Welcoming Ramadan

Bismillah.

This week, at work (our final week before a two-week Easter break. But as we are a Muslim school, ’tis, de facto, a Ramadan break) we enjoyed – and, many of us ended up becoming thoroughly exhausted by – a rather eventful ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day — during which we had probably collectively amassed enough food to feed a small country, followed by an INSET day — at which we took part in some ‘spiritual meditation’ exercises, so as to recover from a hectic (and somewhat chaotically COVID-tinged) term, and an even more hectic end to it. [Personally, I found the ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day really fun. One of my students made me my own paper crown to go with my outfit, and I (with the benefit of being a little… vertically challenged…) just blended in with the students for a while, and was invited to join in with some of their activities!]

We had workshops on: fruitfulness during the blessed month; another one on improving and maintaining our physical wellbeing; a third, on self-purification. The students got to make their own samosas, followed by chocolate truffles. They decorated their classrooms – with class advent calendars, paper lanterns and the like. They had an extended lunchtime, during which Nasheeds were played, and food was shared [and drinks were spilled, and slices of cake went splat! onto the floor]. There were different (fun and reflective) exercises for the different year groups to enjoy. One that I found thoroughly useful and enjoyable was the Ramadan bullet-journal workshop:

Each student in the class was given a black book. On the board, the instructor of the workshop (an older ‘Alimiyyah – Islamic knowledge – student) put up some pictures of some of the ‘Alimiyyah students’ own bullet-journal pages, for inspiration. They were absolutely gorgeous: calligraphy, colours, such neatness and creativity.

The idea was that each student would design a book that was personal, and hopefully useful for them. Personal religious goals; personal health goals; Qur’anic Ayahs and Hadiths that speak most to them; personal Ramadan timetable ideas, and the like.

Moreover, an important thing that one of my colleagues had been talking about, in the staffroom, had been, essentially, the danger of running into the ‘productivity trap’ way of thinking, in our considerations surrounding Ramadan. Asking, for instance, what others’ ‘goals‘ are, for the month, and feeling inclined to respond to such questions with a burdensome-sounding string of quantitative goals: “I want to read four books about Islam, and make food for my neighbours four times, and read the entire Qur’an twice, and…”

Ramadan, fundamentally, is about three things: praying (our five daily prayers, with some additions during the holy month); fasting (from dawn until dusk; fasting from food and drink, and from bad or time-wasting habits, and from intimacy, for people who are married); giving (Zakah and Sadaqah. Giving from one’s money/material wealth, as well as from the other forms of wealth that we have been given. Knowledge, acts of service for family members, and for strangers, even, alike. Even a smile is an act of Sadaqah!)

There are other things that can be done: little additions that we can learn about and practise, along the way. These are fruitful, but not compulsory. And, ultimately, Islam is fundamentally (meant to be) a religion of moderation. “All things in moderation. Including moderation.” [— Socrates]. Doing ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’, and we believe that (holism is important, and that) it is the spiritual value of things, which count.

Religion is easy; whoever overburdens himself in religion will be overpowered by it (i.e. he will not be able to continue in that way.)

So pursue what is good moderately; try to be near to perfection, and receive the good tidings (that you will be rewarded, for trying).

— Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Al-Bukhari]

In Islam, we are taught that Allah certainly has supreme rights over us. Our bodies have rights over us, too: they need to be cared for; we need to sleep, and to take things relatively easy, as much as possible. Our families have rights over us, also. And then come our other social responsibilities: towards extended family, other acquaintances, and our neighbours.

In close connection with the ‘productivity trap’ mode of thinking (and this is something that I must stop myself from doing!) is the reliance on ‘aesthetics’ for a sense of spiritual value. Fairy lights, Arabesque lanterns, plants, Turkish rugs… It is nice to try to create a nice Ramadan-themed atmosphere, but… the point of this month is neither consumerism nor materialism. It should be more about gratitude: for appreciating what we have, and not splurging on food and décor to ‘augment’ the experience.

