Ramadan Blessings

happy-ramadan

So it’s almost the end of Ramadan and I’m finally getting around to writing this post . . .

To all of my Muslim sisters and brothers out there, Ramadan Mubarak! For those who don’t know what that means, it’s kind of like saying “Happy Ramadan,” but the literal translation is something like “Have a  blessed Ramadan.”

I want to share some of my thoughts on Ramadan. I hope this will be a help for other Muslims, and a learning experience for those unfamiliar with Ramadan.

Okay so first off, Ramadan is considered the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. In a lunar calendar, the months are in sync with the moon cycles, so a new moon = a new month (I think this is actually where the word ‘month’ originated from). Ramadan is celebrated as the month in which the Quran was first revealed (it began to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh).

There are many ways that Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan, but the most significant is by the religious obligation to fast from sunrise to sunset every day during this month. It is actually one of the Five Pillars of Faith — a requirement — for Muslims to fast during Ramadan. There are exceptions for people who are ill, weak, old, traveling a long distance, or otherwise physically unable to fast. Children do not need to fast until they reach the age when they become accountable for their actions (in Islam, this is essentially adolescence).

I first heard about Ramadan a few years before I became Muslim. At that time, my only experience with fasting had been the few times I had participated in 30-Hour Famine as a Christian. During those fasts, we could not eat anything, but it was okay for us to drink water, and even juice. So it seemed very strange to me that Muslims were not allowed to eat OR drink anything during their fast. In addition, Muslims to abstaining from food, should also try to be more mindful of their behavior while fasting, and be especially careful not to sin.

The month of Ramadan is meant to be a month of blessings for Muslims. I believe that most things that God requires us of as ‘rules’ are actually good for us. For example, God does need us to fast. But it is required because it is good for us, physically and mentally, and because most of us wouldn’t do it if it were not required. The Quran teaches:

“O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God’s protection (against the temptations of your carnal soul) and attain piety.” Quran 2:183

Here are a few examples of how fasting is good for our mind, body, and soul:

  • Fasting helps us to learn self-control, patience, and develop will-power
  • It helps our spirit to focus and become closer to Allah, since we are not focusing on food
  • Focusing on being righteous and doing good deeds. Fasting is a constant reminder of who we are, a constant remembrance of Allah
  • Refraining from sins and other unlikeable behavior
  • Focusing on being more charitable to those less fortunate
  • Fasting is a way for us to experience hunger, so we may remember those we are less fortunate than us.
  • We learn not to over-indulge in food; It teaches us to think twice before reaching for snack food or junk food that we do not need to eat
  • We can save money on food during Ramadan, and use this money for better purposes
  • It is a time for Muslims to come together, to feel their unity; Iftar is often eaten with friends
  • Health benefits: weight management, allowing the digestive tract to rest, lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol, and lowering of systolic blood pressure. There are also recent studies suggesting that lowering your caloric intake may lead to longer life (see this article from the New York Times and this one from Daily Mail)

 

This year was my third whole Ramadan fasting. Although I was very wary the first time I started fasting a few years ago, I have realized that there are many benefits and blessings that come with giving up a little food. It also tends to get easier as the month progresses– your body gets used to fasting, so to speak, so you may not get as hungry. Actually, I think that as long as you do not over-eat in the morning or evening, your stomach should actually shrink. I have realised that the hardest part of fasting for me is not usually the lack of food, but the lack of water. I am always more thirsty than I am hungry.

There are other things that make Ramadan a blessing, including increased focus on God and your own spiritual welfare. This includes spending more time devoted to God, for example in prayer, reading Quran, reflecting on God, and coming together with other Muslims. During Ramadan there is a special, longer prayer that is not made during other parts of the year: the Taraweeh prayer which is in the evening, and usually falls about 1-2 hours after fast is broken.

As Muslims, we believe that God will multiply our blessings for the fasting and good deeds we perform during Ramadan, which includes donating to charity. Another way to take part in the blessings of Ramadan is by hosting Iftar dinners at your home. Iftar means the meal that breaks the fast. The Prophet Muhammad pbuh is reported as having said “Whoever feeds a fasting person will have a reward like that of the fasting person, without any reduction in his reward” (At-Tirmidhi, authenticated by Al-Abani). For this reason, Muslims who are able like to invite friends to their home throughout the month of Ramadan. I especially enjoy this tradition, since it is nice to come together with other Muslims, and gives a sense of togetherness during this special month.

The ending of Ramadan is bittersweet for many Muslims. It is always a relief to feel that the fasting is over, that you were able to accomplish another month of fasting. But it is also sad to see this blessed month come to an end. This year, the end of Ramadan falls on Thursday August 8 (August 7 is the last full day of fasting). This holiday or Eid is marked by many as a day of celebration, coming together with other Muslims in prayer, festivities and meals at their local mosques or community centers. Children usually receive gifts during this time, especially if they participated in fasting or even attempted to fast for a shorter time.

