In the Midst of Ramadhan

Salaam alaykum, peace and blessings to all, and my sincere apologies for not updating my blog in so long!  I’ve been buried at my job with the start of a new semester and am barely keeping up with all of my obligations as it is!  When I come home in the evening, usually right around iftar, I’ve got about 2ish hours to figure out what to eat, make it, eat it, and then do everything else I need to do before the next day begins.  So yes, I’m a bit frazzled!  On the weekends I just want to do NOTHING, and most certainly nothing that has to do with my computer!

Nevertheless, some of my Ramadhan goals are going smoothly, alhamdilulah.  I’ve been fairly successful at reading Quran almost every day during my lunch break, and on the days when I have to work through my lunch break, I just try to read more on the weekends to compensate for it.  I’m learning so much – I feel like I’m reading a completely different book than what I read before!  SubhanAllah, the Quran is truly an amazing book.  InshAllah I hope to begin sharing some of the passages that have really resonated with me with you all.

My goal of being more present-focused is working somewhat.  Mostly I’m just trying to survive my incredibly busy day, trying to get an impossible amount of work done in a short period of time, but I have been stopping myself every now and then to just be still, both physically and mentally, and carefully take in my whole environment and find something positive and uplifting.  I love nature, so mostly all it takes is looking out any nearby window. 🙂

Exercising while fasting has been a challenge, but I’m getting through it, day in and day out.  It’s hard to push myself as much as I’d like to when I have a parched, dry throat from a full day of teaching and from having an intense headache… But I am resolved to take the challenge and fight through it with whatever energy I have left, and I’m making it, alhamdilulah, with the strength of God.

My goal of focusing on akhlaq with students and colleagues is going semi-well – with students, I think I’m doing very well with remaining patient and kind, alhamdilulah (no matter how many times I’ve told them something and someone will inevitably STILL ask me cluelessly about what I just finished explaining).  With my colleagues, I’m not doing such a great job of going out of my way to be kind and helpful though, as I’m usually really tired (and incredibly parched) after teaching and just want to go to my office and focus on prepping for upcoming classes as furiously as possible.  I think fasting is also sapping all of my energy, because sometimes I can barely put two sentences together!  So, with my colleagues I’m being pleasant but pretty quiet.  Alhamdilulah, there are still two weeks left, so all is not lost – I still have time to step up my game somehow!

On to the more exciting part of the post (for me anyway): a verse of Quran that I’d like to share!

Those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah and then do not follow up what they have spent with reproaches and affronts, they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have fear, nor will they grieve.  An honorable word with pardon is better than a charity followed by affront.

(Quran 2: 262-263)

When I read this, I see wealth as meaning not only our money, but also anything that we can give.  So anytime we do anything for anyone else, it can be termed as charity.  What we are being told to avoid, however, is following up an act of charity with grumbling or reminding the other person of what we did for them and making them feel indebted or obligated in any way.

It sounds obvious, but in practical application it is not always so easy.  How many times in our lives have we gone out of our way to do something nice for someone, and they didn’t seem to appreciate it or even acknowledge it?  We then may feel compelled to point out what we’ve done in an annoyed or angry manner (or at least silently hold a grudge against them!) – yet in doing so, we’ve lost the benefit of performing the charity in the first place.  Other times we may do something so great for someone else that we (sometimes unwittingly) like to remind them of what we did, making them feel bad or as if we want them to pay us back for it.

God tells us to avoid all of this – once you perform an act of charity, it’s done.  We have to always bear in mind that we give charity for God’s sake, not for any particular person’s sake.  Our reward lies with God, and not with that person.  With this mindset, even if the other person responds negatively, it shouldn’t affect us as we didn’t do it solely for them in the first place!

I think this type of bad habit occurs frequently with family members or those closest to us.  Perhaps a husband seems to be unhappy with his wife for no apparent reason, and she decides to be charitable and let it go and respond positively instead of negatively.  Yet when he continues to berate her, she explodes and, as a weapon against him, points out each specific circumstance in which she was nice even though he was treating her so badly.  In doing so (becoming angry and using her acts of charity against him), her kind acts no longer hold any reward, because she was doing it in search of the reward and recognition of her husband, and not for God.  Further, any good that might have occurred from her initial charity would be completely undone (if not worsened) now that she has blown up in anger and used her charity as a weapon against him – and the situation will inevitably continue to spiral downward.

SubhanAllah, the meaning in this last phrase (an honorable word with pardon is better than charity with affront) is incredibly profound: it is not only referring generally to any situation in which someone has usurped our rights, but also specifically to a situation in which someone reacts negatively to our charity: to pardon them kindly – to simply let it go.




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Ramadhan Kareem!

 

Ramadhan kareem to all of you who begin fasting today, Thursday, or Friday! (there are numerous start dates as per one’s particular school of thought and geographic location).  I pray God will make it easy for you and will make this a time of spiritual purification and renewal. 

In the spirit of Ramadhan, I’ve decided to list my goals that I’d like to work toward this month. 

-Read the entire Quran this month

This seems to be a common practice among Muslims, and is aided by the fact that the Quran is divided up into 30 sections already (by the wisdom of God, subhanAllah).  I decided I would put myself to the challenge and see if I could do it too.  I’ve decided to use my lunch break to go down to the prayer room (yes, there actually IS one at my university, and it just so happens to be located in my very building, alhamdilulah!) and spend the hour reading Quran, reading some supplications, and then finishing it off with the afternoon prayer before heading back upstairs. 

