inshaaAllaah. But this format might be a good place to start inshaaAllaah.

Learning or Teaching Arabic?

Alif, Baa, Taa, Saa, no, Thaa...

Learning Arabic to understand the Qur'an didn't seem like that big of a deal to me until I attended the 10-day Bayyinah grammar course (Fundamentals of Arabic, I think) a few years ago back in North Carolina. And afterwards I didn't really see how anyone could think otherwise about learning Arabic.

Consequently, it surprised me when I found new Muslims who wanted to learn conversational Arabic--local dialects to speak with their Arab friends--instead of focusing on just the Qur'an. But why should they, if they don't even know what kind of a treasure trove the Qur'an is for students of classical Arabic?

So when I started a class for new Muslims myself, a lot of the early feedback was that they wanted to learn Arabic. Nothing fancy at first, but they needed somewhere to start--how to read the language at least. And while teaching Arabic, my focus was learning the alphabet with the sole purpose of learning to read the Qur'an.

Over the past few weeks my attempts to teach have been plagued with various hurdles, including inconsistent attendance and lack of any practice or study between meetings. I'm thinking that the first problem should be fixed by having a class devoted to Arabic for a shorter duration (in terms of weeks of meetings) but with greater frequency, instead of having it appended to a class teaching Islamic studies. Students should know that they have to go a little bit "beyond" to learn Arabic--they need to study it, I can't give it to them.

The second problem could possibly be fixed by having weekly assignments, somewhat like back in second grade. Draw the letter, match it with the name, match it with the connected form of the letter, for instance. That might encourage students to pull out their notes between class times and review--the only way they'll learn it.

Since my in-laws are staying at my home right now (alhamdulillah, it's such a blessing) I've had the opportunity to work on Arabic with my nephew, who is about 5 years old. He's using a standard book that just teaches kid to look at each letter, say it, identify any markings on it (like a madd, fatha--zabur in Urdu, tanween) and then sound it out accordingly. And he's doing a pretty good job of reading and identifying. All he struggles with is proper pronunciation of some of the sounds, especially since many of the letters appear in the Urdu alphabet he's more familiar with but have a different sound in Arabic than in Urdu.

The new Muslim students I've been teaching Arabic are at a completely different place, but I wonder if it wouldn't be best to teach them the same way? Just looking at blocks and reading: alif-fatha "a," alif-kasra "e," alif-dammah "u," and so on. I really worry that I'm just confusing them more than helping them. I've expected that they will review during the week but when we meet again some students are missing, the rest haven't practice, and I feel like I'm back at the beginning. And the next week, it's a different batch of students and I have to repeat, without moving forward (or else leaving almost everyone behind.)

So it's become abundantly clear to me that I'm not qualified to teach Arabic, at least not yet anyway. I can help my nephew review but really I'm not teaching him very much, just reading with him and making him practice. I was teaching a student privately for a few weeks, and by meeting more frequently with her she was able to progress rather quickly as compared to the class. But the only reason she was able to at first was because she practiced everything we went over together during the days we didn't meet.

Any students of Arabic who are just getting started should keep that in mind--they'll only get out of it what they put in, and putting in an hour of class time once a week isn't nearly enough. But practicing and reviewing regularly, that will make the lessons stick so the student can progress to reading and eventually understanding inshaaAllaah.

Anyone have any tips for me for teaching Arabic to adults? The class is pretty much over, but suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reaching Out With Hate

An organization called "Dove World Outreach Center" is having an "International Burn a Koran Day." You don't have to guess hard to figure out which day (Sept. 11th) they picked. I won't post the links to their youtube video explaining their mission to be hateful (apparently that's how Jesus was) or their facebook page (yeah, that's professional) and I encourage you not to go looking for them (unless you intend to flag them as inappropriate BS which has no place in civilized discourse.)

But before you are outraged, just consider the irony. The name of the organization is "Dove World Outreach Center." The dove is the symbol of peace, so the name conjurs the idea that they intend to "reach out" to the entire world with peace. As Muslims constitute 20% or more of the world, they should reach out with peace to Muslims too, right?

In the video, a preacher tries to explain why real Christians should be burning the Qur'an. It's apparently because, according to him (and the organization, as it's stated on their website), "Islam is of the devil." Ponder for a moment what that means... "of the devil."

Does it mean that it originated with the devil? Is manipulated by the devil? Is a part of the devil?

If he believes that the Bible is the Word of God (which is what he calls it in the video) doesn't he consider how Muslims are not, ever, having "Burn a Bible Day?" But hey, every now and again some Muslims do something stupid, so I (for one) won't be holding this "International Burn the Koran Day" against my Christian friends and relatives. Mostly I think these folks want to just piss Muslims off and I see no reason to give them that satisfaction.