God willing, Ramadan will leave us all feeling more refreshed, disciplined, and closer to our Creator. So although it’s a little early, I want to say to all of all off my fellow Muslims: Eid Mubarak!

Photo credit: Ranoush. / Foter / CC BY-SA

 

Advertisements
Posted in Islam | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Modern Modesty

Even before I was Muslim, I considered myself to be a ‘modest’ person– at least in terms of how everyone else around me dressed. I didn’t wear low-cut shirts, short shorts or skirts, and I hated to be in public in my bathing suit. And it had nothing to do with body image or low self-esteem; I just didn’t like to draw attention to myself and wasn’t comfortable with people looking at my body.

As a Christian, I had learned the importance of dressing modestly; after all, your body is your ‘temple.’ But I have realized since then that the Christian view of modesty that I grew up with was set against modern times. For example, I remember listening to a youth group leader talking to some of us girls about dressing modestly. Tips included not letting your undergarments show and not wearing a spaghetti-strap shirt if you were well-endowed. (Coincidentally, one of the main purposes we were told of dressing modestly was so that we wouldn’t lead our Christian brothers into temptation and sin —  which sounds very similar to why Muslims dress modestly.)

I have come to the realization lately that the idea of modesty is always changing and evolving, especially in recent times. What some consider as “modest” today would have been scandalous a hundred years ago. And although I’m not a history major and can’t testify to the fact, it seems that for most of human history, most societies have dressed in manners that were much more modest than today. It seems only in the past hundred years or so that we have begun wearing less and less clothing, and bearing more skin has become increasingly acceptable.

In the last few months I’ve been contemplating this issue a lot. Since the weather started warming up, of course you begin to see more and more immodest clothing. Why is it that our culture today believes that when it’s hot outside, you have to wear very little clothing? This was not how people used to feel. I get frustrated sometimes when, as dressing modestly, people ask me, “Aren’t you hot?” It seems such a silly question. Of course I’m hot– but so are you! It’s 100 degrees outside– it doesn’t matter what you wear, you will be hot. I’ve actually realized that as long as I’m wearing breathable, natural fabrics, I’m actually not any worse off than I used to be in the heat. If anything, I feel that it’s better, because the sun isn’t directly hitting and burning my skin.

swimsuit 1855

Sketch of Swimsuit from 1855

It’s interesting to compare today’s modesty with the modesty of former times, and the bathing suit is an easy way to look at it. In their page Swim Wear History, vintagefashionguild.org discusses the changes over time. It seems that, although there were occasional lapses, for most of history, clothing (including the bathing suit) was very modest, covering most of the body. Things started to change around the early 1900s, with bathing suits and dress revealing more and more.

The thing most concerning to me, however, is not the trend towards immodesty, but the trend toward despising modesty. Those who choose to dress modestly — from very conservative Christians to practicing Muslims– are often looked upon with ridicule, and often times shunned. Here are some examples:

  • A few weeks ago I saw a story on Yahoo News, singling out the Duggar family from the reality show 19 Kids and Counting for wearing “Unusual Outfits While Snorkling.”
  • I was shocked to recently learn that France outlawed not only the burqa, but also the burkini (the name for the modest bathing suit for Muslim women). While most reports on the burkini law claim the reasons given for its ban are because it is “unhygienic,” others state that it is because it is considered the same as a burqa. One report I read (which I can’t find again) had a French official quoted as saying it was against France’s values for women to be thus clothed while swimming (huh???).
  • As Turkey has been in the news a lot lately, I thought it fitting to give an example from that country (and it’s not that unrelated to what the protests are actually about): officially on the law books, hijabs are banned in Turkey inside government buildings, including public universities. However, the current administration does not enforce this ban and has tried– unsuccessfully– to strike out the ban.

So, my question after all of this: when did it become a social wrong — and even at time illegal — to do something that you believed was morally right? And why is a modestly dressed woman, who would have been considered decently covered by the standards of past eras, something that is now unacceptable?

Posted in Fashion, Islam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Book Review: Questions and Answers About Faith Vol. 1 by M. Fethullah Gulen

Questions and Answers About FaithI decided to read this book not only for my own knowledge, but to help myself to better answer the sometimes challenging questions I get on my blog. This book poses a variety of questions that people generally have about Islam, and answers them directly.

The author of this book, Fethullah Gulen, as some may know is a renowned  Turkish Islamic scholar and an activist who calls for global understanding and tolerance. He is a strong proponent of interfaith dialog, and encourages the Muslim community to engage and be a part of the secular world while still maintaining their Islamic values, beliefs, and practices.

I enjoyed reading this book, as it answered some difficult questions elegantly. Overall, I feel that the answers hold a deep understanding of the global environment and modern society, and from this perspective these questions are answered, while still maintaining and explaining the truth of the Quran.