Ramadan is for those three core things, mentioned above. And it is for personal reflection, and for family, and for gratitude. As much as I do wish to ‘make the most of’ this (upcoming) month, I know I cannot do everything: there is no comprehensive checklist for how Ramadan ‘should’ be done, and each individual will spend and celebrate this blessed period differently.

There are, for instance, some new Muslims, who live alone. Maybe they will be attending a weekly class, or watching some videos on YouTube, to learn more about the Deen. Maybe they will open the fast after enjoying a bowl of cereal and a plate of fruit; perhaps they are going to close the fast with a sandwich or two.

Maybe this is their first time praying Salāh. Maybe they are going to try to wear a headscarf for the first time. Crucially, it is not about the external considerations, but about the essences and the intentions guiding them. That is the thing: we never know who is actually ‘doing Islam ‘right” because, fundamentally, religion is about the connection between a man or a woman, and their Creator. It is not necessarily about who knows Arabic the best, or who has the most Du’as memorised.

The experience is not about what makes for the most ‘aesthetic’ or ‘Instagrammable’ Ifthar, either. It is not about cooking the most food, or about memorising the greatest amount of information. It is more about the internal: the patience, the gratitude, the love, the effort.

Personal journeys, varying situations and circumstances. Effort: no human being alive is ‘perfect’. And, something that I had been reminded of during that aforementioned ‘self-purification’ workshop: each and every one of us has a thing or two, within us, that needs to be fought against, and curbed. Anger, and/or envy, and/or greed and gluttony, and/or pride, and/or lust, and/or laziness, and/or otherwise.

“The [real] Mujāhid is one who strives against his own soul [Nafs].” [Sahih Hadith]

And a random addendum [we love a half-rhyme, in this house]: within and against [parts of] our souls, we struggle. We can feel, sometimes, (for instance, on the religious front) like we are ‘too much’, or, at times, like we are ‘not enough’. At times, I have felt like an… ‘inside-outsider’, within Islam. This is because I had internalised some warped ideas about this whole thing. That to be a Muslim (in addition to the actual requirements of faith) one must be a certain way, ‘culturally’, and otherwise: like… a Saudi sheikh, or like an Arab-Muslim vlogger, or something. But, genuinely: Islam can be (or is) yours as much as it is anybody else’s (and vice versa). Everywhere, there is inspiration, and ultimately Deen is very much a ‘together’ thing.

It is this beautiful ongoing conversation between you, and the One who created you. And then, in an ancillary manner, it is also, very importantly, about your comportment with fellow human beings.

And, in Ramadan, that very ongoing conversation becomes a little more blessed, while our hearts and souls, in conversation with the people in our lives, become a little more nourished.

May we all have a wonderfully restful, spiritually rewarding, relatively easy, and fun(!!!) Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem!


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Islam is

Islam is: beginning right from where you are. It is finding Peace, finally, amid all of tumultuous Dunya’s numerous tribulations.

It is Ultimate, life-giving, life-restoring,

hope-fuelled

Surrender.

And — Islam is not solely for the man for whom the Arabic language is his native tongue. It is also for… the Bengali woman. Malaysian, Nigerian, French, Argentinian. And for kings and nobles, and for their sons, and for seamstresses and chai-walas, and for their daughters.

Islam is for the ones who grew up going to — some call it Fora, others call it Maktab; some call it Dugsee — every weekend. And it is also for the ones for whom the words of the Qur’an are, at present, wholly indecipherable.

For the ones who grew up in Roman Catholic households. Or Hindu ones, or otherwise.

The truth is, we do not know, and we are truly not aware of

which of us truly are the Best of us.

How can one look at another and be convinced that we know what their intentions are? How can we look at another and be sure of where they stand, at present, before God?

Islam is also for the heroin user whose family chose to disown him, for his one fatal error. It is for the chronically sick, and it is for the young, and well, and wealthy, too. It is for the ones who know the most, and it is also for the ones who simply cannot wait to learn.