-Give action-based charity

Regretfully I’m completely broke and will be for the majority of the month, so my plans of giving charity have been completely ruined, but I have decided instead to give charity through my actions.  I may not be able to give money, but I can give my time, abilities, and manpower.  As such, I’ll try to help others whenever the opportunity crosses my path.  And of course, I can always smile (as the Prophet (saws) said, “A smile is charity”)! 

-Continue to work on having good akhlaq (manners) with everyone around me

Making continued effort to be kind and patient with those around me, be willing to help and go the extra mile even when the other person is not being considerate.  I also want to exert extra effort to be very patient with my students in particular, as sometimes they do their best to push buttons and frustrate to no end! 

-Challenge myself instead of trying to simply survive

I want to take the added strain of fasting and use it as a way to challenge myself.  Having a busy schedule and pushing myself through a strenuous workout every day is nothing compared to what many of the early Muslims endured.  Fatimah tu-Zahra (the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, saws), her husband Imam Ali and their children Hasan and Hussein (as) once went three days straight of not breaking their fast, as each night when they sat down to eat the meal, beggars came to the door to ask for food.  Instead of turning them away, they gave them their food instead.  And they lived in the hot desert with no AC – and then didn’t eat or drink for three full days!  So certainly if they could do that, I can surely manage this.  I don’t want to simply try to ‘get through’ the month by surviving the minimal requirements, but instead use it as a challenge to work harder and be actively engaged (as opposed to simply being reactive and passive).   

-Focus on living more in the present and not solely in the future

The main rationale as to why I’ve begun the series on cultural concepts of time is because of something I’ve recently discovered about myself: that I am incredibly future-driven, to the extent that I fail to often even notice or enjoy the present.  Typically, I’m not actively engaged or ‘present’ in the present time; I’m usually thinking about what I need to do next or making plans for what’s ahead, or tailoring my current activity to suit the future.  Of course, doing all this is important for success in life, but I do it to the extent that I often completely neglect the present time and rarely feel content or satisfied as a result.  SO – my goal is to really focus on the present moment and live each second to the fullest, and enjoy the blessings of what God has given me that surround me at any given moment.  I need to really remind myself that I need to fully live what I’ve been given (the present), and not neglect it for the sake of the unknown, uncertain future, which I may never even see! 

Well… I could think of more, and I may likely develop more as time goes on, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  I think this is quite a lot to focus on as it is!     

Part I: “Why are they always so late?!” Cultural Concepts of Time

 

One of the constraints that has been placed on the whole of humanity and creation is the concept of time.  Despite the fact that time itself is unchanging, constant, and ever present, the meaning we assign to it, the way it is used, and the importance placed on it varies widely from culture to culture.  Not realizing that others view time in an entirely different way than we do can create a great deal of misunderstandings, hard feelings, and hostility.  

Americans and the Western world in general have a future oriented focus on time.  Time is based around the clock: we are always looking ahead, marking the exact time until the present task is finished so we can hurry to the next item on the schedule.  We are constantly thinking about the future, planning for it in the present, and arranging our lives with future events in mind. 

Others have a more present focused sense of time.  Importance is placed on the current moment; time is based around the event.  Time duration is based on how long it takes to finish a task, unlike the converse in Western time: a time duration is set and the task must be completed during that space no matter what.  Schedules are more general, and everyone expects that when you give a time, you don’t mean exactly that – you mean around that, give or take even an hour or two.  No one really minds if you come in after the given time as they understand that you obviously were completing something else. 

Levine & Wollf (1985) undertook a study that looked at the clocks in major cities around the world to measure their accuracy.  They found that Japanese clocks came in first, with their clocks being the most accurate, and Indonesian clocks came in last, with their clocks being the least accurate (I’m not sure what cities were included in the search though, as the article doesn’t list them).  As the authors note, when discussing science or technology or even fashion, we often hear that the Japanese are “ahead” and that we need to “catch up.”  Our highly valued Western devotion to the clock suffers when we realize that someone else is actually ahead of us in time! 

An Asian friend of mine worked as a government employee back in his country, and told me that he was required to be at work at least an hour before his boss to make sure everything was unlocked, coffee ready, documents prepared, and so on.  Even if there was nothing to do, he was required to be there earlier due to his lower status.  Yet, his boss was certainly never considered to be ‘late;’ he always came in at the same time every day, right on schedule.  Interestingly, it seems that some cultures tie one’s adherence to the clock to social status.  We also find a similiar phenomenon at work here in the US: I’m sure many of us have heard stories of celebrities being hours late to photo shoots, events, or concerts.  For Westerners, it’s as if the more privileged and important you are, the less you are required to respect the time of those around us (the rest of us still aren’t happy about it though).  Yet perhaps for those in countries like that of my Asian friend, being ‘late’ is an acceptable privilege afforded to those in higher social and power ranking, and has been carefully incorporated into the standard way of operating.  Everyone there knows their place in the caste system of time. 

Of course, the examples I have given thus far are with cultures that practice strict adherence to the clock – and we can see that there is a great amount of variation even within one category! When it comes to cultures that regard time as being subject to the present, to the completion of current tasks, trying to figure out exactly when something will be done in the future can be an impossible task.  I’ve often heard Westerners living in the Middle East complain about the term “bukhura” – meaning tomorrow.  This is the standard response given whenever someone wants to know when something will be done – tomorrow will take care of itself.  For Arabs, the future is an abstract concept, and exact times will be determined when the unreachable ‘tomorrow’ moves into the grasp of ‘today’ and the task becomes concrete and measurable. 