The book is divided into eight different chapters, each discussing a series of related questions: God, Religion, The Qur’an, Prophethood and Prophets, Satan, Destiny and Free Will, and Death. The last chapter discusses a variety of miscellaneous issues.

There were a few subjects in this book that really interested me and which I felt made this book a valuable read. One of these is the discussion in the first chapter of the difference between god, God, and Allah. This issue is something I have heard debated before, so it was nice to hear from a scholarly opinion. Another important subject was the point of worship/ why we worship the way we do — an important questions every Muslim should know the answer to. I personally feel it is very important to not just do something because you are told, but to understand the reasoning behind it (although I realize that with God’s laws, only He can know the reason for certain things, and we are not always informed of the why but just need to listen and trust in Him. But God gave us a brain to use, not to blindly follow others).

Although there were a lot of important points in this book, there were two that were my favorite. The first point was a discussion of the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wives: why he had multiple wives, why ‘A’Isha was so young, and also a brief summary of why he married each of them. Since many people attempt to use the Prophet’s marriages to argue against his prophethood, it is important for Muslims today to have an understanding of this topic.

The second point was about the Prophets. This book underlines the significance in the fact that– as stated in the Qur’an– prophets have been sent to every people, although we have not been told all of their names. The book makes the suggestion that some ancient scholars and significant historical figures may have been  prophets, for example Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha. I believe that such a perspective is very important in uniting and making connections with others in the world. And of course, it makes sense– if God is the God for the whole world, then wouldn’t he have made himself known to people throughout the world and not just one group or another?  It’s discussions like this that make this an important book for modern Muslims to read, in addition to those who seek a better understanding of Islam.

You can find an online version of this book as well as other books and articles here.

To learn more about Fethullah Gulen and to read more of his works, you can visit his website at fgulen.com.

Posted in Books, Islam | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sukhi’s Halal Meals

I have to share a great new find at Costco . . . fresh, halal family meals!

We got a Costco membership last November, and since then I’ve noticed that I always see quite a few Muslims there. This is not surprising, since they seem to carry more halal items than average grocery stores. The first time I saw something there, it was Sukhi’s Chicken Samosas, clearly marked with a halal certification on the package!

suhki's chicken biryani

Suhki’s Chicken Biryani — wish I would have taken a pic of the Tandoori Chicken we ate last night!

Yesterday, I discovered that my local Costco has now begun carrying more Sukhi’s

food items, including pre-prepared family meals. My husband and I love Indian food, so I thought these refrigerated meals would be a great option, especially considering I didn’t know what I was making for dinner that night and didn’t have time to thaw out any meat. I bought the Tandoori Spiced Chicken, Chicken Biryani, and  Lemon Rice.

I checked Sukhi’s website to make sure they were halal, since I didn’t see a halal certification on one of their products– the Chicken Curry. The other meat products did have halal certification. Not sure why this one didn’t– seems strange to me, but they do note on their website which ones are halal. I was disappointed not to be able to get the chicken curry . . .

Last night we enjoyed the Tandoori Spiced Chicken. It took only 3 minutes to heat up in the microwave (you can also heat on the stove), and the rice was also about the same time. There was plenty of food– we are only two people, so there was enough chicken and rice for lunch leftovers for both of us. The rice came in two packages,  and we only opened one for last night’s dinner, so we still have the other for another night.

I have to say, for pre-prepared meals, this was pretty awesome. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the rice was also great quality. The chicken is a little spicy, as was expected (it rates it 2 out of 3 peppers on the box), but I was able to handle it, and I am super sensitive to spicy foods– it wasn’t nearly as spicy as our local Indian restaurant!

Posted in Food, Islam | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Should Muslims Celebrate Mother’s Day?

mother's day sale signs copy

This is a question I have seen discussed recently as Mother’s Day is approaching. Many Muslims, however, may be oblivious to the issue and have no qualms when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day. For many, the idea makes sense, especially given the high position and regard mothers are given in Islam. There are many Quran verses and hadith highlighting the special place parents, and especially mothers, hold:

“Now (among the good deeds) we have enjoined on humans is the best treatment towards his parents. His mother bore him in pain, and in pain did she give him birth.” (Quran 46:15).

Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him alone, and treat parents with the best of kindness. Should one of them, or both, attain old age in your lifetime, do not say ‘Ugh!’ to them (as an indication of complaint or impatience), nor push them away, and always address them in gracious words. Lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy, and say: ‘My Lord, have mercy on them even as they cared for me in childhood.'”(Quran 17:23-24).