But what is it about the Qur'an which they really take issue with? The fact that the Qur'an wholly rejects the attribution of children (or partners of any kind) to Allah. And about Christians who claim it, the Qur'an says what means:

(9:30) That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?

Can you read this and say anything other than that Allah Almighty has spoken the truth? Seriously.

I also think it's funny that they decided to have this "International" day on September 11th--a day fixed in the American psyche specifically. And I would love to tell them how horribly they've distorted the teachings of their own religion (you get more bees with honey than vinegar--did nobody teach them this lesson?) but I should probably let other Christians do that.

But just a thought--who is going to think they are rightly guided if they go around burning other people's holy books? Actions speak louder than words, and their actions really say nothing of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control," but rather of "hatred." And possibly sheer stupidity, but maybe that can't be helped.

Either have a laugh, or just ask these folks--if Christianity is a religion of peace, then why are you reaching out with aggression? If Christianity is a religion of truth, why can't you just explain the truth? Why do you have to hate on Muslims--what's better about the message of Islam that people accept it instead of Christianity?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Be Batman

I have never been a fan of Batman. My earliest memories of Batman involve my brother successfully commandeering the television after school and clogging the tube with comic book cartoons. And of all the shows on at the time, for some reason I hated Batman most--I always found it kind of weird and confusing, and incredibly dull.

My experience with the Batman movies has been pretty much the same--in general they seem to me to be dark but lame, and really boring when not deeply disturbing. (And I don't generally like "disturbing" films.) For me, just once of "The Dark Knight" was enough to last a lifetime--I'm not sure why that movie was so popular, really.

But if you're now feeling defensive about Batman, let me get in one more thought. I heard once in a lecture (about da'wah, actually) that Batman was a man of few words--especially compared to his enemies, and namely the Joker. And that the writers of Batman tried to emphasize this point. Using just a few words--being concise--can be more weighty than "watering down" the meaning of a statement with many more words.

It came to my mind recently since I saw someone on a forum with the behavior of the Joker--all talk, no meaning, frequently jumping topics or changing the subject when answered. You have to kind of step back to try and look at the big picture, then be as pithy as possible. Since I've seen many people who attack Islam to have this characteristic (talking too much, using words to trick an audience) and seen people respond to it with an equal number of words (usually unconvincing,) it's worthwhile to learn a lesson from Batman.

When conveying the message of Islam, be clear, be concise, and repeat, so the truth does not get lost in the mud and muck being thrown around.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Celebrating Eid and Ramadan

In about 10 days inshaaAllaah I'll be giving a talk at a Ramadan workshop for new Muslims about celebrating Ramadan and Eid. I'm thinking it's probably the easiest part of the worskhop--other speakers will be talking about the virtues of Ramadan, the fiqh of Ramadan, and making the most of the spiritual blessings of Ramadan, topics that are deeper and carry much more weight in Ramadan discussions. But I get to tackle the little afterthought--it seems that way after 30 days of fasting and worship--called Eid. So I can't really treat it like an afterthought, can I?

Looking back through some old blogs I saw that when talking about Ramadan and Eid, some people commented that they didn't really know how to celebrate Eid, and despite having been Muslim for a while had never actually been to an Eid prayer or celebration. Thinking back on my own experience now, I realize that I was tremendously helped by other sisters who reached out to me and invited me (or drug me along) to various activities and gatherings. In fact, not only on Eid but throughout Ramadan I was able to experience a new level of sisterhood than I had previously.

So I think that I will spend some time talking about the Eid prayer in such a way that attendees feel encouraged to attend the Eid prayer. And then to talk about socialization to prepare them to actually celebrate the day of Eid instead of letting it pass by as a footnote.

Some suggestions I've heard are to mention a gift to neighbors or friends, like an "iftar bowl," a a festive, decorative bowl or box full of dates or fruits with which people can break their fast, but also including the du'a for breaking the fast prominently displayed. Another suggestion about "eid baskets," giving gifts to friends and family--several gifts grouped together in baskets for each individual.

Any other ideas?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Please Stay and Pray

Have you ever been sitting in a class at the masjid scheduled around the prayer time? Like, it lasts until asr, or until maghrib, for example? It tends to happen a lot, I think, since the call to prayer necessitates a break in the class and makes for a good stopping point. More importantly, it gives you the advantage to pray that salah, at least, in the masjid. That is, if you don't have a habit of performing prayers in the masjid, it gives you a reason to do so.

In my time as a Muslim, I've learned that it's not appropriate to leave the masjid after the adhan is called unless you have prayed with the congregation. Why? Here's why:

Abu Hurairah (R.A.) said, "The prophet (S.A.W.) ordered us, when we are in the Masjid and the Salah is called for, not to leave the Masjid until we pray." [Ahmad]

See? And when I took the Fiqh of Salah class from AlMaghrib I learned that you should pray that salah with the congregation even if you've already prayed it! (For example, if you're travelling, or if you follow a different opinion for asr.)