When I say that Islam is Universal, I mean: everything that exists — everything, of which we are a part:

We come from One. Are loved, and nurtured, primarily and ultimately, by One. Are being Tested by One. And it is to One, that we return.

When Allah explains to us that we are human, He means, necessarily, that we can choose between Good and Evil, based on the knowledge that we, individually, subjectively, possess, and have access to.

And that we are, all of us, fundamentally flawed — and that many people are stitched up with Good intentions, while others destroy themselves, through arrogance. But for the most part, these things remain invisible to the fallible human eye.

Fundamentally, goodness is something that must be shared. Trying to meet people where they are; trying to love them, as they are: these things are Sunnah. There is no room for violent tribalisms, where there is true Islam.

Islam is for anybody who, even in the slightest, cares — enough to seek forgiveness; to ask for Help; to try. In your own time; in your own beautiful ways.

Islam is for the human being who is uncertain, in himself, or as herself. We are not Necessary Beings; we forget and we make blunders.

We struggle, and we fall; we can come, crawling, or walking. If we are able, we can come running.

Islam is for the one who has “always felt a little bit Muslim at heart”. Who, eventually, started carrying a prayer scarf around, in her bag. Used the prayer room at Westfield, once, and amassed the courage to say Salaam to an auntie, a different time, outside the mosque.

For the man who is consciously trying to “lower [his] gaze” when it comes to women, contrary to the pullings of his Nafs (loosely translatable as ‘inner-self’). For the one who feels broken, breaking, alone. Trying to speak to his Creator, under the soul-baring covers of good night.

Islam is Meaning, and it is Purpose. It is Love, and it is Comfort. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, concerning the Mind, the Heart; our Bodies and our Souls. Beginning: fusing together. And Ending: coming apart (for a while). The centre of the Universe, and the very fabric of our being.

Ever-a-continuation: a personal story, journey. And, always, a beginning-again, too. Right from where we are.

[Allah knows, while we do not.]

And every good thing that we (endeavour to) do, here, in submission to Al-Rahman

is growing into something Unspeakably Beautiful (we hope,) over There.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Ask Sadia: Evil & Suffering

Screenshot 2020-04-20 at 10.00.29

Dear Mia,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not ‘disprove’ God at all. Firstly, our ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’: from an atheistic standpoint, such ideas have no objective value, and all we really care about is survival and reproduction. However, the Islamic view maintains that our notions of good and evil have been prescribed for us and, to a large extent, have also been imbued in us from God. It is, in our view, foolish to morally criticise the very originator of morality. What is good is good because God has deemed it to be so; what is evil, the same principle applies.

In fact, the presence of evil and suffering does much to fortify the Islamic worldview. For starters, we do not believe that this world is all there is. This world is only a prequel, so to speak, to the world of the afterlife. And here, we will face difficulties and we will encounter evil.

In the Qur’an, God tells us that He created this world to test us – to see which of us do much evil, and which of us do much good.

Much of the human being’s capacities to do good are actually reliant on the presence of evil and suffering. The job of a doctor, for instance, would be rendered quite pointless if human sickness did not exist. Acts of charity, too, are only meaningful because poverty exists. And God does also tell us that He will ‘test some of us through means of others’.

And the ones who suffer: firstly, if they are destined to go to Heaven, there is a lovely Hadith – a saying of the Prophet (SAW) – that tells us that such a person will be asked, in Heaven, if they had ever suffered in this world. Due to the sheer ongoing joy and comfort that Heaven will facilitate, the person who suffered here will reply, “No”. 

We believe that the life of the Akhirah – what follows this worldly life – is like an entire ocean. And the life of this world – whether in terms of suffering, or in terms of happiness – is ‘but a drop’ upon one’s fingertip.

And, in terms of questions of evil and suffering, we human beings are extremely limited. Limited in knowledge, limited in our abilities to understand things beyond our currently-accessible frames of reference…

But just because we cannot access Divine wisdom, does not mean it does not exist.

One of my favourite Muslim academics, Hamza Tzortis, says the following on the matter:

“This reasoning is typical of toddlers. Many children are scolded by their parents for something they want to do, such as eating too many sweets. The toddlers usually cry or have a tantrum because they think how bad mummy and daddy are, but the child does not realise that the wisdom underlying their objection (in this case, too many sweets are bad for their teeth). Furthermore, this contention misunderstands the definition and nature of God. Since God is transcendent, knowing and wise, then it logically follows that limited human beings cannot fully comprehend the Divine will. To even suggest that we can appreciate the totality of God’s wisdom would mean that we are like God, which denies the fact of His transcendence, or implies that God is limited like a human. This argument has no traction with any believer, because no Muslim believes in a created, limited God. It is not an intellectual cop-out to refer to Divine wisdom, because it is not referring to some mysterious unknown. Rather, it truly understands the nature of God and makes the necessary logical conclusions. As I have pointed out before, God has the picture, and we have just a pixel.”

Although I empathise with their concern and anguish at the suffering inflicted on fellow sentient beings, some atheists suffer from a veiled type of egocentrism. This means they make special effort not to see the world from any perspective other than through their own eyes. However, in doing so, they commit a type of emotional—or spiritual—fallacy. They anthropomorphise God and turn Him into a limited man. They assume that God must see things the way we see things, and therefore He should stop the evil. If He allows it to continue, He must be questioned and rejected.

I would truly recommend that you read the rest of this article (entitled, ‘Is God Merciful? Islam’s Response to Evil and Suffering’) here.

On the topic of murders and genocides, we do not believe at all that people simply ‘get away with’ these things. These yearnings for justice that we human beings tend to have: they will be satisfied, eventually!

From an atheistic, Darwinian perspective, however, these justice-related inclinations are not very meaningful at all. For instance, if a woman were raped and then forced to carry a resulting baby to term, under this perspective, the ultimate objective of reproduction is being met. So what is it, within us, that makes us vehemently object to such things? It is a higher sense of Justice, surely.

Next, on what you were saying about doing ‘good for the sake of God’. Without God, the truth is, people do things in line with their own personal whims and fancies. There is nothing, under atheism, to morally distinguish between the ‘value’ of things that are done out of empathy, or things done out of, say, greed. Why? Because there is no objective morality. So we respond to our own personal instincts, which atheists tend to believe is for the ultimate purpose of self-preservation, survival of the fittest, reproduction.

The Muslim view is that we cannot rely on our own inner instincts and desires for us to behave morally – because some of these instincts will be moral; others will not. There is a clear distinction, but only religion can give this distinction any actual meaning. We believe that our highest connections are not to ourselves and to the matter of our own pleasure and preservation: our highest connection is the one we maintain with our Creator. So even on the days when we don’t ‘feel like’ (i.e. our inner instincts do not push us towards) doing good, we should endeavour to ‘do good’ regardless.

And on what you said about ‘evil [just being objectively] evil’. How does atheism seek to justify this, I ask you?

Religion – Islam, at least – certainly does not detract from our abilities to appreciate this world, nor does it, at all, discourage us from helping others in the ‘here and now’. Quite the opposite, actually: we are constantly encouraged to reflect on the world, on the beauty of God’s creation. We are taught to be grateful, kind, and more. And we are incentivised by our religion to not be self-serving, but to serve the people.

And from these facts – the Islamic instructions that we are to a) reflect upon, explore, and bask in the wonders of God’s creations, and b) that we improve the lives of others, much intellectual and societal beauty did arise. The first hospital that served ill people – wealthy and impoverished alike – for instance, was established in the 8th Century, in Damascus. Many of the developments and discoveries that emerged during the Islamic Golden Age were inspired by these very Qur’anic and Prophetic instructions.

Finally, homophobia and LGBT considerations may be something I touch upon in a future article, Insha-Allah (God-Willing)!

Please do let me know if you have any more questions and/or contentions…

Sincerely,

 

Sadia

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

In Anticipation of Ramadān…

Come, Ramadān, and welcome. Oh, how we have missed you. Month of mercy; month of peace; month in which blessings fall like heavy redemptive rainfall. Come, Ramadān, and hurry. 