“The Prophet Muhammad said, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him: ‘Paradise lies at the feet of your mother'” [Musnad Ahmad, Sunan An-Nasâ’i, Sunan Ibn Mâjah]

A man came to the Prophet and said: O Messenger of Allah! Who from amongst mankind warrants the best companionship from me? He replied: “Your mother.” The man asked: Then who? So he replied: “Your mother.” The man then asked: Then who? So the Prophet replied again: “Your mother.” The man then asked: Then who? So he replied: “Then your father.” (Sahîh Bukhârî 5971 and Sahîh Muslim 7/2)

So, then, with mothers being in such a high position among Muslims, what would be the problem with celebrating Mother’s Day? It turns out there are two issues: the origins of the holiday, and the fact that nothing similar was celebrated during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

To understand why Muslims should question whether or not they should celebrate secular holidays, first let’s consider what the Prophet and his companions did. In that time, the Muslims turned away from the worldly holidays and only celebrated the two Islamic holidays (Eid): Eid Al-Fitr (end of Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). Here are some well-known hadith regarding holidays:

It was narrated that Anas ibn Maalik said: “During the Jaahiliyyah [days of ignorance before Islam], the people had two days each year when they would play. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Medina he said, ‘You had two days on which you would play, but Allah has given you something better than them: the day of al-Fitr and the day of al-Adha.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood, 1134; al-Nasaa’i, 1556; classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani).

Remember the hadith of ‘Aa’ishah in Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim where she narrated that on the Day of Eid , two young girls were doing a special performance for her (singing some songs). When Abu Bakr came to visit the Prophet and found these girls with ‘Aa’ishah, he rebuked them harshly. So the Prophet (who had been facing the wall), said: “Abu Bakr, (know that) every group of people has its Eid  (festival). And this is our Eid.”

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: He who copies any people is one of them.”  Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 32, #4020 – Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar.

For many, these hadith alone are significant enough to discourage from celebrating any secular holidays. But to continue, I think it’s important to take a look at the history of Mother’s Day. Like many secular holidays, Mother’s Day has confusing origins, but has essentially evolved over time to take the form we now see today. Although in recent history Mother’s Day has been closely linked to Christian churches, it also has ties to pagan celebrations in its early history.

The earliest records of celebrations honoring mothers can be traced back to ancient Egypt. At that time, an annual festival was held in honor of the goddess Isis — the “Mother of the Pharaohs.” In ancient Rome and Greece, yearly festivals were held honoring the goddess Cybele, whom they referred to as “Magna Mater” meaning “the Great Mother.” This festival, which the Romans called the festival of Hilaria, was held around March 15-28.

As Christianity grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, the festival of Hilaria became merged with Catholic tradition and evolved into Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. On that day, Christians honored the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, as well as their “Mother Church” (the church they were baptized in). In the 17th century in England, this celebration changed to not only include Jesus’ mother, but all mothers. It became known as Mothering Day, or Mothering Sunday.

Early American settlers from England abandoned Mothering Day (possibly for its contradiction to Puritan ideals), only for it to be picked up again centuries later. Mother’s Day in the U.S. was originally thought of by Julia Ward Howe, who made a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, as a protest against the agonies of the Civil War in which many mothers lost their sons. On a small scale, some celebrated Mother’s Day June 2, though it eventually withered out. The seed Howe planted, however, later grew again 1908. It was at that time the Anna M. Jarvis founded the present day Mother’s Day holiday. The first Mother’s Day celebration was held May 10, 1908 at Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, to honor and celebrate the life of Anna Jarvis’ deceased mother, who had been inspired by Howe and always thought there should be a Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis then devoted herself to the creation of Mother’s Day as a national holiday honoring all mothers. However, Jarvis eventually protested the continuation of Mother’s Day due to its commercialization and the flower industry’s exploitation of it. She is quoted as saying of what Mother’s Day had become: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Personally, what I take away from this contemplation of Mother’s Day is that mothers should be celebrated and doted on throughout the year, not just on one day a year. As if one day were enough to pay them back for everything they have done for us– certainly not! And instead, what I see is that Mother’s Day has become the day to remember your mom, because you forgot about her the rest of the year. I heard a commercial on the radio today, advertising a gift for Mother’s Day that went something like this: “On Mother’s Day, show your mom you care with . . . (such and such gift).” It suddenly sounded to me like you have to show your mom you care with a gift, because otherwise she wouldn’t know it since you don’t actually show it in other ways– like the only way to show her you care is to buy her a present.

A few days ago I read a very sad article that actually prompted me to write this post. It was titled: “The Most Popular Day for Moms to Cheat on Their Husbands Is . . .” The answer being, the day after Mother’s Day. Although this speaks volumes of the moral disintegration of our society, it also hints to the low place mothers actually hold. For me, the point was summed in their speculation as to why the day after Mother’s Day has become such: “Our society holds motherhood on a pedestal, glorifying it for its virtues and selfless nature, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we don’t do all that much in the way of helping moms escape the drudgery and hardship that come with the deal. Cards and flowers and a nice breakfast are lovely, but do they really make up for the weeks of no sleep, the 6 AM carpools, and the piles of mushy Cheerios perpetually left on the floor?”