But I have at times been sitting in a class or halaqah which lasts until a prayer time--at which point nearly everyone gets up to leave. I'm not sure if I think it's bad timing or bad etiquette--I'm sure that they don't know about this hadith, or else they might be inclined to stay. After a few years, I've learned to adjust my schedule to the prayer times, and absent any extenuating circumstances, will stay for the congregational prayer if I am there for the adhan.

But what's the best way to tell people, when they are getting up to leave, if they figure that the class is over and they need to get home. Will a few more minutes (20-30 max) make that much of a difference, at 9:00pm? Do many people just not know about this hadith and etiquette? I wonder, and also wonder the best way to share it. Thoughts?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Finishing the Qur'an

A few weeks ago I met a sister who was planning to finish memorizing the Qur'an by the end of this year. I was at a halaqah where I was supposed to be "teaching," though I didn't feel like I had much to teach while she was there. She was about the same age as me, and didn't really know anyone else at the halaqah, and I don't know anyone there knew what kind of person was sitting among them.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for sisters who have memorized the Qur'an, and the magnitude of the endeavor. Over the past few years I have tried to memorize the Qur'an, little by little. I was embarrassed to spend time around my peers knowing only a handful of surahs from the end of the Qur'an. I heard Yasir Qadhi say about applicants to IlmSummit that the amount of Qur'an memorized was a factor in admission, and being a hafidh was ideal. After learning to read Arabic and studying tajweed, memorization became a bit easier, but I still wasn't really headed towards becoming a hafidhah or anything, and didn't even have one whole (or even half) juz in my head. I was just trying to learn about as much Qur'an as kids learn in Sunday school. And that's not exactly the same level as "serious" students of knowledge, even though I considered myself as serious as the rest. I've just gotten a late start and have to make up a few (like 20) years.

I still know about that much Qur'an, but for now my focus has changed. On applying to Bayyinah, while taking a reading/tajweed test, the sister I was speaking to suggested that I start reading the Qur'an in Arabic more frequently. She suggested I start with about half a page a day, and work up to two pages a day and just read every day.

So I started doing that, making gradual progress and trying to read a page or two daily. But on my recent trip back to North Carolina to visit my family, with plenty of time spent on planes and in airports, my reading of the Qur'an improved tremendously, just by reading it much more, and more often. When I left, I was still reading Surat al-Baqarah, and now alhamdulillah I'm reading Surat al-Ma'idah. Perspective? I had been reading Surat al-Baqarah since April.

And then I got this crazy idea that I would try to keep reading more, and try to have completed it by the end of Ramadan. I'm still not reading very quickly, and unfortunately I don't understand much, but I can tell that my reading has improved--speed and accuracy. Now that we're into the month of Sha'ban, I don't have much time to get there, but I think I'm going to at least try.

So for now I've stopped memorizing to focus on reading. And as I said, it is making a difference.

When I first came to Seattle, I talked to some other convert sisters about this particular struggle, reading Qur'an with enough proficiency to be able to read on a regular basis. For instance, there is a hadith about reading Surat al-Kahf on Fridays--but imagine if it took you from the time of jumu'ah until maghrib to finish it? That is, if you could commit yourself to sit there and struggle through the pages for that long.

And at the time, it bothered me that even though I was memorizing short chapters I still couldn't sit down and read something like Surat al-Kahf on Fridays, or Surah Ya-Seen in the morning, or Surat al-Mulk after 'isha. And I don't think I'm there yet still, but I am getting closer. Although, for now all my reading time is pretty much devoted to getting through the Qur'an the first time.

Even though now I'm reading it with understanding, I can't help but appreciate that I'm forming a habit that will continue through my study of Arabic. And once I have learned enough Arabic to understand it inshaaAllaah, I hope that the meaning will unfold as I continue to read it, over and over and over.

I have heard that the Companions used to finish reading the Qur'an in a week--though now we might finish it only once in a year at Ramadan, or less than that. And although I've read a translation completely, I don't think it's quite the same as reading the Arabic. So here I am publicizing my goal--to finish reading the Qur'an for the first (but hopefully not last) time. And then, to maintain a habit of reading the Qur'an daily, and eventually to memorize it in entirety.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ramadan Over-Planning

I just found out that on the same day I offered to help teach in a Ramadan workshop for new Muslims, there's an even better Ramadan seminar going on in another part of town. There's a very small bit of overlap, so I might go from one event to the next--should I suggest everyone do the same, I wonder, if they come to the first?

There's a big difference, I think, in the quality of a presentation offered by a da'ee, versus that by a shaykh. I hate to see Muslims having to compete with each other when events are offered at the same time (although this kind of seems to be directed to different groups of Muslims.) But it's one side effect of a larger community.