Fortunately, all is not lost in the confusing mire of cultural perceptions of time.  Levine (1997) offers us eight lessons that we should learn and try to incorporate into our interactions with those from cultures with different concepts of time.  He points out that no one concept of time is more correct than another; each has its drawbacks and each has something positive to learn from as well.  Yet, the importance of learning about other concepts of time is crucial, as Levine astutely states:

“In many instances, temporal illiteracy leads to situations that are simply awkward and embarrassing; in other cases, however, the lack of knowledge can be socially disabling.  The latter is often the result when non-clock-time people must achieve by the standards of fast-paced cultures.  Entire subpopulations with otherwise economically vital communities are marginalized by their inability to master the clock-governed pace of the mainstream culture.  These temporally disabled subgroups are particularly common in societies with large multiethnic, multicultural populations, especially those undergoing rapid social change” (Levine, 1997). 

Indeed, “temporal illiteracy” as he terms it is not just something that can cause occasional annoyance or misunderstanding, but can push entire subcultures or even countries down in the economic or power system if their concept of time does not match the majority that happens to be in power.  Thus, the importance of incorporating his suggested lessons becomes even more important for not only improved communication with those around us, but for survival! 

In the following series, I will expand on his proposed lessons, and am looking forward to hearing any experiences you might have had with each of these! 

Sources:

Levine, R.  A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently. HarperCollins, New York, 1997.

Levine, R., & Wolff, E. (1985). Social time: The heartbeat of culture.  Psychology Today, 19 (3), 28-35.

After Conversion: End of the Story?

After one has found the right path and has officially declared the shahadah and determination to follow the straight path, is that the end of the story?  Is life all rainbows and butterflies from there on out?  Often we are intrigued and thrilled by the stories of those who have converted to Islam, what did they believe beforehand?  What made them interested in Islam?  But we sometimes forget that after being guided, these individuals are now living in a very hostile world, with trials and hardships that often far outweigh the difficulties faced before they were Muslim.  It’s easy to tell the revert, “MashAllah, congratulations on your conversion, may God bless you,” and then walk away and go back to your Muslim family and community that surrounds you, protects you, and shields you from the inhumanity of the rest of the world (as it should).  Yet the revert is left still alone, isolated, and standing against a torrent of disapproval and hostility.

Thankfully, some have wondered what happened after I converted – what about my family, what about my friends, what has my life been like as a new Muslim?  Instead of filling up the comment section on several of my posts in response to all the inquiries, writing an actual post on it seems like a much more efficient solution!

Muslim Friends

I converted to Islam 2 years and 3 months ago.  I was so excited and bursting at the seams to have found such phenomenal truth and wisdom – to be guided and on the straight path to God, at last.  I wanted to meet every single Muslim in the area and was exuberant to share my story and make new friends.  Yet, over time I was faced with the reality that Muslims are human after all, and while Islam is perfect, Muslims are far from it.   Many of the Muslims around me (which weren’t many to start with) were more concerned and preoccupied with their culture rather than their religion, so my attempts at friendship failed miserably.  I finally gave up smiling at the Muslim women I passed outside or on campus, as usually they ignored me or glared at me (as an aside, yesterday when I was out running, I passed by a Muslim woman who looked up and smiled at me – I was so surprised I almost tripped over myself – and gave her a big smile in return.  That totally made my day!).  I went to a mosque in the area a few times, but was mostly stared at.  I felt awkward and uncomfortable to be alone despite sitting in a room full of chattering women (who also didn’t seem too interested in the lecture either…).   I was in a different mosque, and the woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was Lebanese.  I replied that I wasn’t, but I was a convert.  That didn’t seem to interest her, and she went back to chatting with the woman next to her.  Last year I met a few Muslim women who were also working for the community college I was teaching for, and while we exchanged information, neither of them seemed interested in communicating beyond that initial contact (despite my attempts to contact them).

Alternatively, I have met some Muslims online who are very sincere and genuine, and I am grateful for their friendship and support, despite never having seen each other in real life!  Nevertheless, as a result of two years of disappointment, I’ve since given up trying to befriend Muslims in real life.

Family

As I mentioned in my initial post regarding my conversion story, my family is conservative, Evangelical Christian, and are very anti-Islam (on both sides)!  There’s an atheist on my dad’s side and a Buddhist on my mom’s side, and both of them are seen as the black sheep, and much time and effort is spent praying for them and lecturing them when they are around.  I’ve told myself that I should take comfort in the fact that neither of them were disowned, but then again, neither of those paths are as heavily stigmatized and hated as Islam.  My family views Islam specifically as being from Satan himself (astaghfirAllah), and the most dangerous.

My dad’s father is a lay minister (he filled in as a ‘sub’ for churches without pastors and does guest speaking as well), and loves to listen to Billy Graham, John Hagee, Pat Robertson, and of course, Fox News.  My dad once put me on the chopping block when he told my grandpa that I had some Muslim friends, to which my grandpa responded by saying, “Well you’d better get rid of them fast.  They’re dangerous!”  I asked him why, and the entire room fell silent.  He sputtered and fumed and couldn’t understand why I was so senseless to not know why.  I decided to drop it – don’t want the entire room to explode against me, and definitely didn’t want to reveal myself.