My purpose of this post was not to criticize those who celebrate Mother’s Day. My own mom is not Muslim and I think she would be deeply hurt if I suddenly decided to boycott the holiday, at least at this point (I would need time to help her understand my reasons). Rather, my purpose is to make Muslims, and even non-Muslims, re-consider this holiday and what it really symbolizes.

So this Mother’s Day, whether or not you will be celebrating it, maybe think about what your mother really means to you, what she has done for you, what she has sacrificed for you, and make a commitment not to just treat her special one day a year, but all year round.

The details of the history of Mother’s Day was gathered primarily from reading the following online sites: Mother’s Day Central and Wikipedia. More thorough research was also conducted simply to cross-check the facts outlines on these sites.

Posted in Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Healthy Medicine

pills

At a recent doctor visit, my doctor told me I should start taking a multivitamin (for a multitude of reasons). Now, I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m not too keen on taking medications– I’ve seen and heard about too many negative side effects. Our society tends to be obsessed with taking medicine for any little thing, which often leads to worse complications. If you’ve ever listened to the side effects list at the end of a drug commercial, I’m sure you know what I mean– the worst one I’ve heard was a recent commercial for a sleep aid. Among 20 other possible side effects: loss of sleep. (Wait– what? I thought it’s supposed to help you sleep?? . . . )

I have to admit, however, that sometimes taking medication really is necessary and healthy. So after wavering over whether or not I should actually start taking it, I decided it’s probably a good idea. The problem, however, is deciding which one to take. As I have been learning about different kinds of foods and other manufactured goods that aren’t halal, I had also recently learned that many medications also fall into that list. So far from what I’ve learned, one of the main culprits tends to be the gel-tab medications which often use pork by-products for the coating.  Like always, checking with the Muslim Consumer Group is a good place to start when trying to understand if certain medications are halal or not.

Okay, so before some of you freak out and start thinking you can’t take any medicines anymore, I feel it’s important to make a note about this. I can’t remember the exact verse or hadith regarding this (someone please comment if you know!), but I remember it being said as well as discussed with friends that Allah wants us to be healthy and take care of ourselves. So sometimes, even if something has been deemed haram or forbidden to us, it may still be okay in certain circumstances. For example, if you are sick and need to take a certain medication to get better, if you cannot find a halal medication or are not sure if what you need to take is halal, it is okay to take it because your health is most important. If you have questions about this it might be best to discuss with your Imam  . . .

Anyway, back to what I was saying. Like with other things (i.e. soap) I have discovered that the best solution for me is to look first at what products they have at Sprouts (Whole Foods or other natural foods stores will work too). Sprouts has a lot of vegetarian products, and they are clearly marked– most big name brands you find in other stores won’t really tell you on the label if they contain pork or other animal by-products.

So I ventured to Sprouts today, and sure enough, I was able to find a great selection of natural, organic, vegetarian medications and supplements. They also have a lot of cool homeopathic remedies that I might try sometime.

It may be a bit more expensive than the generic brands you find in most grocery stores, but I feel much better taking the stuff at Sprouts– not just because I know it’s halal, but because I also feel like it’s safer, more natural. I don’t feel like I’ll be pumping myself full of chemicals.

The more I learn, the more evidence I find that the values of Islam align with the values behind the natural, organic, non-GMO food trends we see today. It just makes sense that God would want us to take care of our body, and that he knows the best way for us to do that– leaving many instructions for us on how to do that in the Quran and in the Sunnah of the Prophet.

Here’s a few Quran verses I found on the subject (there are many more, too, but I figured we don’t need to see them all here). The second verse is especially interesting considering the trend towards drinking raw milk:

“O believers! Eat of the good and pure things that We have provided for you and be grateful to God, if you are true worshipers of God.” (Qur’an 2:172)

“And verily in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between excretion and blood, pure milk, palatable to the drinkers.”
(Quran 16:66)

For those who want to read more on this subject, I found this great website focusing on being healthy as a Muslim, including eating: HealthyMuslim.com

Photo credit: e-MagineArt.com / Foter.com / CC BY

Posted in Food, Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

True Islam

I think it’s time I shared my thoughts on a certain subject. I have hesitated in writing this post because I know that no matter what I say, there will always be people who want to twist my words and use them against me. But it also seems that in remaining silent, these same people will also blame me for not taking a stand. So given the choice, I would prefer to be blamed for my words rather than my silence.

First let me say that whenever innocent people are killed or injured, no matter where they are or who they, my heart hurts for them. It’s human nature to grieve for the suffering; I feel it’s especially strong in me, hence the reason I went into social work– to attempt to make a difference and  alleviate some of that pain.

So as you might imagine, my heart has been suffering along with everyone else in the country– and even the world– over the tragedy at the Boston marathon. Such a heinous act cannot be comprehended. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have been there; to be one of the victims or family of the victims. By heart goes out to them.

