Preparing for Ramadan

Vol 4- Issue 2 Preparing for ramadan copy

“O Allah! Bless us during Rajab and Shaban, and let us reach Ramadan (in good health). Ameen.”

When I told a friend that I was doing research for an article on preparing for Ramadan, she said: “What are you going to write? We know everything there is about Ramadan. We’ve been hearing it over and over again!”

It’s true that Ayahs and sayings related to Ramadan will be the same, because our Deen is complete and will remain so till the end of time. But the fact that we have heard them many times makes us more accountable. We have no excuse to forget the guidance. We shouldn’t tune out thinking “Oh, I’ve heard this before.” Instead, we need to pay extra attention to revising, internalizing, applying and then sharing this knowledge.

For instance, your husband has asked you to pay the telephone bill. If he reminds you once, you could forget. But if you forget after being reminded several times and seeing that note stuck on the refrigerator, you will be left with a late fee and a lot of explaining to do. You heard the same message over and over again and still paid no attention.

Alhumdulillah, we have been taught the basic tenets of Ramadan since we were children. Let’s make Dua to take it a step further this year. We are the selected recipients of this blessed month. There are many non-Muslims and Muslims alike, for whom Ramadan comes and goes without making an iota of difference in their lives. Allah (swt) says that unlike other acts of worship, fasting is only for ME. What an honor! We have the opportunity to do something, for which Allah (swt) will personally decide the reward.

Just like we make preparations well in advance when a favourite guest is coming, we have to prepare in advance for Ramadan, so that we don’t waste time during the precious month.

Organizing

  • Gather books/tapes/Dua pamphlets in one place, so you avoid wasting precious Ramadan time looking for stuff. If you have loaned some books to a friend or vice versa, see that they get to their respective owners before Ramadan. If you know you have two hours to complete an exam, you wouldn’t want to waste time sharpening pencils or looking for erasers, would you?
  • Host or attend a ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ talk and invite friends, who usually do not frequent these circles.
  • Plan where you will be going for Taraweeh. Find out which venues welcome women. Make child care and transportation arrangements beforehand.

Shopping

  • Make small packets of dates with the Dua for breaking the fast. Pass these out to people in the Masjid, or your family and friends two weeks before Ramadan. This way you can hope for part of the reward each time they break their fast.
  • Complete your to-do list or postpone unimportant stuff for after Eid.
  • Buy small gifts for the children to mark the beginning of Ramadan. Blow up some balloons and give out candy, so that they know this is a special time. Hang up a Ramadan calendar, so they can count the days till Eid.
  • Complete Eid shopping for clothes beforehand. When I was in school, I used to envy my friends, who would go Eid shopping during the last ten days of Ramadan for bangles on ‘Chand Raat’. My mom made it a point to get us what we wanted for Eid before Ramadan began. We might not have understood the beauty of the lesson she was teaching us then, but, Alhamdulillah, now when I make my decisions about Eid shopping, I emulate her. If you really do need to go to the bazaar, get what you need and don’t loiter around.
  • Buy Eid gifts for family, friends and domestic help and don’t forget the kids. It is up to us, how important we make Eid for our children. If you’re planning to throw an Eid party for them, do the preparations before Ramadan or schedule the party at least a week after Eid.
  • Involve kids in wrapping gifts for the domestic help, so they see you giving them something new, as opposed to your old stuff all the time.

Reflecting

  • Make up the missed fasts before Ramadan.
  • Plan an ideal day by using the natural pegs of Salah. For example: “Between Fajr and Zuhr, I would like to memorize three Ayahs, and between Zuhr and Asr, I would like to listen to a Seerah tape.”
  • Evaluate your previous Ramadan and set goals for this year. Two days of a believer’s life should not be the same, just like each day should be better than the previous one. Similarly, two Ramadan’s should not be alike. Think about what you could have done better and avoid making previous mistakes. Set special, specific goals for the last ten nights of Ramadan.
  • Identify time wasters. Is it a talkative friend, an addictive computer game, the TV or surfing the Internet? Resolve to stay away from these things in Ramadan.

Household Duties

  • Freeze, freeze and freeze. Samosas, rolls, Kebabs, Chutneys – whatever your family enjoys. Make it beforehand, so you spend minimum time in the kitchen.
  • Practice moderation. Fasting is not postponing three meals only to make up for at Iftar. Eat what you like but in moderation, so that you are not so full that you can’t even go in Ruku at Maghrib!
  • If you are obsessed about cleaning, do all the detailed tasks before Ramadan, so that you and yours can take a breather. If you are fortunate to have help around the house, plan on being easy on them, as they will be fasting, too.

Socializing

  • Limit lavish Iftar parties as much as possible. When you want to share a meal, send Iftar to the Masjid, deliver it to your neighbour in advance or find a deserving family. This way, you’ll be reaping the benefits of providing Iftar without having to take out fancy tableware and wearing your prettiest clothes!
  • Take out your phone book and call a relative you haven’t been in touch with ‘because she never calls.’ There might be some hurt feelings or unresolved issues that you can sort out before Ramadan.
  • Offer to watch a friend’s child, when she tries a mini-Itekaf for a few hours. She could return the favour on the days she doesn’t have to fast.

Family Time

  • Decide on a new Sunnah you want to adopt as a family. Miswak? Wudhu before bed?
  • Provide a list of options and have fun choosing.
  • Delegate chores to children according to their age. Your work load will be less, and they will get into the spirit of Ramadan.
  • Make a Sadaqah box and keep it in the kitchen. Encourage family members to pitch in every day.

This very moment, make Niyah to recharge your batteries and make this the best Ramadan yet. So even if, for some valid reason, you are unable to do all that you have planned, you can get reward for your intention, Insha’Allah.

Raising Muslim Children in Present-Day America: Challenges and Opportunities

New in USA

A few months ago upon returning to the States from a vacation in Pakistan, we waited in line at Chicago O’Hare airport. Our turn came quickly. The immigration officer looked at me and my family, scanned our green cards, smiled and said “Welcome Home.”

Two words, but they had a great impact on me. Was this home, or did we just return from home? Can we have two homes? What about our children who were born in America, yet visit Pakistan annually for a month or two? Lots of questions but only one answer. Yes, this is our home because everything happens by the Will of Allah (swt). However, while we are here, do we just blend in with the crowd or do we make good use of our time?