This Ramadan will be my first in Washington and I'm still learning about how things work here. There will be some different challenges here than I had in Raleigh--being further north, maghrib times comes much later, and so does isha, while fajr comes earlier, making taraweeh an even harder sacrifice. But I won't be working or in school this year so I should be able to be more flexible. (Sleeping during the day, for instance.)

Last year I saw one of my friends offering a weekly iftar for a group of convert sisters which seemed to me to benefit all of them. So I'm hoping to do something similar this year, here in Washington, by hosting a weekly iftar for ladies, especially new Muslims, and offering a short lesson before maghrib. Since in the Compass class I'm teaching we've covered salah, I thought it would help to review four different surahs, one each week, to explain the meaning and work on memorizing. So inshaaAllaah we'll do Al-Fatihah, mostly as review, then Al-Ikhlas, Al-Falaq, and An-Naas from the end of the Qur'an.

But again, I hope that my little iftar won't conflict with other events (iftars) that the sisters might like to attend, but there's only so much I can do. For me, visiting people for iftar in my first Ramadan was one of the best parts--I met so many new sisters and it really helped to increase my iman. Now that I have a place with my husband (who is totally supportive of my idea), I'd like to host other people and help make this Ramadan good for them, and a means towards an increase in iman and taqwa.

Day Dreaming

Around the country, the instructors from Bayyinah have been helping Muslims to appreciate the Qur'an and Islam through understanding of the Arabic language. After offering traveling courses, weekend seminars, and summer programs across the US, now they are taking one more step--a full-blown full-time 10-month Arabic program. How many Muslims across the country have dreamed to be able to study Arabic at that intensity, at that level, without going overseas?

By the grace of Allah, I was admitted into this program, aptly called Dream. So I will be traveling after Ramadan from Seattle, Washington to Dallas, Texas for ten months. I've been in Washington only 7 months but have come to love it. I have made friends and gotten involved with the community, even starting a project that will probably stop for as long as I am away. And by the time I move back, inshaaAllaah, I will have spent longer in Texas than in Washington, and more time away from my husband than with him.

Unfortunately, he won't be coming with me--and that is the greatest drawback of all. But at the same time he's been incredibly supportive, even urging me to apply in the first place, when I didn't think I was likely to get in. Before we got married, we both stressed how learning Arabic was important for us, and especially for teaching our children (inshaaAllaah!) because of the impact it has on our ability to understand Qur'an.

For me the Dream program is the answer to a du'a I've been making for years--since the first time I took an Arabic grammar class with Br. Nouman. And my prayer is to understand Arabic so I can understand the Qur'an. Alhamdulillah, He has made it easy for me so far, and I pray that He continues to make it so.

A moment of sisterhood

I was at the grocery store today and passed by a mother and daughter both wearing hijab. Even though we have never seen each other before, we greeted each other with a smile and the Islamic greeting "As-salaamu alaykum." The same thing happened yesterday at the gym--I saw another girl running on a treadmill while wearing hijab, and on my way out of the gym I passed her and greeted her--and she smiled to return the greeting as well.

We Muslim women can greet each other even though we don't know each other because we know that we are all Muslims, and admit it to the world by our choice of clothing. Even though we speak different languages, come from different countries, and our lives only overlap for that brief moment, we can still share a moment of sisterhood fostered by a simple greeting: peace be upon you.

Isn't it beautiful how we are connected, and how the connection can manifest even though we don't know each other?

Crash Course in Desi

I guess that since getting married to a desi (he's Pakistani) my understanding of desi Pakistani culture has improved, but I think I'm about to get a real crash course in the coming weeks. Because my husband has lived in the USA for a few years now and is very accommodating to my American background, it's been easy to ignore much of his Pakistani heritage. Not that I do so intentionally, but in 8 months in the USA (and 0 days in Pakistan) it's hard to really understand his culture at any deep level.

But (alhamdulillah!) I'm excited to announce that his family will be visiting us (inshaaAllaah) in coming days to stay for a few weeks. And this means that I'll need to start practicing my Urdu, for starters. When we got married, my husband said he'd teach me Urdu when we went to Pakistan--but it turns out that his family is visiting first. So far, he speaks to me almost exclusively in English so I've only learned a few Urdu phrases--which is nice, since it gets a laugh from sisters and aunties at dinner parties, though seems to confuse children, who tend to give me odd looks without answering. (Are they thinking, "Uh, why's that white girl speaking Urdu?")

I also want to learn about practical customs so that I don't inadvertently offend my gracious in-laws. They're so sweet to me, I'm afraid not just of my own shortcomings but also that even if I try to be helpful it might not come across the way I intend.

So overall the visit is making me both happy and nervous--and slightly frantic as I try to get the house ready. Any advice will be welcome!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Moving to Eat Zabihah

Since I became a Muslim, I followed a fairly lenient approach towards eating meat. While zabihah (properly slaughtered according to Islam) meat was available, I never purchased any at the meat market, and didn't make a particular effort to abstain from non-zabihah options, as long as I knew there was no pork or alcohol contained or served with it. But since my husband has always eaten zabihah meat exclusively, even since moving to the USA from Pakistan, we agreed before marriage that we would only have zabihah meat in the house.