In the midst of my own grief over this tragedy, something else has added to the heartache. Even before the suspects could be identified, people began blaming Islam, blaming Muslims. This act of terror could have been committed by anyone, but many people chose to begin pointing fingers. And then, even worse, it turned out they ARE Muslim, giving people even more reason to yet again blame Islam. As a Muslim, reading such accusations makes me feel that I myself am being blamed for this act of terror. Blaming Islam is like blaming me as a follower of Islam.

I cannot comprehend how anyone could be so malicious as to commit such acts of terror, let alone a Muslim. Yet it seems that in this country, people have learned to accuse Islam as a violent, malicious religion of suffering, oppression, and terror. As a follower of Islam, this hurts my heart deeply– not just because I feel accused myself, but because I know that this isn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong– I am not deaf and blind to the world. I know that there are people out there who call themselves Muslims who do in fact commit such atrocities. I am not doubting that. What I’m saying is that Islam does not support their actions. TRUE Muslims do not support their actions. Anyone who calls themselves Muslim, yet can kill innocent people and commit acts of terror and other violence are NOT Muslims– they are either hypocrites or they are people pretending to be Muslim, using a twisted and corrupted version of Islam to carry out their evil deeds.

I used to be completely baffled as to why anyone would blame Islam for the actions of such individuals. No one blames Christianity when Americans act in violence. Even when someone who calls themself a Christian commits atrocities and says they did it “for Jesus,” no one blames Christianity. But it’s because Americans know Christianity. They know plenty of Christians; many Americans in fact ARE Christian. So they know that Christianity does not support such acts. But Islam is easier to blame. Islam is unknown; and it’s easy to fear the unknown. It is easy to tell people it is something it’s not when they are not familiar with what it really is.

Anyone who has ever known a Muslim should understand that Islam is not what it is often made out to be. Millions of Americans would not be following Islam if it were a violent religion that supported acts of terror. Though I have always felt this to be true, I find that the deeper I get into Islam the more I see the evidence of this; the more I see that Islam truly IS a religion of peace, not war and violence. If you study the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) — the stories of how he lived and what he taught– you will see that there is nothing in Islam that makes it okay to commit such violence. Such violence is condemned.

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I hoped to present people with a different face of Islam. That people might get to know me and get to know Islam for what it really is, and not for what its enemies claim it to be. I know there are some who will never be convinced. But for those who have an open mind and who will listen– I hope you can learn from myself and other true Muslims that we are not your enemy; we are your friends. And we stand with you in times of senseless atrocities that cause tragedy and loss. We are crying with you; our hearts are broken too. Maybe if we stand together as citizens of humanity, we can come through this and attempt to make the world a better place.

peace-dove-4

Photo credit: AlicePopkorn / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Please note: Comments on this blog are moderated; and although I welcome earnest questions, I WILL NOT allow comments that espouse hatred. This is MY blog, and I wish it to be an environment of peace where people can come together in shared ideas, beliefs, and build interfaith and intercultural bridges. So don’t bother sharing your hatred– it will not be read.

Posted in Islam | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Finding My Balance

the-point-of-tippingMy absence from my blog recently has been a symptom of a problem I feel like I am always struggling with: the struggle to balance my life. Over the past year or two especially I have frequently felt overwhelmed by my life; always felt ‘behind.’ There’s always something to catch up on, something that needs to be taken care of. I tend to get tunnel vision, focusing only on the immediate priority and forgetting about everything else. It’s happened more than once that I totally forgot to make dinner because I was so engrossed in what I was trying to get done.

I am amazed at myself sometimes when I look back at my college years; how was I able to get through school and keep my sanity? Somehow between the busy schedules of classes, homework, internships, and work, I managed to find time for fun and relaxation: spending time with friends, going to the movies, sharing a long-distance conversation with family, and even mini-vacations. Maybe it’s because I made sure that the ‘small stuff’ were still priorities– probably because I knew, maybe sub-consciously, that I WOULD lose my sanity if I didn’t sometimes take breaks from school and work.

At the same time, I think that things were more structured then, which probably made it easier for me to accomplish all that– I had a school schedule and a work schedule; I had essays that needed to be completed by specific dates. My life now if a lot less structured; and working from home makes it even more difficult. It will take a lot of discipline now for me to fit in everything I want to.

When hearing about people who work from home, self-discipline is often something brought up. This is because when you work from home, you are at great danger of losing the balance in your life, both due to a lack of self-discipline: either you will not spend enough time ‘working,’ or you will spend too much time on it. I have experienced both.