My mom’s father was a Pentacostal preacher for most of his life, and both he and my grandmother firmly believe that if you aren’t Pentacostal, you’re going to hell (Baptists especially since they believe in the ‘blasphemous’ concept of “once saved always saved”!).  Most certainly they see Islam as a dark evil.

My parents religiously watch Fox News – my dad’s favorite show is Bill O’Reilly, of course.  They are also firm supporters of George Bush and believe he could do no evil (despite the glaring truth that tells us otherwise).  Once (when I was still a Christian), I brought up the possibility of 9/11 being perpetrated by Bush himself, due to the overwhelming evidence, and my dad was incredibly offended and angry (as if I had just uttered blasphemy), and said that Bush could never, ever do something like that – he was a ‘Christian’ after all!  Last time I checked, the only infallible person in Christianity was Jesus (as), so I’m not sure how Bush gained that status!

My parents are also very pro-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Palestine, anti-Lebanon & Syria, very Republican, and now proud members of the Tea Party.  They believe that I am already brainwashed due to having gone to a “liberal, socialist” university for graduate school, and often dismiss anything I have to say about politics or society in general.  Despite having more education than they do (in my immediate family – my extended family has some doctors and PhDs), my education is dismissed as useless, liberal ideology and not anything worthwhile.

In fact, my family, both immediate and extended, treat me as an 6 year old child who has no common sense or clue about life in general.  Even my brothers treat me in this way, usually dismissing what I have to say or ridiculing me, ganging up against me, laughing at me and questioning my intelligence.  As such, I grew up to think that my brothers and father were very smart and I was not.  I believed that men in general were smarter than me, and I unconsciously deferred and ‘bowed down’ to any male around me.  The males in my family also treat my mom in the same way, never taking her seriously and ridiculing her and questioning her intelligence on everything.  My mom is quite expert at manipulation though (even with me, as I have just recently discovered, after all this time), and while it’s a destructive, unhealthy pattern, it works and she gets what she needs.   I’ve always thought that the first person I tell about my conversion would be my mom, but now I realize that that would foolish because she would only use that against me whenever it suited her.  My family has the mentality of ‘everyone for themselves’, and will sacrifice someone else for the purpose of saving their own skin.

My family is also very argumentative, negative, critical, and judgmental.  I’ve always hated conflict (although there for a few years during puberty I did take on my dad and challenge him about everything to the extent that he thought I should become a lawyer!).  My family will argue endlessly and NEVER let anything go, so I learned long ago that it just isn’t worth it.  I prefer relationships to be smooth and harmonious, not tumultuous and hostile, so I eventually got in the habit of just letting everything go.  Someone would do something to me or make a hurtful comment, and I would just let it go.  Again and again and again… to the point now where they just treat me like a stupid child since they know they can get away with it as I won’t stand up to them or challenge them.

Recently, all that has changed, however.  After converting, I gained new confidence in myself (perhaps this should be a different post entirely, but I began to accept myself as a female, and realized that having feminine characteristics isn’t an awful thing, but is a strength), and I began to gain knowledge about the truth of the world around me.  I was more certain of my opinions and now had a great deal of fact to back it up, and began to stand up for my opinions.  Still, they would all start attacking me, so I would eventually give up and change the subject.

In recent months however, I’ve been trying to force myself to see it through to the end, despite the discomfort that it causes.  In fact, without going into the details, my mom and I are no longer on speaking terms (her choice, not mine), and my dad got involved (thanks to misinformation and manipulation from my mom) so we’ve had some intense arguments.  Even one of my brothers and I got into a fight because of the lies my mom told him, but fortunately I was able to set the record straight and he and I are actually on better terms right now than we have been in years.  And none of this going on now has anything to do with my conversion!!

I’ve realized that the only hope I have of being able to tell my family about my conversion without being completely annihilated is to change my relationship with them by getting them to respect me and take me seriously.  If I can achieve that, THEN I can tell them of my conversion and only then will they be forced to take it seriously.  If I tell them now, they’ll ridicule me, accuse me of being brainwashed, and my dad might even drive all the way down to where I live now with a U-Haul and try to force me to move in with them so they can take care of their senile, mentally retarded daughter!  I can only imagine family events – all the focus would be on me and it would be rife with exhaustingly endless arguments and attacks.  No one would listen to anything I have to say or even care what reasons I have for believing the way I do.

No, the only solution is to first change my relationship with them, and secondly, keep trying to change their perception of Islam.  If I can somehow get them to see Islam as at least just another world religion that is hugely misrepresented in the media and has many similarities to Christianity, then I may be able to put myself on the same level as my atheist and Buddhist relatives.  If my family continues to see Islam as evil and as the force on the side of the anti-Christ that Jesus (as) and the Christians will fight against after Jesus returns, then there is no hope for any sort of honest dialogue, discussion, or acceptance.

Friends

Very few of my friends know of my conversion as well.  Some reasons for this are merely circumstantial; I converted during my last year of graduate school (a different school and city from where I did my undergrad), and began covering my hair when I started an internship in another city.  I did see my classmates occasionally for classes during that time, and the reactions were mixed.  A few thought I had cancer, one of them did express her sincere support for my choice, and the rest of them either ignored me completely or began to just greet me politely when they saw me but stopped inviting me to hang out with them.  I was surprised actually, since I was in a counseling pyschology program and the emphasis in every class was valuing diversity and accepting and supporting people from all walks of life… but apparently this is mere rhetoric and not applied in practice.