And so my transition to eating zabihah has been relatively simple. I haven't decided to wholly exclude non-zabihah meat from my diet, but since I almost always eat at home, and when we go out there are almost always zabihah options, the occasion when I don't eat zabihah is pretty rare.

Since I have been on a high protein diet of sorts for several months now, you might think that choosing zabihah might have been harder--since I actually eat quite a lot of meat. But alhamdulillah, it has been incredibly simple.

Partly this is because my husband and I have a tacit grocery arrangement--usually I will buy all the other groceries and he will buy the meat for me. I've not yet gone to the halal meat shop (I should soon, to feel comfortable going there) but my husband has been able to find for me any cut of meat I wanted, ground beef and chicken, plenty of boneless skinless chicken breasts, and even halal turkey bacon. And as long as my husband takes care of the meat, making sure I've got whatever I need, I haven't felt the need to make any major dietary changes by switching to zabihah meat.

Also, I love seafood in general so it's not a problem for me to enjoy seafood entrées at restaurants if zabihah is not available--although my husband and I usually, if we do eat at a restaurant, opt for halal shops run by Muslims.

One of the few exceptions is when we eat on the road, and "fast food" is the only option. Because of the diet, it's important for me to have lean proteins, but if we pass a McDonald's or Burger King, the only fish on the menu is a fried filet. And while my husband will take that option, I find it healthier to order grilled chicken. Though I do usually pack snacks and meals for when we are on the road to avoid this occurrence most of the time.

Since the vast majority of my meals (I'd say all but one or two in a month) are zabihah, I feel like it would be relatively simple to decide to entirely restrict my diet, but I haven't done so. It has felt like a healthy and easy transition at this point, rather than an unforgiving change I might give up. Certainly, everything I cook and prepare at home is zabihah, and I know now that sticking to zabihah can be relatively easy (at least, as long as you live in a place with plenty of Muslims who demand zabihah and halal options.)

So rather than ever suggesting that someone make an immediate change in this regard, I'd say take it easy, and get there gradually. It can be easy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hate Crime or Dirty Prank?

For the past few weeks I've been helping at some local halaqahs by teaching the Seerah--the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (saws.) And recently we've been discussing how the Muslims were persecuted by the Quraysh in Mecca before the hijrah (migration to Medina.) Some of the enemies of Islam would really go out of their way to attack and annoy the Muslims, and especially the Prophet Muhammad (saws.) They would drop the innards of slaughtered animals on him, and dump their garbage at his doorstep. It's not like they're just lazily opposed, but they went out of their way to cause trouble.

And that's what came to mind when I heard about this: Feces smeared on Muslim van near Bellevue mosque. I heard about it on Thursday before it was reported to police through the brothers who operate the van. The van is covered in advertising for the WhyIslam? project, with the website address and the hotline number 1-877-WHY-ISLAM on the sides and back. So it's not just a "Muslim van" but a van with messages about Islam, clearly owned by Muslims promoting Islam. So the first thought that comes to mind is probably "ew, gross," but I think it's hard not to assume that the van was targeted by whatever sick person rubbed their hands in dog poo.

The van was parked on a public street (where it is parked quite often, actually) across from the mosque in town. And Thursday afternoon someone spotted the muck on the windshield, driver's side window, and driver's door handle.

Thankfully, the van wasn't damaged in any way and we can just wash it off, so I understand the police reacting like it's not a very big deal--and realistically I don't think there's much that they can do. I live in the same neighborhood, and know how quiet it is at night, so I think it's likely that this happened while nobody was watching, so there's not a way to catch whoever did it.

But should we consider it a hate crime? Or just a prank by some kid or drunk who happened to drive by? I think it's likely that the van was specifically vandalized because of the message on it, and support the decision to report it to police. (Although involving the media seems a bit unnecessary, in my opinion.) Now in case there is any escalation (should the culprit become more bold and damage property), this previous incident will have been documented. In case that there are more incidents of vandalism and violence directed at Muslims, I think they should have the help of law enforcement to protect them. And since there does seem to be a national trend in that direction (more attacks on Muslims and mosques), it's better to be on the safe side.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No posts for a month?

What am I doing with my life?

Indeed, it's time to check-in. My husband keeps reminding me to blog, and I keep procrastinating. So don't blame him. I kept thinking that I wasn't busy (even though I couldn't find time to do even simple things!) and a little chat with my therapist helped me realize, oh yes, I'm stressed too!

Over the past several weeks I have been busy with just a few different things. The stress mostly comes from a likely upcoming move (which I'll have to write a lot about soon inshaaAllaah as things develop) and three different teachings engagements I'm involved in every week.