As Muslims in a post 9/11 America, we are ambassadors of Islam 24/7 whether we like it or not. Yes, the entire Ummah is a Khaleefah, but how many times have we taken our faith for granted when we are comfortably nestled between Muslims? How many times have we had to actually defend our faith?

The moment I step out of my house, my Dawah gear is on auto-pilot. I could be doing negative Dawah by being late for an appointment, being rude to a bank clerk or breaking a red light on a busy street. But I can be doing positive Dawah by smiling at my son’s teacher, holding the door open for someone at the store or sending brownies to my neighbour.

So the next time they see a woman in Hijab or a man with a beard being stereotyped, they may pause to think: “Hey, that’s not representative of the Muslims I know.”

We may not be able to change foreign policy or stop injustices across the globe, but we can change perceptions one person a time. We need to do it – not just for ourselves – but for our children.

Does that mean we just try to ‘blend in’ and not stand out as Muslims? Should Samia become Sammy and Bilal Bill?

However, if our Iman is strong, why not tell people that we are regular, law-abiding citizens who do not have bomb-making cells in their basement.

Thousands of Muslims have reported to have been victims of discrimination, harassment or attacks since 9/11. Children have seen their parents under great stress whether it is a name called on the street, or someone being laid off or even deported.

Our children are innocent spectators and unless we do something to change perceptions, they could grow up feeling insecure.

So, how can Muslims who have decided to live in the West make the best ambassadors?

And how can Muslim parents instill Islamic values in the entire generation of American children they are raising?

Preserve Muslim Identity

From a young age, we have to make our children proud of their faith. Whether it is making a big deal out of Ramadan, throwing them an Eid party or enrolling them in Sunday school, we have to make the sacrifice if we want our kids to have an identity.

A misconception that prevails in many minds is that a ‘Muslim-American’ is an oxymoron. They believe that you have to be one or the other, not both. But there are thousands of Muslim-Americans, whether by birth or naturalization who are excellent ambassadors of Islam.

Connect with the American Society

In order to be contributing members of society, Muslims should not just stay within their own community bubble. If we have decided to live here, we have to reach out to our neighbours, co-workers and yes, even the lady at the post office.

If we keep our children in the Muslim bubble, they will not know how to interact with their peers at school or in the work force. We need to enroll them in park district soccer leagues and school Girl Scout troops. If non-Muslims don’t know any Muslims, they will be forced to believe whatever the mass media feeds them.

We should not confuse our children with constant references to ‘back home’. They were born in the US, and yes, they are Americans. If you insist your son plays cricket, then you’ll have to fund an entire team, find coaches and gather support. If you overcome the cultural barriers and encourage him to play baseball, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to connect with mainstream society.

As parents, we have to choose our battles. Paratha is not more religious than pizza. Our children should respect their parents’ culture, but they should not be made to constantly choose between here and ‘back home’. They should respect their grandparents’ traditions but be allowed to make some new ones.

We may never have been out rafting, or gathering for story-time by a campfire; but these are some American traditions that do not contradict Islamic teachings. It just proves that there are Halal avenues for fun and it is up to us parents to provide them in contrast to always saying no to our kids.

Find a Mentor

Our parents are the best mentors we have. However, they did not raise children as a minority in a foreign land, and therefore it is important for us to find families who have done a good job in raising Muslim American children. Their experiences can help you formulate your parenting strategy.

Children spend so much time at school that it is imperative to know what they are being taught. Even though American public schools are not allowed to teach religion, they can teach about religion.

Parents should join the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and volunteer in their kids’ schools. Offer to give a presentation on Ramadan, Eid or Hajj. Tailor it to your child’s age and follow protocol such as asking for permission and discussing plans with teachers.

Previous generations have laid a great foundation in the U.S. by building mosques, Islamic schools and Zabeeha meat stores. However, they did not have to face the unique circumstances we younger parents are facing in a post 9/11 America where our children are not just ‘cultural aliens’, but rather ‘enemy aliens’. We need to unite forces if we want to raise a confident generation in unconfident times.

Our objectives need to be clear – we are out there to remove misconceptions about Islam. It is up to us to provide our children with a strong identity at home and the ability to connect with mainstream America in order to become the ambassadors of excellence for today and tomorrow, Insha’Allah.

9/11 – More Than a Decade Later

decade

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

 

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

 

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

 

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

 

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

 

The Present: Life in America Today

 

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

 

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

 

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

 

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

 

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

 

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

 

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

 

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

 

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

 

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

 

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

 

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

 

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

 

The Past: Soon after the September 11, 2011 tragedy

By Tasneem Vali, Chicago

I was working at Children’s Memorial Hospital in an elite part of Chicago. A bunch of us would frequent several places for lunch. Our favorite was a Greek restaurant – excellent salads and ambience – that is, until 9/11. The week after that cataclysmic event, Margie and I went to lunch and a customer said: “Go back to where you came from.”

Even worse than the hurtful comment was the fact that the proprietor, ‘a friend’, didn’t even bat an eyelid. We left, never to return. That left a scar. I decided I would ‘look’ Muslim and started wearing the Hijab. Maybe this was Allah’s (swt) way to make me realize that my education and other privileges have given me a responsibility. I must be a totem for Muslim women everywhere. The way I behave ‘does’ impact what people think of Islam – it is my responsibility to educate myself and make Islam my Deen.

Amir Reza has a similar story. The son of Iranian parents who migrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution, Amir and his siblings were born and raised in Central California in a small, agriculturally-dominated town. He believes 9/11 impacted him when he was at college.

“I felt I had to be an advocate for the Muslims when people jokingly used the word ‘terrorist’,” Reza said: “I had to be ready with accurate answers and not let such comments slide.

“Another way in which 9/11affected me was during travel. Ironically, I grew a large beard in college, so getting through any airport was a challenge. It felt like for two years, I was always pulled out of line to be searched individually or asked a few more questions than most. But, once they heard me speak, they would lose interest and let me go. However, it was interesting to watch my dad (notoriously paranoid) become worried going through security lines. He would say: ‘With a name like Ali Reza, who knows what they could do.’ I would tell him, that this is no reason for them to do anything – and, of course, we have nothing to hide.”