I don’t often see my friends from undergrad, as I moved to a different city for grad school and they are all spread out everywhere; many of them are married and are starting families.  I saw one of them once though, after converting.  She had been to Egypt on a trip and seemed very interested in the culture and religion, and since she is also from a different country, I thought she would be more accepting.  So, I decided to tell her about my conversion.  Well… she seemed unsure about it and was concerned about what my family would think, especially since she knew me as being a very religious Christian.  After she left that day, I never heard from her again.

Another friend from high school told me a while back that he had converted to Catholicism, and was describing the difficulty he had with his parents, who are astutely Pentacostal.  I thought perhaps he would understand, since he had gone through a similar experience, so I told him that I also had changed my beliefs, and am pretty sure my parents would be very opposed to it.  I refrained from any detail though, as I wanted to see his reaction.  He seemed unresponsive, so I didn’t push it further – and yet again, I never heard from him again.

The vast majority of my friends from childhood through graduate school are very conservative Christians, so I know that I would face a very hostile onslaught of condemnation if I decided to declare myself as a Muslim to them all.  So… I decided it’s not worth it and have let it go.  I don’t see many of them very often anyway, from having moved so much (I’ve moved at least 14 times, to various cities and different states) and have lost touch with people over the years.  In fact, I have just moved again to an entirely different state to take a new job, so telling prior friends just isn’t much of a necessity.

I did make one friend recently who is not Muslim nor American, and I have been grateful for her acceptance and for seeing beyond my scarf and liking me for who I really am.  But, I’ve just moved and she’s too far away for frequent visiting now.

I don’t know anyone at all in my new city, although I’ve felt encouraged that my colleagues at my new job seem to be very genuinely nice and friendly.  I’m not that picky really, I gave up on the impossible task of finding Muslim friends, and am just looking for decent friends in GENERAL.  But… in the meantime, as I have nothing to do on the weekends, I can continue to research Islam and read and learn about other aspects of life, and of course – post on my blog. 🙂

So, in sum… life has not been easy since converting, but I realize that I am passing through a very important time and am learning necessary skills to make my life better in the future, inshAllah.  Only God knows what the future will hold, and I’m optimistic that no matter what trials and hardships I face, God will protect me and care for me.  I will gladly endure any difficulty for the sake of God and for the precious gift of guidance to the right path.  Nothing in this world is worth that.  The Quran tells us that this life is just a test and trial, and our real life begins afterward.  When we keep everything in perspective, the intensity and turmoil subsides and obstacles begin to look more trivial and inconsequential.

The Coming of Ramadhan

I have been thinking about Ramadhan for the past two months, reflecting on it, remembering it as I eat or drink throughout the day, and recalling its importance and the lessons learned through it. Now, as the final weekend before its arrival is upon us, it is of utmost importance that we begin to prepare ourselves mentally for this holy and trying month, and ask God for the strength to rely solely on Him and to remove our dependence on worldly things.

Imam Zain al-Abideen (Ali bin Hussain bin Ali bin Abi Talib) provided us with a wonderful supplication (prayer) for the coming of Ramadhan. It is a bit lengthy, but it is well worth reading – and using in prayer yourself.

Supplication for the Coming of the Month of Ramadan

Praise belongs to God who guided us to His praise
and placed us among the people of praise,
that we might be among the thankful for His beneficence
and that He might recompense us for that
with the recompense of the good-doers!

And praise belongs to God who
showed favour to us through His religion,
singled us out for His creed,
and directed us onto the roads of His beneficence,
in order that through His kindness we might travel upon them
to His good pleasure,
a praise which He will accept from us
and through which He will be pleased with us!

And praise belongs to God who appointed among those roads His month,
the month of Ramadan,
the month of fasting,
the month of submission,
the month of purity,
the month of putting to test,
the month of standing in prayer,
in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance to the people,
and as clear signs of the Guidance and the Separator!175

He clarified its excellence over other months
by the many sacred things and well-known excellencies
which He placed therein,
for He made unlawful in it what He declared lawful in others
to magnify it,
He prohibited foods and drinks in it
to honour it,
and He appointed for it a clear time which He
(majestic and mighty is He)
allows not to be set forward
and accepts not to be placed behind.

Then He made one of its nights surpass the nights
of a thousand months
and named it the Night of Decree;
in it the angels and the Spirit descend
by the leave of their Lord upon every command,
a peace constant in blessings
until the rising of the dawn
upon whomsoever He will of His servants
according to the decision He has made firm.

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
inspire us
with knowledge of its excellence,
veneration of its inviolability,
and caution against what Thou hast forbidden within it,
and help us to fast in it
by our restraining our limbs
from acts of disobedience toward Thee
and our employing them
in that which pleases Thee,
so that we lend not our ears to idle talk
and hurry not with our eyes to diversion,

we stretch not our hands toward the forbidden
and stride not with our feet toward the prohibited,
our bellies hold only what Thou hast made lawful
and our tongues speak only what Thou
hast exemplified,
we undertake nothing but what brings close to
Thy reward
and pursue nothing but what protects from
Thy punishment!
Then rid all of that from the false show of the false showers
and the fame seeking of the fame seekers,
lest we associate therein anything with Thee
or seek therein any object of desire but Thee!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
in it make us attend
to the appointed moments of the five prayers within
the bounds Thou hast set,
the obligations Thou hast decreed,
the duties Thou hast assigned,
and the times Thou hast specified;

and in the prayers make us alight in the station of
the keepers of their stations,
the guardians of their pillars,
their performers in their times,
as Thy servant and Thy messenger set down in his Sunna
(Thy blessings be upon him and his Household)
in their bowings, their prostrations, and all their
excellent acts,
with the most complete and ample ritual purity
and the most evident and intense humility!