In this area, there are actually lots of different activities for new Muslims. Which one is best? So much depends on a person's situation, personality, schedule, and what they're really looking for. So it's nice that there's variety. And for those of us who attend them all--hey, it's nice to have something to do on a rainy weekend, right?

Two of these are evening halaqahs, one on a Friday and one on a Sunday. I don't run either one (which saves me the stress of managing and communicating with everyone who attends,) and only volunteer in teaching a few things. And right now, the only thing I'm teaching is the Seerah. I started at the Friday one first so we're a little ahead--which means that every week I have to prepare for two different lessons, instead of repeating the same. But on the plus side--how much more time I spent reviewing the Seerah for myself? Alhamdulillah, what an amazing review.

And then on Saturdays I run a class for new Muslims, called Compass. We have covered prayer and faith and started learning Arabic, with more subjects coming up in the next two months inshaaAllaah. For this class I'm preparing slides and materials for each weekly class, and since it's my first time teaching a class on my own this way, I'm learning a lot of lessons. I'm learning how much information students can handle in just an hour, and how to deal with absences and review. And how long it takes people to memorize. But some of my theories before starting were correct--if you push people to memorize something (properly motivate them), then they can memorize it.

But I spend a lot of time during the week preparing for these weekend halaqahs and classes.

Another major time hog for me has been my workouts and training sessions, and nutrition appointments. At first I didn't notice because I wasn't busy to start with, but now it makes a bigger impact. On the other hand, now the appointments have been scaled back. To give you an idea--I was seeing a trainer 3 times a week, for about 75 minutes each time, followed by another 30 minutes on my own in the gym, at least. So there goes at least two hours, not to mention travel time. And then the other two days in the gym took an hour and a half out of my day, each, at least. Now I see a trainer only twice a week, and each session lasts about an hour, with another 20 minutes I spend on my own afterwards. So it's not much, but it seems like I have a little more time these days.

Also, I used to have nutrition appointments every week, which are now every other week. And the therapist I mentioned earlier? I still see her but even less often (from every 3 to every 6 weeks) and group sessions which met every week are finished, although I might continue with another group since it was actually pretty helpful.

But now I'm doing much better with my time, especially since I'm trying to go to bed earlier. Actually, it's kind of difficult living up here (and worse, probably, in places further north!) to get the night prayers straightened out. These days are the longest of the year, and Isha isn't until 11:30pm, while fajr is before 3am! So if you stay up to pray isha, and then stay up just a little while afterwards, it becomes very tempting to just stay up for fajr, and sleep afterwards. That's a habit I'm trying to break, since it just ate up so much of the daytime by sleeping all morning. And I'm not nearly as productive at night.

So now I try to go to bed after maghrib (which is 9:30pm) or at the latest, right after isha. If I sleep after maghrib then I can get up around 1-2pm and pray isha a little on the late side, and stay up until fajr and then sleep again. Or I can sleep and get up around 12:30-1 to pray, sleep again, and get up around 4:30am for fajr. (Easier said than done: it's not easy to keep getting up when your body wants to sleep. It revolts.) And if I pray isha, then I try to get up around 4:30am to pray fajr, which is kind of on the late side, not much room for error, but I can still pray it in its time and get a few hours of sleep. I've found that if I'm only asleep for 2-3 hours I have an especially hard time waking for fajr (don't even hear the alarm), but after 4 hours I can manage it.

But with my newfound productivity I've been able to really clean the apartment (my kitchen and bathrooms haven't been this clean since we moved in!) And having a clean place to live and work makes it easier to be more productive.

And now I'm also getting ready for my in-laws to visit (I think nothing will make you clean house like a visit from your in-laws!) in a few weeks, so I'm trying to get the place really organized and less cluttered. So while I'm not blogging, that's what I'm doing. Most of the time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Amusing Antagonists

I can't help but be amused by the recent reporting about Ergun Caner--a man who claims to be an expert on Islam, having converted to evangelical Christianity in his youth. He's even written a few books on the subject, one of which I made a point to particularly refute in a separate blog (although that "project" of mine didn't get very far since I got bored/lazy/busy.) But in his books he kind of exposes himself (to Muslims, anyway) as not being an accurate authority. Not that Muslims would read his books to learn about Islam--he actually writes for Christians to help them guide Muslims to apostasy.

But anyway, when I saw this article today I had to stymie a laugh. A similar article has been published by the Associated Press saying much of the same. In short, he's being investigated to see if he's telling the truth about his personal biography. Personally, I don't think it's that big of a deal since I thought that a person would have to be pretty naive to take him seriously in the first place. And maybe he just made a few mistakes when recounting his past in different places so that the story became a little convoluted in the public view.