The Present: Life in America Today

By J. Samia Mair, Maryland

Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Muslims in America face the same kind of fear, misconceptions and prejudice that they had experienced shortly after 9/11. In some ways, it is worse. For example, it has become politically acceptable, even advantageous, for some politicians to make openly prejudicial statements about Islam and the Muslims. A one-time candidate and frontrunner for the 2012 Presidential election said on several occasions that he would not hire Muslims in his administration. Another frontrunner, known for his anti-Muslim statements, described Palestinians as an “invented” people and “terrorists.”

Corporate actions concerned with profits also provide a glimpse into the public psyche. Lowe’s, a national home improvement store, recently pulled its advertising for a reality show on American Muslims, because the founder and sole employee of a fringe organization faulted the show for portraying Muslims as ordinary Americans, not terrorists.

But the most disturbing and potentially far-reaching impact of 9/11 on Muslims are the new laws that have been adopted to counter terrorism, such as the USA Patriot Act and the recent National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism and the transfer of US citizens to foreign authorities, a process known as rendition. So, what we have now is an intrusive and anti-democratic legal system in place that can be utilized against Muslims at any time. What would it take to trigger these measures? Many believe that another attack like 9/11 would do it.

In some ways, though, conditions for Muslims have improved since 9/11. People have returned to their daily lives and most do not live fearing an imminent terrorist attack. Many non-Muslims have defended Islam and the rights of Muslims. More people are learning about Islam, and Muslims across the country are speaking out, spreading the truth about our Deen. It is an exciting yet uncertain time for American Muslims. We face both challenges and opportunities. And we have learned over the past decade that we cannot sit idly by and hope for justice and sanity to prevail.

The Future: Beyond Those Three Digits

By Kiran Ansari, Chicago

What happened nearly eleven years ago was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Amid the grief and devastation felt by the American people, Muslims worldwide were also adversely affected in one way or the other. From visa issues and airport security to deportation, arrests and hate crimes, everyone has a story to tell.

However, it is time to move on. We cannot remain apologetic for something that we had nothing to do with. American Muslims, in fact, Muslims everywhere around the world need to take an active part in the community, so the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred without any compromise in our beliefs. From volunteering at your child’s school and visiting a sick neighbour to running for public office, if we plan on living in the United States, we have to be involved. As the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, said: “If you are not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

If we think that we have it hard, reading a few pages of the Seerah will show us that our trials are nothing in comparison to what the early Muslims had to go through.

Some of us may be parents of U.S. citizens; others may send their kids off to college or vacation in America. So, whether we like it or not, America does play a role in the lives of millions across the globe. We cannot change the past, but it is in our power to mould the future. We cannot change the perceptions of every Islamophobe, but we can at least do our part in changing the way our co-workers, friends and neighbours think of Muslims.

“They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:134)

As Muslims in America and elsewhere, we cannot risk being lost in a melting pot, where everything simmers into one sauce. We have to be proud of our identity like ingredients in a salad. Even when ‘tossed’ in adversity, each and every one of us should work together while retaining our unique taste, texture and colour.

Hope After 9/11 – Globally

By Fiza Fatima Asar

London-based social media marketer for the non-profit sector

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

Working with the Media

Working with media

When you see some form of injustice around you, it becomes part of your duty as the caliph of Allah (swt) to do something about it. It is easy to sit back and complain that Muslims are painted with an unfair brush in the Western media. It is harder – but more effective – to do something about it. Regardless of your education background, work experience, language barriers or other responsibilities, each and every one of you can (and should) make an effort, so that you can at least be counted among those, who are trying to make a difference.

Working with the media is a powerful way to make a difference, because if you are successful, you can touch the lives of hundreds and thousands of people in a very cost and time-efficient manner. And now with the Internet, you are no longer limited to your local town or even country. You can try to get your message to people in all far flung corners of the globe by the power you have been blessed with.

Start with Dua

If you want to dispel the myths and misinformation about Islam and Muslims by writing about your Deen in the media, then make your intentions pure.

Letters to the Editor

You need not have a degree in journalism or extensive writing experience to write a letter to the editor. Just remember to be concise and polite, and even if your letter is not published, be assured that someone did read it. Just bringing the point across that there are Muslims in their readership base is the first step you should aim for. Therefore, you should write to the editor or a particular writer of a story that piqued your interest with both positive and negative feedback.

Unfortunately, we are all motivated to complain, when some media outlet talks negatively about Muslims. We gather friends and family, forward emails and sign petitions like there is no tomorrow. While that is important, establishing a relationship with the media for positive feedback is a great place to start. Everyone likes to be complimented.

Know the Process

Nothing frustrates an editor more than the writer not knowing anything about the publication she or he is interested in. Pick up a few issues of the newspaper or magazine or read through online archives to get a feel for the publication. Find out, how they accept articles. Find out, if they prefer email or snail mail, what sections of the publication they accept freelance work for, what word count stories do they usually assign first-timers, and what topics have their already covered?

After doing this research, plan out your article and send a brief outline to the editor. Do not follow up almost immediately as editors are inundated with a lot of queries every day. Follow up politely after two weeks to see, if they have made a decision. Do not be disheartened, if they choose not to show interest in your story.

Choose an Angle

The best way to stand out in a sea of queries is to choose an angle. Instead of just pitching “Ramadan”, I had more success in pitching “Ramadan: Why do Muslim Children Fast?”, “Ramadan in the Workplace” and “Fasting in all Faiths”.

Do Not Give Up

There will be rejection, so be prepared for it. However, do not give up. Polish your writing skills and attend workshops. Offer to volunteer for local papers, so that you learn the ropes. Make a website and start a free blog, so that you have a permanent place to store all your thoughts.

Even though getting published does boost your confidence, never let it go to your head. Constantly evaluate your intentions for getting into this field and praise Allah (swt) for giving you the opportunity to serve Him with your pen. Use your words wisely and continue your mission to change hearts, one reader at a time.

Islam in Chicago

Jan 11 - Islam in Chicago

When I moved to Chicago just three weeks after I got married, I really didn’t know what to expect. Having always lived in such predominantly Muslim cities as Dubai and Karachi, I was looking forward to beginning a new chapter in my life but wasn’t quite sure how to start from scratch.