Give us success in this month to
tighten our bonds of kin with devotion and gifts,
attend to our neighbours with bestowal and giving,
rid our possessions from claims,
purify them through paying the alms,
go back to him who has gone far from us,
treat justly him who has wronged us,
make peace with him who shows enmity toward us
(except him who is regarded as an enemy
in Thee and for Thee,
for he is the enemy whom we will not befriend,
the party whom we will not hold dear),

and seek nearness to Thee through blameless works
which will purify us from sins
and preserve us from renewing faults,
so that none of Thy angels will bring for Thee
the kinds of obedience and sorts of
nearness-seeking
unless they be less than what we bring!177

O God,
I ask Thee by the right of this month
and by the right of him who worships Thee within it
from its beginning to the time of its passing,
whether angel Thou hast brought nigh to Thee,
prophet Thou hast sent,
or righteous servant Thou hast singled out,
that Thou bless Muhammad and his Household,
make us worthy of the generosity Thou hast promised
Thy friends,
make incumbent for us
what Thou hast made incumbent
for those who go to great lengths in obeying Thee,
and place us in the ranks of those
who deserve through Thy mercy the highest elevation!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
turn us aside from
deviation in professing Thy Unity,
falling short in magnifying Thee,
in Thy religion,
blindness toward Thy path,
heedlessness of Thy inviolability,
and being deceived by Thy enemy, the accursed Satan!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and when in every night of this month’s nights
Thou hast necks
which Thy pardon will release
and Thy forgiveness disregard,
place our necks among those necks
and place us among the best folk and companions
of this our month!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
efface our sins
along with the effacing of its crescent moon,
and make us pass forth from the ill effects of our acts
with the passing of its days,
until it leaves us behind,
while within it Thou hast purified us of offenses
and rid us of evil deeds!

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household,
and should we go off to one side in this month,
set us aright;
should we swerve,
point us straight;
and should Thy enemy Satan enwrap us,
rescue us from him!

O God,
fill this month with our worship of Thee,
adorn its times with our obedience toward Thee,
help us during its daytime with its fast,
and in its night with prayer and pleading toward Thee,
humility toward Thee,
and lowliness before Thee,
so that its daytime may not bear witness
against our heedlessness,
nor its night against our neglect!

O God,
make us like this in the other months and days
as long as Thou givest us life,
and place us among Thy righteous servants,
those who shall inherit Paradise,
therein dwelling forever,178
those who give what they give,
while their hearts quake,
that they are returning to their Lord,179
those who vie in good works,
outracing to them!180

O God,
bless Muhammad and his Household
in every time, in all moments, and in every state,
to the number that Thou hast blessed whomsoever
Thou hast blessed
and to multiples of all that, through multiples
which none can count but Thee!
Surely Thou art Accomplisher of what Thou desirest.

May God give us the strength to pass through this time of trial, test, and purification.  May God help us to focus on Him and to cut the chains of bondage of the world that we have allowed to grip us.  May God help us to exert extra effort to be cheerful, kind, patient, and charitable toward others during this time, may God use our hunger to remind us of those less fortunate than us, and to reach out to them, and may God help us to refrain from not only the haram, but also the makrooh, and to engage in more wajib and mustahab acts.

The supplication, along with an audio clip of it, can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/s44.htm

Other supplications of Imam Zain al-Abideen can be found here: http://www.duas.org/sajjadiya/sajjadiya.htm

Good Manners in Debate Put to the Test

It was only a few days ago that I posted on the importance of maintaining good manners when discussing religion with others. The following day, I was resoundingly put to the test on this very issue! Alhamdilulah, fortunately I have thought about this issue a great deal (long before posting on it) and was thankfully fully conscious of myself and the situation as it was taking place, which prevented me from reacting in the wrong way. Indeed, it was clear to me that God was putting me to the test – I understood the concept in theory, now how about in practice? In the midst of the situation, I was reminded of one of the first verses of Quran I have memorized:

“Ahasiba an nas an yutraku an yakulu amana wa hum la yuftanoon?”

“Do people think they will be left alone after saying, “We believe,” and not be tested? (29:2)

Islam is not merely a philosophy that we can spend all our time pondering and use its wisdom to analyze situations and circumstances – it is much more than that. After a great deal of thought, reflection, and understanding, we must then put our knowledge to the test by living it out and practicing it in real life.

The specific situation in which I was put to the test involved a friend of mine from undergrad on Facebook, of all places. My friend had made a comment in opposition of the NYC mosque on his status, and some of his friends commented with supportive, ignorant remarks. Normally I don’t get involved in debates on Facebook because the opportunity for misunderstanding and hurt feelings is quite high (the most important communication tool is nonverbal communication, which is nonexistent online!). However, because I knew my friend as a reasonable and open-minded person, I decided to provide some facts. Here is the exchange below:

My friend: They could’ve chosen any other site in the country to build the super mosque and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Does it really have to be in Manhattan? At Ground Zero? Is that not a thinly-disguised middle finger/victory sign? If it’s acceptance they want, this would seem to be the wrong way to go.