So what is a balanced life? For me, it means leaving time every day to do the things that matter, while taking care of your responsibilities. Balancing all the various aspects of one’s life: family, work, rest, self-improvement, etc. In learning about Islam, I have understood that achieving balance in your life is emphasized a lot. I once heard a fellow Muslim speaking about Islam, stating that to him, Islam means balance– the middle path. Bringing together the various aspects of your life to live a fulfilled, balanced existence. This emphasis on balance can be seen in examples throughout the Quran:

  • In balancing this world with the afterlife: “But seek, by means of what God has granted you, the abode of the Hereafter (by spending in alms and other good causes), without forgetting your share (which God has appointed) in this world.” Quran 28:77
  • In creation as an example of balance: “The sun and the moon are by an exact calculation (of the All-Merciful). And the stars and the trees both prostrate (before God in perfect submission to His laws). And the heaven — he has made it high (above the earth), and He has set up the balance. So that you may not go beyond (the limits with respect to) the balance. And observe he balance with full equity, and do not fall short in it.” Quran 55: 5-9
  • In religion: “Oh People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion” Quran 4:171
  • Balancing worldly and spiritual affairs: “But seek, by means of what God has granted you, the abode of the Hereafter (by spending in alms and other good causes), without forgetting your share (which God has appointed) in this world. Do good to others as God has done good to you (out of His pure grace). Do not seek corruption and mischief in the land, for God does not love those who cause corruption and make mischief.”

An important part of balancing your life is understanding what your priorities are. I recently made a list for myself of what is important in my life; what I want to spend my time doing. Lately I have been spending a lot of time in my work-from-home job, and not leaving much time for anything else; in this busyness that I have created for myself, the small things are often left out, with my excuse being “I don’t have time.” But  I have come to the realization that my work will be never-ending; it will be impossible for me to ever get everything done, so I should stop trying. Instead, I should focus on the priorities in the time I’ve allotted, then move on to taking care of other aspects of my life.

I have a lot of goals for myself, and in order to accomplish them I’m going to have to make room for them, and set aside time for those things. Here are some of the things I want to set aside more time for; for some of them daily, 3-4 times a week, or weekly (in no particular order):

  • Learning Turkish
  • Learning Quranic Arabic
  • Exercising
  • Reading (including reading Quran more)
  • Writing (including for this blog!)
  • Talking with long-distance family
  • Fun activities and ‘date nights’ with my husband

I’ve decided that the best way for me to start is by making a daily schedule for myself, for some of this stuff. The next step will be to stop working ‘after hours’ and to limit my job time to 9-5 , as if I were in an office job. It’s going to take a lot of self-discipline, determination, and time management. But with God’s help, inshaAllah I will be able to accomplish it!

Do you also struggle with finding balance?

What do you do to keep your life balanced?

Photo credit: cdslug / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Posted in Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

What Do All Those Food Symbols Mean Anyway?

As a new Muslim in the United States, trying to determine what is halal or not has been quite difficult, and a long process. I think I’m finally starting to get a handle on this.

While learning what is halal can be challenging, the blame there does not lie with Islamic rules, but with the mainstream food industry. I’m sure that in the Prophet’s time– or even just 100 years ago– determining what was halal would have been quite simple. After all, there aren’t a whole lot of things that are haram (forbidden). They include a short list:

  • Alcohol and alcohol-based ingredients
  • Ingredients coming from the human body (i.e. L-Cysteine from human hair– gross I know! but you’d be surprised . . . more on this later)
  • Pork and pork by-products (including dairy ingredients using pork enzymes, pork fat, etc)
  • Some Muslims also stay away from sea creatures that are not ‘fish’– do not have scales– i.e. lobster, crab, etc.
  • Edited to add: Meat should be slaughtered in the way prescribed by Islamic law (more on that here )

The problem now is that the food industry puts all kind of unnecessary ingredients and by-products in our food. Next time you’re at the store, pick up any food you’d expect to contain a short list of ingredients– bread is a great example. I can bake it at home with only a few simple ingredients. Now count how many ingredients are listed on your average package of bread at the super market. It’s crazy! This is exactly why we have witnessed in the U.S. over the last decade or so the emergence of the ‘natural’, ‘whole’, and ‘organic’ food industries–people are starting to realize (some more than others) that there’s a lot of unnecessary and often harmful ingredients in our food, and it’s about time we got back to the basics.

So, with all of the confusion, how do you know what is halal? Luckily, there are standard food symbols on packages which help us through the process. It is important, however, to understand what these symbols mean so that we can make informed decisions about what we’re eating.

Due to the fact the Jewish society became mainstream and accepted in the U.S. long before Muslims, the symbols on food packages are generally Jewish in nature. You will see some foods that have a halal certification on them (these are the easiest to use!), but by and large most refer to an item being kosher.

Before going over these symbols, it’s important to note that kosher does not always mean halal. The main difference between what is kosher and halal is alcohol. So an item may contain alcohol (for example alcohol-based vanilla extract), but it will still have a kosher symbol. You should always read the food label to make sure what you are eating is halal.

Kosher symbols-page-0 copy

In addition to discussing these symbols, the Muslims Consumer Group site also notes other ways to understand a product is halal. They note that these kosher symbols mean that essentially the fat products in the food are derived from vegetables. In other words, unless it is clearly marked as a meat product, they are vegetarian.