I wasn’t sure about a lot of things at first. I had never filled petrol in a car, never cleaned a bathroom and never made Khatti Daal (lentils). However, I was sure of one thing – I was not going to be just one more ingredient in a melting pot of nationalities that simmered together to become one sauce. I didn’t want to be called Karen, even though that was so much more convenient than having to spell out (sometimes twice) K-I-R-A-N. I was going to be a productive part of American society; however, instead of mixing into a melting pot, I wanted to be a part of a salad bowl of sorts – where each ingredient’s own flavour, colour and texture has its own place.

I was lucky to have arrived in a metropolitan city like Chicago, where there are Masajid and Halal meat stores in practically every town. It is not hard to find good Islamic schools and great chicken Tikkas, too. There are close to 400,000 Muslims in the greater Chicago area alone. Approximately a quarter of them are indigenous African-American Muslims. The next two of the largest ethnic groups include 20% Arab and 20% from South Asia. The remaining is a beautiful blend of Bosnian, Turkish, West African and increasingly white reverts to Islam. The result is that women may wear differently-styled Hijabs, and men may speak different languages, but when the Adhan is called, Allahu Akbar, each person sheds their ethnic differences and stands shoulder to shoulder in front of the One God.

Chicago has made a name for itself in the American Muslim landscape. The architect of the world-famous Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower) was a Muslim. Seven of the five hundred most influential Muslims in the world call Chicago home. The Chicago Muslim community is highly educated, affluent, civically engaged and socially responsible. Loosely translated, there are always at least four community events taking place every weekend. There is an array of volunteer opportunities. Youth paint Masjid classrooms, have Qiyam around a bonfire in Ramadan and pick up trash in the park. Women attend Quran circles, befriend newly-arrived refugees, attend girl scouts meetings and participate in breast cancer awareness marathons. Men volunteer to direct traffic in Masajid parking lots when they are jam-packed for Jumuah, even though they have to rush back to work. Chicago Muslims do not hesitate to let their elected representatives know how they feel about such national issues as the New York Islamic Centre or international ones as the crisis in Gaza.

There are more than two hundred places to pray Jumuah in Chicagoland. From multi-million dollar mega Masajid to small storefront prayer spaces, where people overflow on to the sidewalk due to space constraints, you can perform Salah in a different Masjid every day of the month and still not be done.

I believe I have become a stronger Muslim, since I moved to the United States. I bake cookies for my neighbours on Eid, and I read stories about Ramadan in my children’s classrooms. Like many other Muslim-Americans, I feel I am on an auto-Dawah mode. Every action of mine can be taken as representative of my Ummah. If I am rude to the cab driver, he may feel all women in Hijab are condescending. If the cashier forgets to charge me for milk, I remind her, so that she knows Muslims will not be comfortable to go home with something they haven’t paid for. Yes, it is hard work, but I feel this is one way of dispelling myths about our Deen.

My husband and I became American citizens early this year and while I know some readers may disagree, I am at peace being a Muslim and a Pakistani-American. I don’t think this tri-fold identity is at odds with one other. I can dress how I choose, pray where I please and eat what I like. I can file a lawsuit, if I believe I am discriminated against.

Looking back, I didn’t know Chicago would provide me with so many opportunities to give back to the community. I have definitely learned a lot – and I’m not just referring to the Khatti Daal.

Kiran Ansari is the editor of the “Chicago Crescent” (www.chicagocrescent.com ), a monthly Muslim newspaper.

Summer Projects with a Twist

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Summer project with a twistBy Kiran Ansari and Meha Ahmed

It is that time of the year again – summer vacation is just around the corner. If you are an average mother with school-age children, you must be wondering how you are going to keep the kids occupied, without having to resort to plopping them in front of the TV all day. Well, look no further… Here are some projects you can do together, which will be both fun and educational.

Attributes of Allah (swt) Quilt

Cut out 4×4 inches of paper squares. Write or print one name of Allah (swt) with its meaning on each square. Encourage children to decorate each square with crayons, stickers, glitter, patterned paper and any other embellishment found around the house. When every ten squares are complete, hang the quilt by punching holes on the ends. Tie them together with yarn or ribbon. Keep on adding to the quilt.

Summer Reading

Every week, read a Quranic story to your children about a spider, honeybee, camel, ant, cow, whale and so on. Engage the children in a craft related to the story. You can surf the Internet to find some interesting crafts as well as fact sheets related to each animal.

When children are reading a book or when you are reading it aloud to them, encourage them to make up different endings for the same story.

Make a Jumuah Scene

Using an empty cardboard box, some clay and paint, replicate a scene from a Jumuah congregation. Explain how people of different backgrounds come together for the Jumuah prayer and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Salah.

Dua Placemat

Print or write the Duas for the beginning and the ending of a meal (with the meaning) on an 8×11 inch piece of chart paper. Draw a plate, glass and cutlery in the appropriate places. Ask children to draw or colour their favourite foods. Laminate it, so it is easy to clean after meals.

You can do this for various other Duas as well.

Journal Fun

Get some attractive diaries for children, which they can use to record their day-to-day experiences during the summer. At the end of the summer, review it together. It might help for the typical back to school essay on how you spent your summer vacation!

Mapping out

Print out a huge map of the world. Encourage children to find out where different things they see around the house are made. If the computer is made in Japan, ask them to find it. Challenge them to find things that are made in ten different countries. Assign symbols to products and put those symbols on the map.

Sadaqah Box

Have the children clean out their cupboard. Make a huge Sadaqah box out of a carton and decorate it. Encourage children to put their toys, books and clothes in the box to be given to the needy. Explain how they should give toys that have all the pieces and work perfectly, instead of stuff they would otherwise throw in the trash.

Basic Arabic

Make Arabic labels for common everyday words (table, chair, door, etc.). Paste them around the house, so that children can get familiar with these Arabic words.

‘I have’ List

Every time children say a sentence beginning with ‘I want’, make them write a list entitled ‘I have’. This will encourage Sabr (patience) and Shukr (gratefulness).

