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