This understanding of food symbols has gone a long way in helping me determine what is halal. Keep in mind that some food products may not have any symbol on them but may still be fine– they are likely clearly vegetarian and need no explanation. It’s always a good idea to double check the ingredients, especially if you suspect a kosher product may contain vanilla* or alcohol. The Muslim Consumer Group website is also a great source– they list tons of food products which have been researched as to whether or not they are halal. They also have a guide here which helps; near the bottom they list what ingredients to look for to understood if a product is halal. Inshallah this will help you be more aware of what is halal and what is not.

*Note on vanilla: pure vanilla extract contains large amounts of alcohol– a minimum of 35%. Vanilla itself is fine. You can find alcohol-free vanilla in some natural food stores, such as Whole Foods. Imitation vanilla also contains alcohol. Vanillin is the name for the compound that comes from the vanilla bean, so thus vanillin itself as an ingredient is also halal.  

Sources:

http://kosherfood.about.com/od/guidetokosherfoodlabels/ss/symbols.htm

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/313/what-do-k-r-and-u-mean-on-food-and-other-packages

http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com/ingredient_types.html

Posted in Food, Islam | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Healing Power of Honey

honey tea

It’s the time of year where everyone seems to be getting sick. Here in Texas at least, it’s pretty bad right now– I guess it hasn’t helped that the weather’s been jumping from 30 to 65 and back again. In a recent trip to the pharmacy I realized the prevalence of illness right now– the line was extra long!

I am still getting over my own recent cold, the worst of which was a sore throat that lasted a few days. I hate sore throats! Probably the part of being sick I hate most– it’s a constant pain, and makes it hurt to breath, swallow, and eat.

The first night of my sore throat I couldn’t sleep and had to get up in the middle of the night. I was going to make myself some hot water with lemon; I had made the same thing that morning and it had helped pretty well. But I decided to search online and see if there were other home remedies that might work even better.

I’m all about natural home remedies when I’m sick. I hate taking medicine; I know there are tons of side effects of many medications, and that in general they’re just not real good for you. I will usually sip on green tea and soup, but since I’ve begun looking more into other natural solutions as part of my halal lifestyle (natural soaps, natural foods, etc.), I thought I’d look into natural cold sore throat remedies.

A lot of results came up in my search, and one of the first sites that I saw listed out 14 different natural remedies for a sore throat. As I looked through the list, I began to see a trend: most of them included honey! Which was really interesting to me, since I have learned that the Quran mentions honey as having healing properties:

“And your Lord inspired the (female) bee: ‘Take for yourself dwelling-place in the mountains, and in the trees, and in what they (human beings) may build and weave. Then eat of all the fruits, and returning with your loads follow the ways your Lord has made easy for you.’ There comes forth from their bellies a fluid of varying color, wherein is health for human beings. Surely in this there is a sign for people who reflect.” Quran 16:69

I have heard about some of the uses of honey in the past. For instance, I’ve heard from a nurse that if you eat local honey it will help your allergies. The local part is important because local honey will have used local plants and flowers to be made, so then I guess there are certain immunities passed on in the honey. I think I’ll be trying that this allergy season and see how it works.

I also have heard that honey is especially useful in treating certain wounds. I used to work in hospice, and one time heard some nurses laughing about a patient who wanted to use honey to treat their wound (it had apparently been recommended by a previous doctor at some point). But then another nurse stopped them, commenting that she had worked with honey before and that it actually works amazingly well.

I did a little research on my own about why honey might help when you have a cold or sore throat. Besides the obvious effect of coating your scratchy throat, it turns out that honey has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. So I gave it a try– I mixed 1 tbsp of honey and 1 tbsp of lemon juice in a cup of hot water. First of all, let me say this tasted awesome! So yummy, and so soothing on my throat . . . plus it worked miraculously! By the time I was done drinking it, my throat felt so much better– I didn’t feel any pain, only a little swelling still. And then I slept like a baby 🙂

So, my conclusion: I’m going to be using honey a lot more in the future. From looking at sources online, it looks like raw honey works the best. Oh, and please note– don’t feed honey to infants under 1 year old. I think all honey bottles contain this warning; honey might contain certain bacteria spores than can cause potentially fatal botulism in infants whose digestive tracks are not yet developed enough to protect against this risk.

Here’s a list of some other things honey has been known to help. Of course, I can’t validate any of this, but do your own research and maybe check out the links below for more info, and also check with your doctor if needed:

  • Quick energy source
  • Supports blood formation
  • Antioxidant
  • Nutritious
  • Treatment of wounds
  • Treatment of Allergies
  • Fights bacterial infections

Sources to check out for more info:

http://www.miraclesofthequran.com/scientific_68.html

http://itotd.com/articles/218/honey-as-medicine/

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/honey/

http://www.commonsensehome.com/honey-as-medicine/

Photo credit: Flооd / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Posted in Food, Islam, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments