So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/so-why-should-i-fast-anyway-1.1850796

dates iftar

The clock strikes four and I gulp down the water quickly. I hear the distant call of the Fajr (dawn) prayer and realise that for the next 15 hours, I can neither eat nor drink anything. I think warily of the fact that the girls have school almost half this Ramadan and pick-ups must be braved in the searing heat. It’s not the food I mind giving up, I say grudgingly to myself, it’s the water and the caffeine — and the sleep that gets interrupted when I wake up to eat the pre-dawn meal. I’m a grouch early in the morning and the idea of not being able to get a long lie-in irks me.

“Why must I fast anyway?” I ask myself in a moment of restless, bleary-eyed grumpiness. There’s a voice inside me that tells me to come to my senses, but another stronger voice pipes up, “Because everyone fasts during Ramadan”. I complete the Fajr prayer lazily and throw dirty looks at the clock that just doesn’t seem to move on. As the day wears on, my mood thankfully improves, much to the relief of my family. The conscience is uncomfortably guilty as I question myself again, this time wide-awake and pleasant enough — why, at any rate, do we fast in Ramadan?

The obvious answer of course would be that because Allah commanded us in the Quran to do so. He also told us that He intends ease for us and not difficulty, and that those who are unable to fast due to reasons such as ill-health, travelling and child birth are exempt from doing so. There is also great reward in paradise for those who fast. Just that should be enough for someone of sound faith to want to fast, but I want to delve deeper into this question.

Let me, for starters, examine my relationship with God. When things are going well, I don’t really talk to Him much. I pray mechanically, almost like I just want to tick off a task in my day. But when the going gets tough, I earnestly talk to Him, in the darkness of the night and during the day when no one but Him understands my whispered pleas. When I feel inadequate, unable to do everything that’s expected of me, I reach out to Him and tell Him everything, safe in the knowledge that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that He, alone will not judge me.

One thing about people is that they’re quick to judge you. Say, a woman might be having an illicit affair and people would condemn her for being a two-faced hypocrite, but the only One who knows her full story and still has the door of mercy and forgiveness open for her is Allah. When you’re in the wrong — say things you dearly regret and actions that you’d give anything to eradicate — Allah is the One and only who understands you and still loves you and appreciates the fact that you came back and said sorry. Just the thought is emancipating.

Another beautiful thing about this relationship is that Allah knows me better than anyone, imperfections and all. He still loves me and listens to me every time I need to talk — no matter even if it is too trivial and I can be myself. He takes care of my requests, provided I ask like I really mean them. Even while I prayed and fasted like it was a chore, He continued to bless me with every passing day with gifts such as a functioning body, my family and countless other things.

I feel like a very selfish person — all I seem to care about is MY comfort, MY coffee and MY entertainment. I feel shallow, insincere — but one thing I do not feel is despair, because I know that the moment I reciprocate the love He shows me, Allah will give me another chance.

Outward signs of practising religion are indeed a part of it, but the actions are weightless if the conviction of faith isn’t behind them. I reflect upon the fact that I have this One friend that I have counted on in every moment of need and found Him to be true and incredibly caring and merciful. He continues to love me despite the fact that I mess up way too often. The more I know Him, the more thankful I am to Him and the more I want to show Him my love and devotion too. From hereon, I will fast because I want to, because He said so, because it is a privilege to be able to worship Him in the way He wants me to.

Detoxing the body and soul this Ramadan

ramadanguest

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/detoxing-the-body-and-soul-this-ramadan-1.1538896

Published: 15:28 June 22, 2015

When the starting day of Ramadan was confirmed, my heart skipped a beat as I welcomed my favourite time of the year, grateful to be alive to experience it again. Memories of last Ramadan came flooding back to me when I was lumbering around with swollen feet, nine months pregnant, desperately wanting the baby to finally arrive. As the month ends, she will turn one, and because not all of us shed baby weight as easily as Kate Middleton, I am looking to detoxify the body and hopefully shed a few pounds in the process. But what’s much more important is cleansing the soul.

Life for each one of us is a blend of wonderful, rejuvenating experiences and ugly, forgettable incidents. The amazing human mind stores all of these events pretty efficiently — our mind is like a large castle with many rooms, alleyways and courtyards. The negative memories, those painful incidents that we would like to forget, we unconsciously dump in a room in the posterior wing of this castle and keep the door firmly shut. Yet those experiences live within us, and the lingering hurt remains. Adverse experiences are a part of life, and indeed we would not value happiness and peace as much as we do were it not for the occasional jolts that life gives us. There are some of us who are able to brush off every negative experience nonchalantly and go about our merry ways.