Person A: I posted something similar on my status as well. I think it’s crazy!

Person B: yikessss!

Person C (another friend of mine whom I thought was reasonable): I agree with you (name of friend)!

Person D: Amen, yo.

Person E: Do the classy thing?

Person F: Revenge, American style… Chuck E Cheese’s of Mecca

Person F: Thinly-disguised middle finger? I think it’s the spike of the football in the endzone followed by the Ickey Shuffle.

Person G: nah…. we need a hooters in Mecca, and strip clubs in every Saudi village, and a Bob Jones University in Ryiadh..

Me: ‎(sigh)…
1. Extremist terrorists are responsible for 9/11. The 90% + of the rest of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide CONDEMN acts of terrorism and 9/11 in particular.
2. The Quran expressly prohibits the murder of innocent life (chp 5 v32)….
3. Those building the mosque also condemn the 9/11 attacks (see their website: http://www.cordobainitiative.org/).
4. Several Muslims also died as victims in the 9/11 attacks, and a mosque inside the towers was destroyed as well.
5. bin Laden and other terrorists would happily murder the leadership of this mosque as imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is Sufi, not Wahabi.
6. They are not building it on ground zero itself.
7. This mosque is nothing new; there are other mosques in the area: the imam for the new mosque has been at another mosque 12 blocks from ground zero for the past 20+ years.
8. Muslims have had a strong presence in NYC for over 100 years.
9. In sum, these Muslims have nothing to do with 9/11. Building a mosque in NYC is just like building anything else there.

Hope that helps clear up any confusion, misunderstandings, or disinformation. 🙂

Person F: Yea! A wacky liberal has been drawn out of the bushes. (like a moth to a flame) I’m grabbing the popcorn. This is about to get real entertaining. Ladies and Gentlemen….herrrrrrreeeeeeeee’s (Person G)!

Person G: (My name), it is blatently, clearly, obvious, that YOU, are the one furthering that which you CLAIM, to discourage..

When do we get the David Duke Museum in Selma, or the Julian Stryker hall of remembrance near Auschwitz?

Or the Conference on ho…w Eicmann and Mengele were just misunderstood, to be held in Tel Aviv?

Person G: of course….right on cue…..

Person G: I’ll be okay with it, when and only when, this is allowed first….

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Everybody-Draw-Allah/136441216391250?ref=ts#!/photo.php?pid=24518&o=all&op=1&view=all&subj=136441216391250&aid=-1&id=100001450896448

Person G: ‎1. Muslims…. were responsible
2. Wrong….. I know it too, your quote reference doesn’t mention it ….
http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm

3. What about the founder not condemning Hezzbollah….
http://prayerandaction.com/?p=6998

4. What about the Jews and Christians murdered by Muslims on 9/11, including many of personal Colleagues?

5. Not murder, praise…. That’s Usama and the other goat fuckers would do.
6. Like that matters.. and yes, you know it… deep down, you do…. You can pretend and be hypocritical otherwise, but deep deep deep down, you know.. its a slap to our nation, which is, JUDEO….CHRISTIAN….. SORRY, ITS TRUE….. DEAL WITH IT!!!!!!!!
7. YES…. IT IS NEW… YOU TWIT!!
8. That doesn’t make it right..
9. Trust but verify….. Since they have proven beyond any shadow that they can’t be trusted, why should we bother…

HERE’S THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET.THAT NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IS TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

if…………….. they can’t build a mosque there, then the same people can tell those who made this country, our fellow Christian and Jewish brothers, when and where they , can and can’t hold worship, pray, etc…..

That’s what anti american, Muslim apologizing, jew and christian hating, intellectual liberal progressive types want and desire….

We have nothing to apologize for and everything to be proud of and why not??????????????

…………..BECAUSE………………………WE….are Americans………

Born and living in the greatest country founded on principles founded by god, not………….. a used carpet salesman.
http://thereligionofpeace.com/

My friend: (My name) — You don’t find it to be in any way distasteful? You don’t see how it would be perceived as such?

Me: Goodness. 😀

(My friend’s name): I really don’t, just like I wouldn’t find it distasteful for a church to be built next to any of the number of bombed abortion clinics or sites where abortion clinic providers were murdered. There is a stark difference between marginal, extremist Christians and mainstream Christians. The same is the case with this mosque. It is important to differentiate between extremists, who exist in all ideologies, and the majority of everyone else.

The real issue here is simply ignorance. Ignorance is the true enemy, as it causes a great deal of harm to others and most of all, to yourself.

Person G: Precisely, please recognize yours….

Ok so a lot of issues can be deduced from this exchange. First, I should mention that when I read the exchange before commenting, I felt so shocked that two of my friends would participate in such ignorance; people who are college educated and open-minded. In fact, as I was trying to write my initial response, I had a hard time even typing because I was shaking from the anxiety (I HATE HATE conflict and often start having serious panic attacks). Nevertheless, I wanted to present the facts from the original sources (i.e. the Quran, the website of the proposed mosque, and so on), since it was clear all the commentators are using secondary sources (which are often ripe with bias, misinformation, or omission of facts) as a basis to form their opinions. I also tried to end on a positive note, as God has said that we should wish others peace, and to always give excuses for their behavior (by attempting to frame my remarks as being offered for the purpose of clearing up confusion or disinformation through no fault of their own – the problem is the information they have, not them personally).