But it is fascinating, and I encourage you to take a look at this website to learn more about Caner's distorted past. It's actually pretty funny, I think. The man behind the site has done a fair job of listing all the "issues" with Caner's claims about himself and his family--many are the same things I recognized years ago just in reading his books. But the brother does a good job of organizing them and calling him out.

Although I'm sure there are some people who genuinely convert to Christianity from Islam, some of the prominent preachers and writers who claim to have been Muslim do seem suspicious, including the Caners. So I do find it amusing to see them get called out and questioned. It doesn't really have much of an effect on Muslims, but rather the Christians who have been listening to these guys and believe what they say about Islam. Because in fact they really do know Christianity very well and have studied it extensively--it makes them well qualified to be Christian preachers, right? It's just their knowledge of Islam which is lacking, making them ill equipped to explain Islam to Christians or anyone else.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Losing Touch?

Alhamdulillah, I have been a Muslim for almost five years--just one month shy, actually. I've had time to avail myself of opportunities--classes and socials--for new Muslims, Muslim youth, and general Muslim communities here in Washington and back in North Carolina, not to mention a few events I attended out of town. My perspective on Islam has changed a little in that time, so that Islam is more comfortable to me and less intimidating, and I'm afraid that I might have lost some of my initial passion for the faith.

But what concerns me today is whether or not I'm out of touch with the needs of new Muslims. This issue in particular is one to which I've devoted many, many blog posts over the years, but something hit me today: I still am overwhelmed by thinking about the problems other converts face.

I know what my own problems were (and are) and how I faced them--for better and worse. And I feel somewhat equipped to discuss them with other converts facing similar issues. But since I've come to Washington, I've spent a lot more time with new Muslims--even now working on a class specifically for new Muslims--and I'm reminded that people do take different paths and face different challenges. And some issues facing other new Muslims just leave me overwhelmed, without any sensible advice or response to provide.

It's why I feel that I might have "lost touch" with new Muslims and the experiences they have, after spending so much time trying to get out of the "new Muslim" phase myself. So the last few weeks have been pretty enlightening for me, reminding me of the difficulties that people face when coming to Islam and also the dedication they have to their faith. And the amazing way Allah provides them with the resources to overcome their challenges.

Every challenge is a test--and we aren't tested unless we have what we need to pass the test. Knowing that, and knowing that with every difficulty comes ease (Surat Ash-Sharh.) I read this chapter to a Sunday school class one time, and I read it to myself pretty often as well.

So even though I can't solve anyone's problems, and often don't even have much in the way of advice to give, what I can (and should) tell new Muslims is that they can always turn to Allaah, and that they should always turn to Allaah, and He is the One who will ease their difficulty and reward their patience in dealing with it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hijab Blog

Recently I discovered a blog all about hijab--a great resource for Muslimahs who cover, want to cover, think about covering, etc. Cleverly titled "I Got It Covered," it offers stories, tips, personal experiences and more on the issue of hijab.

For the month of May, they accepted reader submissions with personal stories about starting to wear hijab. So I wrote up a submission, and it was published today, May 4.

So head on over there and read it: Sorority President Dons Hijab. And then subscribe to their RSS feed or bookmark the page, and check back often. Enjoy all the reader-submitted hijab stories this month, and then the regular posting back in June inshaaAllaah.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Islam and my view on wealth and poverty

There are some people of my acquaintance who sincerely oppose any kind of social welfare projects--along with (perhaps because of) some right-wing pundits. These folks believe that poor people don't work hard; at least, not as hard as the rich or middle-class. They believe that their own efforts (pretty much exclusively) contribute to their own success.

Islam prevents me from siding with that opinion. If I believe in Allah, Lord and Sustainer, and believe that He is responsible for providing sustenance for me and for everyone, I can't take credit for it. I can't take credit for my wealth, or blame someone else for their poverty. Just like I can't credit someone with their health, or blame someone for their illness--it's all from Allaah. Wealth is a test as surely as poverty, health as well as illness. And if I, for instance, am being tested with wealth, then it's my responsibility to distribute it as charity to those who are tested with poverty.

With this view of the world, how can people despise social welfare and social justice? How can they despise the poor?

Many people work hard and are blessed with wealth. Some don't work hard at all and still they're wealthy. And many people work hard and still live in poverty.

Unless we truly acknowledge the blessings that we have in life, and the source of those blessings, it's all too easy to blame people for their own troubles and refuse help. But if we understand that everything is from Allah, and understand that we're going to be accountable for how we handle our wealth (if we have it), then isn't it impossible to withhold from charity?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Calling on Allah

I figured I would start the Compass class by talking about du'a. With agreement that Salah is the most important thing to teach new Muslims, I decided to first explain the concept of du'a, of calling on Allah. Essentially salah is both du'a and istighfar, a means of cultivating one's relationship with Allah. Our relationship with Allah is that of slaves and master--we worship Allah. And the very essence of worship is du'a.