But there are those who have a hard time letting go and accepting reality. As for me, my personality can be painfully analytical and critical, especially of my own self. I am prone to thinking things through, dissecting them to death trying to figure out why they happened. There’s always a desperate struggle to “get it right” that has defined my life, the feeling that if only I had done this or that, things might have been different. Now the time has come when I want to, consciously, let go.

For every relationship in life that didn’t work out, for every time I have felt dejected, and for each instance in which I have failed, I have frantically tried (in my head) to hold myself, or others, responsible. While introspection and soul searching is generally a good thing, and has helped me on many occasions, there is such a thing as too much of it. There’s a certain calmness and profundity about accepting things the way they are, acknowledging them as they stand today without beating yourself up about it, and without secretly blaming someone else, either.

A month of positivity

To me, this blessed month has always rekindled hope and brought positivity, and this year comes with me needing a fresh perspective on things perhaps more than before. In the last ten nights of Ramadan I will be looking for the genuine contentment that comes only from the belief that every experience that you went through was destined for you.

And that even though it may not seem so, in the grand scheme of things it was somehow the best thing that could have happened to you. Truly having faith that every challenge in life has positive connotations and consequences — no matter how contrary it may seem — is wonderfully liberating. I will take this opportunity to share a beautiful line from the Quran: “But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:216).

Even though tough times test us and bring us pain they do form an integral part of our life experience, and we are the better for them. True happiness and healing is in learning to be truly thankful for them. Moreover, we tend to dwell on the little hills that are our problems in life — and each one of us has those. But in the process we ignore the mountains of blessings that have been bestowed upon us. This Ramadan I want to give genuine thanks for every gift my Creator has given me that I have neither acknowledged nor been grateful for. It is a time to connect with Him with a certainty that every time we call out to Him, He listens.

As the sweetness of the imam’s recitation during taraweeh prayers warms my heart, I feel that distinct Ramadan feeling, an inexplicable joy that can’t be put into words. Here’s hoping that this Ramadan will be better than the ones gone by, and that I am able to savour every moment of this month that slips by too quickly, leaving us to wonder whether we did in fact make the most of it.

Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?

favours of your lord

I look up in wonder at the sky,

I want to connect and I want to say so much,

I want to say sorry and I want to give thanks,

Words fail me my Lord; I somehow go blank.

 

My own silliness and my own mistakes line up before me,

All too obvious in hindsight, ironically,

Incredulous, I know how You still didn’t let me fall,

Oh Allah, You listened even when I was unable to call.

 

I made promises, and I vowed to mend my ways,

I broke my word countless times, but to You is all praise,

You didn’t judge me – you dealt with mercy and with love,

A love so complete, so powerful, that I am unworthy of.

 

You bless me my Rabb, with every passing moment,

I while away this wonderful gift of life in thankless enjoyment,

A discomfort so deep nestles within my humiliated heart,

I’ve taken things for granted and I haven’t played my part.

 

But does it matter ya Allah, if I say sorry yet another time?

Is there a way to fully convey the ghastliness of my crimes?

Is there a way to turn back, when I know I’ve ventured too far out?

Allah I know You understand the profound embarrassment that I speak about.

 

But I talk to You this day with hope and with yearning,

Knowing that to the Most Forgiving, Most Merciful I am turning,

Who forgives, forgets, cleanses me, even when I’m wrong, so wrong,

Please hold me once more Ya Allah — to You I belong.

 

I’ve messed up time and again, and I’ve not amended myself,

Yet there’s no despair in Your mercy, You said so Yourself,

I need miracles, I need more chances, and I need Your helping hand,

Mercy that befits You my Lord, indeed You are grand!

 

Don’t let me down, don’t let me turn astray,

Why I am unable to bend and why is it that I cannot pray?

I call on You in humility, defeated, undone by my own madness,

Still holding on to the ultimate hope of Your greatness.

 

My Lord words fail me again everything seems inadequate,

But You comprehend what lies beneath my tears, unstoppable and adamant,

I’ll leave it at that, Wallahu Aleemum Bi Dhaat is Sudoor,

My heart, and all its dirt and blackness — awaits your dazzling Noor.

Why we sometimes act mean (sequel to the last post)

Ok, first things first. A rant is a rant (my last blog was a rant) and may not be taken in the literal sense. This one however is (hopefully) a level-headed blog, and I hope to write something worthwhile, Insha Allah. I had no business judging anyone or calling them mean. My bad. Sorry. Mean it.

Mostly ‘cause at many points in life, I’ve been a completely unbearable, unpalatable human being, who would, in anyone’s book, qualify as “mean” so it all goes horribly wrong when I start sounding holier-than-thou and like I’m some kind of saint. I was mad, and I was hurt. So the blog was a way of therapy, get it? That doesn’t make it right, though. I know I have some wonderful loyal readers and followers and I don’t want them to run away now, do I? 😉

I’ve been feeling so guilty since I wrote that last blog. This one’s been brewing in my mind all this time, but I did not have the time to write it. Crazy weekends, you know? So if we look into people’s behaviours, there are usually a number of factors controlling them. Let’s get to the days when I become a monster. I’m deliberately using myself as the example so I can freakin’ get off my high horse (I’m sure that’s what it seems to many, but on that day, I was pretty mad).

I may be PMSing, something huuuge may be on my mind that I can’t even share, or maybe someone just made a thoroughly disparaging remark about my personality, my weight, my family, or all. Or maybe something that completely shamed and embarrassed me happened (May Allah protect me from it all, Ameen). So if I get annoying, would I like it if people judged me? NO!

image via source

If I call anyone a bitch I am in effect judging them. I HATE judgemental people. I don’t wanna be one of them. I slipped up. We all do. I just feel like I shouldn’t have shared the toxic thought on my blog, because I know people are reading. Ugh.

We need to put ourselves in the others shoes. More often than not, their behaviour will seem legit. And hey, isn’t it a test of love? We need to feel what they’re feeling, we need to be empathetic, and we need to stop writing blogs when we’re mad. Enough said.

-Mehmudah

Image via source

Which night? Can’t really be sure! Let’s redouble our efforts!

As Ramadan creeps away, I know just one thing… we can’t really ever be sure about things like Laylatul Qadr…. Different for different time zones, very ambiguous, can’t really say whether we have rays or not! Which means only one thing — lets redouble our efforts for the last moments of Ramadan!

You never really know about stuff like Al Qadr do you? What if 27th Ramadan is a rayless sunrise in some parts of the world? What if the 25th looked this way because of the clouds? Then if God Forbid, I haven’t spent the real Laylatul Qadr night in the right way, I know I’m going to feel like the biggest loser EVER! May Allah guide us, Ameen.

Guys, its Ramadan slipping away. Make the most of it. It could be the change your life (and mine!) needs. And for now, at least, I am removing the sunrise pictures from my blog. Hope you understand.

-Mehmudah

Scroll below for some pearls of wisdom on this whole sunrise thing… thanks to the Shaykh

Dua for Laylatul Qadr

Dua for Laylatul Qadr: Allahumma Innaka Afuun, Tuhibbul Afwa, Fa’fu Anni

Let’s not worry about the sun… and worry about our sins!

By Shaykh Abu Eesa

Just a quick note but signs or ‘alamaat or their amaarah are signs. That’s all. It doesn’t necessitate the kind of sun-spotting culture that we’ve seen develop recently. We have nothing from the Salaf to suggest such actions and it amazes me that people would think that our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who locked himself in the Masjid for these ten nights was busying himself outside trying to justify to himself what just happened when his actions showed everything to the contrary. The Night is *sought* not by looking at the signs but by increasing in ‘ibadah throughout the nights. ALL the nights, as I explained in my lecture previously.

Also people really don’t have a clue what they’re looking for. In cities, with light pollution, never looked at the Sun before until that night and suddenly becoming an expert on its rays, using a plethora of different cameras which all have various lenses and filters which affect the picture you see etc etc. This is not how our Deen works. It works on effort. Follow. The. Sunnah. We don’t have a single report of our forefathers getting publicly excited by what might have happened the night before. Instead we saw them more and more determined to keep at it.

Also you are opening a door which shouldn’t be opened in front of the basic masses. Your Sun looks great, but what about mine? It’s thunder there and I’m sunning it here. I feel terrible and restless (was that a lack of sleep?) and you’re feeling so chilled and relaxed in your city (you would if you slept all day!). So it was Laylat’l-Qadr for you, and not for me? Have you seen when folks started asking such questions to those who spread this new culture, there’s silence. Why? Because they don’t have an answer. This is not the Sunnah and anything which is not the Sunnah will always cause more confusion and depression than actually following the Sunnah. Some things are just meant to be read, believed in and move on. We know that Allah jalla wa ‘ala descends from above His throne every last part of the night. My night or your night? 24 hr descending? The Sun makes Sajdah every day, that’s why we don’t see it. Making Sajdah all the time then, because it is always absent somewhere in the world? And when we see it, is it not making Sajdah? Laylat’l-Qadr signs are there for you and not for me. Does it change? There are different days the Qadr is decreed even though the emphasis is clearly on one moment?

