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.