Inviting Our Youth to the Quran

Vol 6 - Issue 4 Inviting Our Youth

Alhumdulillah, most people today know at least one person who is attending a Quran course. Yet, the Quran is not just for aunties, grandmothers or older people. Our Guide Book is as much for the young as it is for the old; it was as relevant 1400 years ago as it is today. It is as much for women as it is for men.

Oddly, studying the Quran is considered the domain of the older generations now. Therefore, we need to use some creative ways to attract and retain the youth, and connect them with the Quran.

Make it fun

Without compromising the respect of the Quran, keep the atmosphere light when you are addressing the youth. In order to attract today’s generation, choose topics and the style of delivery which they can relate to.

Choose your topics carefully

Select a Surah from the Quran that hits home with the youth. If you just talk on a topic, they might feel this is your opinion. I chose Surah Kahf for my first youth circle, as it talks about the youth that withdrew to a cave when they saw their society falling into disbelief. Even today the youth can withdraw and form their own group, if they see their friends falling prey to the dangers of smoking, dating, etc. Stories are always interesting for young people, so choose them accordingly.

Do not make it a one-way street

Ask questions while explaining the Surah, instead of having a test at the end. Divide the group into teams and have them compete in Quranic knowledge. You can hand out play (e.g., Monopoly) money whenever anyone answers a question correctly, and award a prize for the person with the most ‘money’ at the end.

Involve them even more by asking them to choose a Surah to learn. Does the story of Prophet Yusuf (as) intrigue them, or would they like to hear about the Battle of Uhud?

Do not say the ‘h’ word

They get enough homework from school – do not put them off by assigning pages and pages of questions. However, you do want them to remember what you learned together. Ask them to read a short Dua a few times a day and they will automatically learn it. Do not photocopy the Dua and give it to them. Have them open the Quran, find the Ayah and read it. Who knows, they might want to read a little more.

Include trivia

Insert some general knowledge and trivia to make the session even more interesting. If you talk about the alternation between day and night, you can, perhaps, show some slides from a science unit, making them appreciate the balance and beauty of Allah’s (swt) creations. There are lots of games and flash cards with Islamic knowledge available today, so make the best use of them.

These are just some ideas you can use for making the studies of the Quran interesting and exciting for our youth. Implement these ideas or use your creative imagination to come up with even better ones of your own!

Key to Happiness: Contentment

Vol 6 - Issue 1 Key to happinessIf there is one value we should all strive for, it is contentment. Once you are satisfied with what you have in this world, life will automatically become simpler.

“…that they may be comforted and not grieved, and may all be pleased with what you give them. Allah knows what is in your hearts. And Allah is Ever All-Knowing, Most Forbearing.” (Al-Ahzab 33:51)

Here are a few suggestions for becoming more content with what we have in this world:

Write it down

Jot down in a journal, how many hours of the day you spend striving for this world and how many hours working for the next world. If we pride ourselves in being ‘moderate’ Muslims and following a balanced approach, do we really strike a balance in all our activities? We are so content with our Ibadah but we are not content with the size of our house, car or diamond ring. Our journal can surprise us, as to how balanced we really are.

Choose Good Company

A great way to increase contentment is to move around with people that are content with what they have in this world. Is your social circle making you more discontent? Are you throwing lavish parties and racking up credit card bills only to compete with others? If yes, it might be the time for migrating to friends that are content with what they have.

“Would that they were contented with what Allah and His Messenger (sa) gave them and had said: ‘Allah is Sufficient for us. Allah will give us of His Bounty, and so will His Messenger (from alms). We implore Allah (to enrich us).’” (At-Taubah 9:59)

Don’t get into the Rat Race

If you join the rat race of designer bags, shoes and other luxuries, it will never end. You may feel that you will buy just one expensive outfit and leave it at that. However, once your appetite has been whetted with the look and feel of luxurious items – plus the oohs and ahs that accompany it – you could be drugged for life. Try to stay away from this slippery slope of brand names. It is like quick sand that can suck you into unending depths of discontentment.

Teaching Contentment to Kids

Every time you think of buying your child a new toy, ask yourself, if you could rather snuggle in bed with her and have a reading marathon? Instead of a trip to a fancy restaurant, how about baking their favorite pizza at home from scratch? Don’t be ashamed to say we cannot buy this toy now, because it’s too expensive. Children should know they cannot have everything they see. If they like a particular toy, ask them to add it to their Eid wish list. Then, on Eid or when they get good grades, give them a monetary budget or toy item limit and let them splurge.

Contentment is our Tradition

As sister Huma Najmul Hassan explained in one of her Bayan ul Quran CDs, many of us follow the customs and traditions of our forefathers on weddings, deaths and other occasions as a means of respecting them. Now, even if our forefathers may have unknowingly been making mistakes in some traditions, they lived very simple and content lives. Just two generations ago, one dish was enough for dinner, cold drinks were a rare treat and new clothes were worn only on Eid. How convenient it is that we follow our ancestors in some aspects but not in others!

Having Fun with your Kids

“You can’t do this”, “this is Haram”, “this is not allowed” are often what we say, when our kids want to have fun. Instead of always saying no, provide them with Halaal alternatives. There are many ways to have fun, while staying within the boundaries of our Deen.

Not every fun activity needs to include dance, music, lots of money or copying of another faith. Allah (swt) doesn’t expect us to spend our entire life on the prayer mat, secluded from the world. We have to practice our Deen, while living in this Duniya. However, Allah (swt) has set limits for our own good. Joking is allowed in Islam, but it should not include lying as in April’s Fools Day, frightening as in Halloween or insulting someone’s feelings.

Religions before the advent of Islam mentioned the things that were allowed. However, since Islam is the final religion, only the few things that are prohibited are listed. For instance: out of all drinks, alcohol is prohibited – this shows that all the other drinks are Halaal. There is more of what we can do than we cannot.

Celebrate Eid big time

The Prophet (sa) encouraged celebrations on such occasions as Eid or marriage. For instance, when Abu Bakr Siddiq (rta) tried to stop two young girls from singing in the Prophet’s house, the Prophet (sa) told him: ‘Let it be, for we are now in the feast.’