Yet, you can see for yourselves what sort of derogatory attacks I received in response. Surprisingly, when I read the responses later, I wasn’t breaking out in a panic attack, I was amused and calm. The truth reveals itself every time. The facts that I provided were not in dispute; instead, attacks on my personal character were rampant. There were gross assumptions made with no basis whatsoever. I just hoped that my friends would read that and feel very uncomfortable because they know who I am. I was probably the most uptight, conservative person they knew when we were in school together (they all went to bars and parties while I refused to even be in a place that served alcohol – and most definitely never touched alcohol! This was all when I was still a strictly practicing Christian). My friends know very well that I am none of those things I was accused of.

Nevertheless, I refrained from responding to Person G, as he had revealed himself as being close-minded, foolish, and uninterested in an intellectual discussion of the truth. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq has said that arguing with a fool is like putting wood on a fire, and the Quran tells us to deal with these types of people by simply wishing them peace and walking away. Further, any response to Person G would have simply been a repeat of all the points I made in my original comment, so I had nothing more to add. Addressing his personal attacks would only deviate the discussion from the main point, and since I don’t know him, I have no interest in or need for defending myself.

Instead, I chose to address my friend, since it was for his sake that I posted my comment in the first place, and because he was the only one who responded respectfully.

Of course, Person G had to respond yet again, in an attempt to jab at me once more to get me to respond to him. I was also a bit disappointed that my friend didn’t respond again, especially since I felt he should have spoken up against the accusations being made against me as he is the one who actually knows me personally.

But, in the end, I walked away from the incident feeling very positive about the experience, and happy that God had enabled me to carry out His injunction to discuss faith with the best of manners. I knew that I had spoken the truth and nothing of my own. I also felt confident that there were many others on Facebook, my friends, my friends’ friends, and the friends of the other commentators, could see our exchange via the news feed. The spectators and people on the periphery should be the ones we always keep in mind in any debate we have. There may be no hope whatsoever for the person we are talking to, but for those on the edges, listening in, those are the ones who may very well be seriously considering what you have said. It becomes even more important to remain in control and refrain from getting angry and firing back insults, as once we do that, the spectators will conclude that we are just like the one we’re discussing with, we’re both wrong, and may stop listening. But, if you keep yourself at a higher level, stand by your own code of ethics and standards, you will absolutely attract attention and respect.

It was a really good lesson for me, and I thank God for giving me this opportunity to put my words to action. I am also grateful that it took place in a written format, as in verbal conflict I typically get too anxious to respond very well!

Alhamdilulah.

The Importance of Good Manners in Debate

When discussing issues that are emotional and close to one’s heart, it is often difficult to accept what other people are saying without becoming overly emotional, upset, or angry.  Because of this, Americans often avoid discussing potentially heated issues such as politics and religion.  In fact, it is a well-known cardinal rule that those two subjects are entirely off-limits at parties and social events (particularly when people are drinking because physical fights inevitably ensue!).

Yet, who knows the nature of humankind best but our Creator Himself?  God knows very well how easily upset we can become when discussing beliefs, which is why He instructed on how to do exactly that:

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way. (Quran chapter 16 verse 125). 

In other words, we are instructed to discuss our beliefs with wisdom and good encouragement (as opposed to sarcasm or criticism), doing so with the utmost of good manners.  It is not our job to convince them or change their minds, as God Himself only knows those who will listen to truth and follow it, or who will reject it and turn away.  Our task is only to speak the truth with good manners.  We should never engage in personal attacks (i.e. “I can’t believe how stupid you are to believe that!”), nor disparage their belief system (“What kind of idiotic, illogical belief is that?!”).  If we stoop to such behavior, the other person will automatically become defensive and immediately stop listening.  Good manners, encouragement, and wisdom are the keys to opening a person’s heart.  Yet, in the end, even if you do everything you can, the other person still may not respond the way you’d like them to.  Thus, we must remember that what is in the other person’s heart and mind is between that person and God alone.  

When I hear this verse, I am reminded of when I first heard the truth of Islam.  I still persisted in arguing against it and pushing my own stated beliefs, but deep inside… I was listening.  When I was alone throughout the day or laying awake at night, I was mentally replaying what I had heard, considering and reflecting on it.  Externally, no one would have guessed that the truth was having an impact on me, because I was stubborn and steadfastly defending my views.  Anyone interacting with me would have easily thought to themselves that there was no hope – I was too brainwashed, too senseless, too close-minded, too stubborn to let go of what I had been raised to believe was right.  Yet God knew what was actually happening inside my heart.  It is only He who guides us to the truth, and no one else. 

When we are faced with someone who seems so close-minded and refuses to listen, just remember that despite all their blustering and fury, inside they just may be listening.  And even if they aren’t listening now, they may remember what you’ve said much later down the road, and begin to reflect on it.  Only God knows the path an individual will take.  I heard a beautiful hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws) the other day that made tears come to my eyes:

“The number of paths to God is equal to the number of human souls.” 

SubhanAllah (glory to God).  There is no one prescribed, set path that we all must robotically follow.  No, God has designed it so that we each find the truth in the timing that is best for us.  Perhaps one person finds the truth early on – and it is better for them.  Yet someone else may find the truth much later, and it is better for them – because they had many lessons to learn and experiences to pass through before they were ready.  My own path has been incredibly unique, and in retrospect I know that each step was crucial to taking me to where I am today.  Alhamdilulah (praise God).