This is what happens when you don’t follow the Sunnah. We believe in all of the above. We hear and we obey. We read, listen, believe and then act upon them like the Prophet did. And just to finish, ask yourself have any of the Ahl’l-‘Ilm (the People of Knowledge, the major scholars) promote such actions or a culture. Of course not.

Anyway, like I said above. This is not the action of the Sunnah. I didn’t say it was haram. Folks wanna chill, let them chill. I’m just saying this sort of culture does not befit practising Muslims or students of knowledge. And they all know deep down exactly why. That’s all. No biggie. Kinda.

Allahu a’lam.

Ramadan Diaries: A very scary incident (Reader discretion is advised)

It was a soothing moment. I had just got up after praying, and a smile played on my lips. I took a deep breath. I felt cleansed, lighter, contended somehow. It was the twenty-first night of Ramadan and I was trying to make it count.

Have you ever felt a little bit smug about your Qiyam al Layl? A little like, oh, at least I’m up! Not to disclose my sins or anything, but astaghfirullahil Azeem, I know I have. It’s an essential point in the story and I can’t avoid it, even if I try.

So as I took a break from ‘Ibadah, and leaned back on the couch, my legs stretched out on it, I tried to read some durood. I was half awake and half asleep. The room was dark, and the window was open. I could hear the stillness outside. There was so much peace, Subhan Allah.

And just like that it was time to go. Yes, the end. I mean it. Was it a dream? Was it reality? Whatever it was, it scares the living daylights out of me. I am not making this up, okay? Don’t believe me if you don’t want to – I know what happened was real.

Something – and I can’t even quite describe it came near me. Was it the angel of death? It was scary looking. In those very moments of peace, it appeared out of nowhere, thoroughly uninvited. I hurled my arms at it – but Allahu Akbar my arms felt constricted, like I couldn’t even push it away. Oh no, no please, no, I screamed. Except the voice didn’t come out.

No, no please I begged. My mouth was not saying the words, the angel of death (or whatever it was) was reaching out towards me. In those few moments, my life, and the sheer hollowness of it, played in front of my eyes like a nightmare.

What did I have to die without regret? Only a few moments ago I was so smug about my Qiyam al Layl! This incident put things into perspective, and how! A shiver runs down my spine even as I remember the utter desperation of that moment.

Regret, utter yearning for another chance, one more go, please, please. I have nothing to show, I want to turn away from the being that now covers my existence, yet I cannot move. I want to shirk; my face can surely not be shown to my Maker, I cannot die, not so soon, I think urgently to myself.

Time has gone still. I realize how hollow, how shallow my life has been. Woe be to me, woe be to me, I think to myself. I begin to wail – again, I do not have a voice. In the dark that had seemed so soothing only moments back, there is utter terror.

And just as soon as it had come, the moment passes. I breathe out. I feel my face, it was real. Or was it a dream? I switch on the lights and shiver.

And then I think. Is this how it’s going to be? It’s going to come, there’s no doubt, it’s clear as day – or in my case the night. Will I be so constricted, will I take so long, too long to realize I have nothing to show to Allah? That my every ‘ibadah was incomplete, baseless, and devoid of sincerity? And that my entire life was filled with useless entertainment that yielded no profit. I ate my fill without giving anyone, I selfishly lived in my own little bubble, and I did not learn the deen like it was my responsibility to. And if that is but a tiny glimpse of death, what’s the real deal like? Oh Allah, save me!

Life is a fickle friend. But Allah, You are Al-Afuu, you love to pardon, so pardon me, and everyone reading this, on this blessed night. May there be unlimited and infinite salutations, peace and blessings upon your beloved prophet (PBUH) and his family and his friends till the end of time. Oh Allah please, please, let death be a pleasant experience. Let it be

89:27
89:28
89:29
89:30
[To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul,
Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him],
And enter among My [righteous] servants
And enter My Paradise.”
Ameen, Ya Rabb.
(Quran via quran.com)

The Enlightened City, Al Madinatul Munawwarah

Ramadan is starting this evening, and I feel so seriously under-prepared! But I have faith it’s going to be okay, Insha Allah!

So we returned from a short Umrah trip just a couple of days back. This is a video comprising of the pics I was able to take there (remember, with kids and hajj-like rush, it wasn’t always possible). The song is a beautiful one about Madina by Dawud Wharnsby Ali.

Hope you enjoy the video!

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Ramadan Mubarak to all!