While both Eids are celebrations for the whole family, special attention needs to be given to children. Throw for them an Eid party, buy gifts, give Eidi, take them to places, where they want to go, and make their holiday so special that they would not feel deprived at any other time of the year.

Instead, parents are often too busy on Eid to have quality time with their kids. They buy them new clothes and sort of stop there. Parents drag them all day for visiting people, where there is nothing planned for kids. Parents are busy with the Qurbani or entertaining the visitors, while children are plopped in front of the TV – even on Eid! Take kids shopping before Ramadan, so that they can pick something they like. Get surprise gifts as well. Help them buy or make gifts for their friends, instead of exchanging gifts on birthdays. Cook or buy their favourite foods and treats.

Fun with the family

Fun doesn’t have to start and end on Eid. The family unit is an integral part of the Islamic culture. Those, who find peace with their families in their homes, are very blessed. While there should be times to meet others, socializing should not rule your lives. By staying at home, hopefully you get the opportunity to get down on the carpet, open up a board game and challenge your family to some good, clean fun.

Use the Internet to your advantage. Visit such websites as www.familyfun.com which have easy craft projects and other family oriented ideas that you can replicate or adapt to your situation. Keep paper, glue, scissors and other art supplies in stock, so you are always ready to whip up a card for a new baby or to wish someone a speedy recovery. Encourage each child to have a hobby, so that they can channel their talents into something creative. Stamp collecting, knitting, painting, sports … the possibilities are endless.

Treasure hunt

Put a fun twist on anything to transform the mundane into fun. Give your child a gift after completing a Juz, memorizing a Surah or getting good grades. Hide the gift and put clues all over the house. “Look in a cold place” will take him to the freezer, while “Look in a wet place” may take him to the shower … and all around the house to find his treasure.

Family board game night

Try to squeeze in a short game every night, so that your day ends on a happy note. If daily is impossible, plan family game night for the weekend. You can play such classics as “Scrabble” and “Quran challenge Game” or try a new game. Invite younger siblings to join in, as they can learn how to take turns, count pieces, sort money and so on. If time is an issue, decide on a time limit and total scores after one hour. It really doesn’t matter who wins; when you spend an hour as a family – everyone is a winner.

Use what you have

Spending time with the family does not have to involve spending tons of money. Having dinner in the lawn can be a fun, impromptu picnic experience. Playing dress up with grandma’s old Saris is a great way to spend an afternoon. Recycling tissue rolls into binoculars and bowling with empty plastic soft drink bottles are just a few ideas. Kids don’t care, how much money was spent on an activity. They value the time their parents spend with them using their imaginations.

Encourage hand made gifts and cards

Model how you can knit a sweater for a new baby or make a card with glitter glue for a niece and ask your kids to do the same. Appreciate it, when they make gifts for you out of stuff they already have. Allah (swt) has gifted us all in one way or the other – one may be an artist, the other a wordsmith, the third a sportsman and so on. Expose your children to a variety of interests, so you can see where they shine.

Kid-friendly home

Don’t have such exclusive furniture, white carpets and one-of-a-kind decorative pieces that kids aren’t allowed to enjoy their own home. Section off a formal area at most, but let the kids enjoy their home for the most part. Set up an art station in the kitchen (for easy clean-ups), supply them with paint, glitter, clay and glue and see, what their imagination cooks up.

Host parties for your kids, without it having to be an occasion. Plan activities, so that you can keep an eye on them and evaluate the kind of company your children are keeping. Having a bake sale with proceeds going to the Masjid can be a fun way for teenage girls to make brownies, cupcakes and cookies. Put a basketball hoop in your garden and see, how the neighborhood boys come running.

If your household responsibilities are overwhelming, encourage your kids to join you. You may think it’s boring, but give a toddler a ball of Aata (dough) and see what happens. Older kids can build on their math skills by helping you measure ingredients and learn about food groups and healthy eating. Younger kids can sort laundry and find matching socks – anything can be a bonding and learning experience – provided YOU want it to be.

If your extended family is known for their New Year’s Eve party, start your own tradition of an Eid party for kids. If we go with the flow, our children will do the same. If we stop and take initiative for them to be nurtured in all walks of life, then we can hope that Allah (swt) will be pleased with our efforts to instill values in the mini-Muslims entrusted to us.

You do not need a university degree or a lucrative career for being creative with your kids. You only need the will – and everything will fall into place. If there is one thing you want to take from this article, it should be to press the pause button in your life, get down on the floor and play with your children today – you’ll be glad you did!

Interesting Analogies

AnalogiesAnalogies can sometimes make it easier to understand concepts. Once we relate a particular idea to an every day situation, it sinks in better. Here, I have tried to put together analogies I have read and heard from different scholars in English and Urdu. May Allah (swt) reward them all for trying to help us understand His commands better.

Analogy Concept
Club Membership You’re on the waiting list for membership to an exclusive club. Finally, you use connections, pay a hefty sum, and sign the dotted line. To keep your membership privileges, you need to adhere to all the rules, even if some are inconvenient. If swimming is allowed up to 6 pm, you cannot squeeze in an extra hour at night. You can’t pick and choose the rules you wish to follow or your membership could be revoked. Enter into Islam completely In Surah Al-Baqarah 2:208, Allah (swt) commands us to enter into Islam completely. We cannot pick and choose, which commandment we find easy and which we can ignore. If we want to remain members of this exclusive club, we need to remind ourselves that we cannot voluntarily choose prayer times or skip Hajj rituals. We can’t break rules and still flaunt our membership card at the entry check-post to Jannah.
InvestingImagine a stock that gives you a guaranteed ten, seventy or even seven hundred-fold return on your principal. Who wouldn’t want to invest every penny in such a lucrative deal? Imagine an account that keeps on increasing in value even after you’re dead? Who wouldn’t want to set up such an account? Sadqah Jaariyah (continued benefit)Spending in the way of Allah (swt) out of what you love (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:177) – not a bare minimum, where you don’t even feel the pinch – has great returns guaranteed without the fine print.

Building a school, paying for a water fountain or leaving behind righteous children are a few forms of Sadqah Jaariyah.