Ramadān is the best time – a wonderful and unique opportunity – in which to renew oneself. Spiritually, and physically, and in terms of all our emotional attachments and stresses. In this month, we are truly reminded of what our purposes are, here, and of the realities of this life. Fasting brings about mental clarity; it quells certain spiritual ailments, such as our inclinations towards gluttony as well as our more carnal desires. And Ramadān is a great time to contemplate, and to truly and deeply ask of ourselves: who am I? What are my faults? And how can I be better? Ramadān is an ideal time in which to convert restlessness into peace; deep worldly attachments that weigh heavy on the heart, into spiritual beauty and lightnesses; all past regrets and mistakes into contentment and positive action.

Truly blessed is he or she who makes the most of this holy month: spending time at the mosque, studying for upcoming exams there, perhaps, and then getting up every so often so as to enjoin in congregational prayers. Sharing Ifthar with others: there is so much Barakah in this. Those blissful little naps that we take throughout the day; the anticipatory hour before the breaking of the fast; that first gulp of crisp cold water as soon as the time arrives…

Roughly thirty days, characterised by sacrifices, and hunger, and a widespread atmospheric stillness, and by a potent potential for powerful self-development. Love, and community, and charity. The most splendid nights experienced after Tarawih prayers – when the floodgates of the mosque open, and when worshippers ooze out onto warmly-lit streets like molasses.

Come, Ramadān, and hurry. Our souls, right now, are in dire need of you. We find ourselves down here, stargazing, and thinking of you, and eagerly awaiting the first signs of your moon…

New Ramadān, New Moon, New You. Bismillah.

5 Ramadan Hacks to Improve Your Fasting Experience

This article is dedicated to my fellow Muslim readers who are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. Below, I have compiled a list of five useful hacks to better your Ramadan experience, especially as we approach the last ten days- the most blessed segment of the month. 


1) Have porridge and watermelon for Suhoor:

This hack is immensely beneficial. For Suhoor, I usually have a bowl of porridge, followed by a handful of berries and a few slices of watermelon. I then take two iron supplements with two glasses of water. Porridge has numerous benefits; it sustains me throughout the day, as it is very filling, and (being an excellent source of carbohydrates) releases bouts of energy throughout the day, thus ensuring continued optimal brain activity. Watermelon has similar benefits. This particular fruit is extremely hydrating, as 92% of it is water.

2) Set an alarm for each prayer:

Aim to pray on time; set an alarm for each prayer on your phone. You can even customise the sound to make the Adhan play for each prayer. After Salah, read a few pages of the Qur’an. Bear in mind that during this holy month, the rewards for each good deed are multiplied by 70- do not waste this opportunity!

3) Alter your timetable:

Daily life does not simply stop for Ramadan. We are still expected to work, sit exams and carry on with life as usual. That being said, due to Taraweeh, Suhoor and Tahajjud prayers, even the best of us can become sleep deprived during this time. Sleep deprivation has numerous detrimental effects on health, so should be avoided at all costs. The average human being requires approximately seven hours of sleep per night, but this can be divided into portions. During Ramadan, it is a good idea to have a long nap after Zuhr (i.e. after school), work at a leisurely pace between Asr and Maghrib, then carry on working until Fajr.

4) Make a good deed checklist:

Ramadan is, by far, the best time of the year to rack up on good deeds. To ensure that you use this time wisely, why not make a good deed checklist? After Fajr, make a list of good deeds you can do throughout the day. These can include smiling at people, helping an elderly person, giving charity and learning more about the faith by studying Hadiths.

5) Do Wudhu with cold water:

Going for hours on end without any renewed sources of energy can result in fatigue and lack of productivity, but this does not have to be the case. Cold water is a very effective way to wake you up, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be drunk in order to do so. Washing your face, forearms and other body parts with cold water during Wudhu can stimulate blood flow and wake you up instantly.

I hope these hacks will prove useful for you, and I pray that you enjoy and benefit from these last ten days as much as possible.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016