We should understand that our salah is a way of calling on Allah, and that we can call on Him anytime we want--and really, the more the better. Just making requests of Allah implies and fosters our belief and reliance on Him alone. Asking Him means we recognize His Hearing, His Knowledge and Power, while also acknowledging our powerlessness. So it seems that du'a is a fitting place to start.

We can call on Allah whenever we want, and know that He hears us.
And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.
Moreover, we have the benefit of Allah's response to our supplications. Firstly we might get the thing we are asking for. But if not, if Allah withholds it from us, then instead He may protect us from some other hardship we might have to face, or else it will become a reward for us on the Day of Judgment. So there's no reason not to make du'a--it's a win-win-win scenario.

But in case a person's du'a is not accepted, there may be a sin from which the person has not repented. In which case, the solution is to repent. Repentance is a topic on its own, but briefly this means the person should acknowledge the incorrect or sinful behavior in which he is or was engaged in, and correct it, ask forgiveness from Allah for it, and abstain from it in the future.

There is also an amazing story from the time of Moses and the Children of Israel. While they were wandering in the desert and suffering from a drought, Moses prayed to Allah for rain. But instead of rain it only got hotter and dryer. And then Allah revealed to Moses that one man among the Children of Israel had been sinning against Allah for some 40 years, so Moses was instructed to have that man leave the group before Allah would bring the rain.

So Moses went to the people and explained--he didn't know who the man was, but asked that the man, whoever he was, would leave. But imagine if you were that man? You knew your sins but nobody else around you knew. How hard would it be then to expose yourself? But yet if you didn't, then you and everyone else might die of thirst. And he recognized that all this time Allah had covered his sins. So he prayed, sincerely, to Allah for forgiveness and for Allah to continue to cover his sins. And then it started to rain.

But Moses asked Allah why the rain was coming even though the sinful man had not left. And Allah revealed that the same man had repented of his sins so Allah had allowed the rain for all of the people. Then Moses wanted to know who the man was, because of whom all of the Children of Israel had been first deprived of and then blessed with rain. But Allah refused, telling Moses that He had hid the man's sins for 40 years, so would He now expose them after repentance?

It's such a beautiful story and filled with loads of reminders for us today. That no matter how long we have sinned, Allah still accepts repentance. That our sins might not just be affecting us, and that if we find our prayers not being answered, perhaps we should try to correct ourselves and ask for forgiveness. And remember that we may call on Allah at any time for any need, and we should. It confirms and strengthens our belief in Allah and as an act of worship it can nurture our relationship with Him. And once we understand that, we can discuss salah with an appreciation of it as an act of submission and worship and so much more than a simple ritual.

There is much more that can be said about du'a--be patient for the result instead of hastily anticipating it, or declaring that Allah didn't answer; the best times to make du'a are after performing a good deed, like after salah or before breaking one's fast. The last third part of the night is also a great time to make du'a, as is while one is in salah during the prostration. Moreover, there are some etiquettes about making du'a in the first place which I think I will not include in this part of the class. Mostly, I don't have very much time, and I also don't want students to feel bogged down in "rules" when it comes to du'a. Is there something I'm omitting but I should include? Please let me know!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do the Healthy Dance

Today I was watching a health and fitness video, one component of a fitness program I'm participating in, about three phases or stages a person will experience during weight loss. The first stage they called the "honeymoon" stage, followed by the "frustration" stage, and lastly the "acceptance" phase.

I thought it was kind of interesting, since I've spent some time thinking lately about how a person can maintain weight loss and changes in lifestyle habits over a long period of time. Most people who are successful in losing weight actually fall back on hold habits and regain the weight, regardless of the program or "diet" they were on to lose the weight in the first place. So it's worth considering.

The "honeymoon" stage is when a person is just starting on a program and is seeing plenty of results. The person is losing weight rapidly and usually with relative ease, is enthusiastic about going to the gym and meeting with trainers and dietitians, carefully tracks their nutrition daily and works out regularly. I'm probably still in this phase, actually; I even enjoy talking (and blogging, tweeting, etc.) about the program.

But after a while, the person will become frustrated, either with the work involved or maybe less drastic results, and might start slipping in their meal tracking and workouts. That's the "frustration" stage. Of course, that can turn the weight loss around or at the very least make it stall, which causes a person to become even more frustrated and start looking towards their previous bad habits, from when life was "easy."

The key to success, however (apparently, at least, according to this video) is reaching another stage, called "acceptance," when the person understands the body's needs and is able to make a real lifestyle commitment to health. Eating healthy becomes a way of life, and so does exercise, until it doesn't seem like drudgery (to quote the video) to have to work out and watch food intake.

Obviously succeeding at maintaining weight loss is complicated, with many factors involved. But thinking of it this way makes it seem that if you can just get through the "frustration" stage without turning back to food for comfort, or slacking when it comes to nutrition or exercise, then it can become permanent.