RentingDo we spend all our time, energy, and money maintaining a rent-a-car? Would we spend thousands re-decorating our hotel room? No. We know it’s a temporary possession that we have to part with soon and, hence, we use it, but don’t form an extreme attachment to it. Material possessionsIf we keep telling ourselves that our jewellery, designer clothes, and cars will not last forever, perhaps we’ll love them less and consider them as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Our life is like a train journey, in which we don’t know the station we would get off at.
ExamsIf you’re appearing for an exam at a reputed institution, the length of an answer is not as important as is how well you understood the question and how clear your concepts are. Nevertheless, you can still have doubts that the examiner might not mark the paper fairly. The Day of ResurrectionIn the most crucial exam of our lives, our deeds will not be counted – rather, they will be weighed. Two people, who have both performed their daily prayers, may be rewarded differently depending on their intention, concentration, new Surahs recited, and the manner of performing each action. Every one of us standing on the Last Day knows that our Examiner is al-Aadil (the Just), and we will not be treated unfairly.

Life after Ramadan

Vol 2 -Issue 3 Life After RamadanWe wait anxiously for Ramadan – and before we know it, it has come and gone; faster than the year before. Irrespective of how religiously inclined one is, most Muslims enjoy the spirit of Ramadan. The question is – what exactly do we enjoy?

Is it the atmosphere of peace and harmony or is it the fruit Chat and Pakoras? Is it the coming together of the community for Taraweeh or is it the lavish Iftar parties? Is it the knowledge of the extra reward or is it the quest for a short-cut to Jannah?

As quickly as the Blessed Month comes and goes, why does the zeal with which we connect to Allah (swt) start evaporating as well? Are we just ‘Ramadan Muslims’?

Ramadan should not be our cultural festival, where talks about food and Eid shopping rule our minds. Ramadan should not be mechanical worship, where we program our bodies to perform some extra Nawafil for a month. Ramadan should also not be a time for display, where we boast about our Siyam in the day and Qiyam in the night or revel in our accomplishments.

What we gain from Ramadan depends a lot on our intentions. Did we want to reestablish our connection with the Quran and its Author, or did we want to join friends in losing a few pounds? Did we want to train our Nafs, or did we want to put in some effort and then rest easy for the remainder of the year?

The actual purpose of Ramadan is to train ourselves by setting aside time from our fast-paced lives and recharging our rusty batteries, in order to be prepared for the whole year. Shaitan is chained, our lives are more disciplined, and our hearts softer. It might be unrealistic to expect the same level of enthusiasm throughout the year, as Allah (swt) has blessed these 29 or 30 days with His Special Mercy. Nevertheless, we can try to reap at least part of the benefits throughout our lives. Who knows, if we will be around next Ramadan?

“Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from You. Truly, You are the Bestower.” (Al-Imran 3:8)

Perhaps, wisdom behind the extra worship and reward associated with the last ten nights of Ramadan is to remind us not to slack right after Eid. We might reach our peak of Ibadah in search of Layaltul Qadr, but we must remind ourselves not to make our graph plummet soon after. Perhaps, the recommended six fasts of Shawal are also intended to keep our memories of fasting fresh.

Here are some tips to help us keep the spirit of Ramadan alive:

  • Instead of storing the Quran in a velvet cover on the highest shelf for the 11 months following Ramadan, or feeling that you have done a lot in this month, Imam Ghazali says: ‘Our heart should be like a pendulum – swinging to and fro, praying and hoping that our worship was accepted. If we were able to achieve some goals, it wasn’t because of our strength but rather the Bounty of Allah (swt), Who gave us the opportunity, willingness, and ability to do so. Without all three, we would not have been able to reap any benefits from Ramadan.’
  • When one is  sent on a one month training course, one is expected to return with knowledge to make ones work productive, as well as pass that knowledge on. So, evaluate what you gained from Ramadan, practice it in your daily life, and spread the word.
  • Don’t waste all your efforts on Eid day. For instance, if you intended to dress more modestly in Ramadan, don’t let your Eid attire and make-up wash it all away. If you shared meals with the less fortunate in Ramadan, don’t let your Eid party guest list include the affluent friends only.
  • If you are unable to continue reading as much of the Quran after Ramadan, don’t just abandon it because you consider too little of it to be pointless. The Prophet (sa) recommended deeds that were small but regular. Understanding five Ayahs daily might make more of a difference than five chapters read speedily in one night. If you do not have the time for a week-long Aitekaf, make Niyah for a mini-Aitekaf lasting a few hours, when you disconnect with the world to connect with your Lord.
  • Islam is a Deen of moderation; therefore, set realistic and achievable goals and take it from there. Try to start fasting Mondays and Thursdays as was the Prophet’s (sa) Sunnah, or add just two extra Nafl in your prayers.
  • Maintain ties with your buddies from Taraweeh and remind one another to keep check of each other’s good deeds. Organize a weekly study circle or a monthly Islamic book club, where you all meet to discuss a particular book.
  • Strengthen the relationship you established with your Rabb, the Quran, and the community. Do not say good-bye to the Masjid after the Eid prayers.
  • Our Ramadan training course is meant to ensure we adhere to our manual – the Quran- throughout the year. We are not just Saturday or Sunday worshippers. Consider Ramadan as the down payment on your house. Regardless of how hefty the down payment may be – if we fail to keep up with regular monthly installments for several years, our house can be taken away from us.

Ramadan is like the spring of good deeds, when acts of kindness are in full bloom, and certain fruits and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness.  They are there for us to reap and enjoy their goodness in numerous ways.

Let us add some preservatives to our Ramadan Ibadah to make the rewards last throughout the year.

Decorating Without Doubt

decor without doubtSamia Asghar, a wife, mother and architect always received compliments on her ‘photo wall’-the wall at the entrance of her home, with a myriad of family photographs spanning three generations. Everyone who entered her home, even the installers of her kitchen cabinets, couldn’t help but pause and look at the elegantly displayed personal memories.

Samia, like many who enlarge favorite poses, took great pride in her wall until it dawned upon her. It wasn’t during an Islamic lecture or while reading an Islamic book, but while sorting through her jewellery at the bank locker that she asked herself, “Why do I keep my valuables locked up safely in velvet boxes, and leave my most cherished possessions out for everyone to see? Would I display my diamonds this way? Of course not! I would keep them safe so no one would eye them inappropriately.”

Samia voiced her concerns to a friend who encouraged her to consider taking down the pictures, but with the right intention. Several authentic Ahadeeth explained the issue to Samia:

Narrated by Anas (rta), Aisha (rta) had a thick curtain with pictures on it, and she screened the side of her house with it. The Prophet (sa) said: “Remove it from my sight, for its pictures are still coming to my mind in my prayers.” (Bukhari)

Narrated by Abu Talha (rta), The Prophet (sa) said: “Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures of living creatures (animals or humans).” (Bukhari)

Most scholars permit photographs-as they consider them captured light as opposed to portraits-but within limits. Family photographs in albums or scrapbooks to remember a wedding, birth, or vacation is acceptable by most schools of thought. But having professional photography sessions without the adherence to the rules of Hijab is questionable. Hanging pictures of loved ones who have passed away in imitation of other faiths to remind us of them is not an Islamic practice either. We should also refrain from painting portraits or hanging them based on the following Hadeeth, Narrated by Aisha (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “… Whoever makes a picture will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and will be asked to give life to what he has created.” (Bukhari)

Many of us lack the courage that Samia had when she took down all her pictures. But we can intend to start today, pray to Allah to make it easy, and proceed gradually one room at a time.

So, now what do you do with those blank walls and empty frames? Replace them with things acceptable in our Deen. Remember, in Islam there are far more dos than don’ts-for out of all beverages only alcohol is prohibited. We need to appreciate all that is permitted rather than brood over what is not.

Allah is Al-Jameel, i.e. He is Beautiful and likes beautiful things. Our homes too should be clean and beautiful without bordering on extravagance and ostentation. Look for reasonably priced landscapes, still-life and Islamic calligraphy – or better still, make your own. An original Picasso landscape for a million dollars would be technically acceptable but would go against the Islamic teachings of modesty. How about painting something using your favorite colours or displaying your children’s artwork creatively?

There are other objects in the home that could cause us to step into gray areas. Many families enjoy collecting statues and figurines from their travels. What can you bring back from your travels? An idea my parents had was to start a collection of a particular object from different parts of the world. My father bought teapots from China, Iran and Russia to begin with, and before we knew it guests started to bring us unique teapots as gifts as well. I have started an inexpensive collection to remember the places I have visited. I hang souvenir pencils from all the places I have visited-Disney World, Dubai, and Niagara Falls-and hang them from wooden dowels in my hallway.

Having a room with a theme is gaining popularity. Here too, there are several permissible alternatives: an Arabian inspired living room with floor cushions and coffee pots; or a Mexican kitchen in bright colours with chili peppers and sombreros cans. They add personality to your living spaces without compromising your belief.

Children love themes. So step in and inculcate good habits in their early years. Instead of encouraging cartoon character murals, we could suggest generic themes that are not only acceptable Islamically but last longer than a Spiderman fad for instance. Flowers or hearts for girls, and cars or sports gear for boys are easy solutions. Before discouraging your children from hanging posters of pop icons and movie stars, explain to them why. Telling them that they should not do it ‘because mom says so’ is insufficient. Rather that they wouldn’t be able to pray in their room and angels of mercy wouldn’t enter their homes.

Having pictures of mosques and Ayahs that are readily available nowadays is a great idea. However, sometimes people go to extremes and over night their homes become calligraphy central. The word of caution here is that the Quran was sent to us as a guide. So, by framing several Ayahs and not understanding or applying them is senseless. Similarly, wanting to appear more religious to those who enter your home, or thinking that such pictures can protect you, only means you are digressing from their actual purpose. A few chosen verses that you act upon is a better idea or perhaps Duas for children to help them learn proper sleeping and eating habits.

Another disturbing trend that is catching on these days is designating one room as the prayer room and filling that with religious artwork. Our entire home should be a reflection of our Muslim identity. Having enlarged close-ups of your daughter’s wedding photos in the living room, and Ayat Al-Kursi in the prayer room makes you appear inconsistent. In other words, picking and choosing where we apply the principles of our religion and where not, we forget how Islam should be intertwined with every aspect of our lives and not just where and when it is convenient for us.

For those of us in non-Muslim countries, having an inviting home to welcome neighbors and colleagues of different faiths is a Dawah tool. A picture of the Kabah is an instant conversation starter as well as a chance to talk about Islam without sounding preachy. A modest yet elegant home reflects well on how simply yet stylishly Muslims live.

Modesty is the key word here. We have to strike a balance as to how much time, energy and money we spend decorating. We know we are travelers, and our life in this world is but a transitory phase before our permanent destination. Would we then spend all our resources sprucing up a hotel room?

Avoid filling your home with priceless furniture and accessories, reserved for occasional guests. The fear of breaking any of it will prevent you from enjoying your home. Your home should be a place where you look forward to spending time with yourself and your family. Let it be your safe haven from endless hours shopping or late nights socializing. By staying away from doubtful matters, avoiding justifications for the temptations of your Nafs, and by accepting the guidelines of the Quran and Sunnah, be confident that you are doing the right thing.

Insha’Allah Barakah and Rahmah will fill your heart, your home and the lives of everyone in it.

Some handy decorating tips you can start on today:

  • Think outside the frame. There are so many other things you can adorn walls with. Consider mounting a collection of decorative plates in your kitchen or beautiful rug in the foyer.
  • Go 3-D. You can use shadow boxes to preserve special objects-your son’s first pair of shoes or your daughter’s graduation cap.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of green. Adding a real or artificial plant or floral arrangement livens up any space.
  • Dabble in paint. There is no easier or relatively less expensive way to brightening up a white wall. Experiment with solids, stripes, borders, stencils or a faux finish like sponging. And for a drastic look, don’t forget the 5th wall – the ceiling!
  • No cost decorating. Re-arrange furniture for a fresh look. Press flowers from your own garden, mat and frame them and you have a unique piece of art.
  • Reuse what you can. Turn old curtains into toss pillows.
  • Choose multipurpose pieces. For instance, a decorative trunk in your family room can serve as the coffee table as well as storage for board games.
  • Pick up decorating magazines for inspiration. Despite the unavailability of some of the project material, know that any idea you like can easily be adapted for a fraction of the cost in Pakistan.