The Greatest Power

Green hummingbirdAmid the horrific headlines bringing distress over Syria, continued subjugation of the Palestinians, vituperation and bullying of immigrants and minorities, and environmental and economic dangers, it is time to acknowledge the greatest power in the universe.

Recently returned from Costa Rica, one of my children shared divinely inspired photos and videos of their adventures to the Pacific Ocean, Arenal Volcano, and the cloud forest of Monteverde. Awareness of the vitality in nature struck a contrast to the fragile, artificial urban environment we call home. The disconnect with the greatest power in the universe has led to greed, arrogance, violence, despair, and predatory injustice. Many people are drowning in depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and mind numbing pastimes in order to cope.

As the NFL draft picks are taking place in Chicago, my husband noted the high degree of commercialization and profiteering he has witnessed. It is with apperception that I find parallels with ancient Rome when corrupt aristocrats led the ignorant and impoverished people to be placated with bread and gladiator events, which were meant to quell potential rebellions. We are being “entertained” so as to not rebel against the sources of our distress, and “others” are being cast as scapegoats to account for the common man’s plights.

Such contrasts are apparent. We try to educate to promote critical thinking; yet, our media feeds us predigested sound bytes and program our expressions. Several pop celebrities debase humanity’s morals and seduce us with false confectionary-like goals of fame, fortune, and public affection. The majority of presidential candidates offer us two-faced lies and demonstrate ill manners with aplomb, while we educators try to promote virtues like honesty, mutual respect, fair play, and honor. It is vexing how convoluted society’s values have become since my youth. Yet, with reference to history, I am not optimistic, but I seek refuge from the greatest power in the universe.

This power has given us capacity to decide and act, and I choose to resist by exemplifying virtue, reliance on my own senses, prayer, and diligence to keep aware of corrupting influences for myself and my family. I believe that if we work as a tribe for goodness, regardless of nationality, religion, or other polarizing divisions, we have a chance to live on our own terms as one identity-Humanity.

“The truth has arrived, and falsehood will vanish, for falsehood always vanishes!”               –Al Isra’, (The Night Journey, 17:81).

First Snow and Family

IMG_1529 First Snow and Family
When the first snow of the season arrives, we pause to take in the beauty, and reflect on happy memories; then we remember how much we dread driving, shoveling, and tramping through its aftermath

I realized my kids were adults when they too matched my pattern of thinking. Now that the long driveway is shoveled, I recognize another habit of mind. It is gratitude for a warm house and someone to share it with, ample food, indoor plumbing-even though the water is initially very cold now—and appropriate clothing for this weather. My mind wanders to refugees and homeless folk who are suffering from the elements and so much more.

The world has been in a frenzy, which rose to an especially high pitch with events in Beirut and Paris, and my work has been cathartic and distracting me from depression over blatant hatred, ignorance, and violence. I’ve been immersed in research, editing, writing proposals, working on websites for a variety of clients in business and education sectors.

This snow made me pause, regroup, reflect, and commit to getting the people in my life back to top priority status. I feel bad to have had to delay visiting a small relative to celebrate a birthday, but first I need to schedule some parent time with my husband and our children because like the first snow, they don’t last for long.

The Ferry Pilgrimage

IMG_1355 Following a hot (literally) and happy time with extended family in Amman, Jordan this August, I relished a reuniting of our own children and their significants at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It has long been our favorite sanctuary for over 30 years, and we consider it our family’s mecca because it offers the best hiking anywhere around the mid-west, in our estimate. With 500 foot bluffs, and a mile long lake which restricts motor craft, we longed to return this past weekend after the Labor Day crowds evaporated and we could revel in nearly exclusive ownership of its charm.

Leaving Illinois gives relief, as we notably live in what has become termed the most stressful city in the country. But we elate when along our route we take the free ferry over the Wisconsin River at Lodi. The ferry crossing is brief, as it holds only 16 cars and traverses to the other shore in less than 10 minutes. Waiting for the ferry lends us time to breathe and enjoy the view of water and greenery. Sometimes we see folks fishing, we check out their motorcycles or bicycles, and we tend to see people dressed in casual gear from all walks of life. Yet, everyone seems to have appreciation for leisure, and we anticipate hiking, swimming, campfires and laughter. Old times are shared and new stories are generated.

Another aspect of our trips is that no matter what our accommodations, whether they are tents, cabins, or motels, we have always found decent, friendly, and welcoming people. Over the years, we have lent or borrowed access to other’s charcoals, water toys, volleyballs, and have felt safe to leave camping gear unattended while we enjoy the trails. There exists an unwritten honor system which I hope will always be, even for future generations.

I have succeeded in cultivating an appreciation for witnessing the genius of creation and healing power of nature in my own family. I trust my progeny will transfer that into theirs.

We cross the ferry to return home; as the sun sets, the magic fades and reality returns. But we have the memories…

Choosing Heaven or Choosing Hell

Quote

photo 4 With my middle son’s return from Italy, where he toured this summer as an English language camp tutor, and daughter’s beautiful wedding day stresses resolved, I picked up The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis for a brief leisurely read. Don’t construe anything by the title; all is well on all fronts, but my son happened to spend some time in Narni, where Lewis derived his title for The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to peruse this book which was required reading for my youngest son’s recent English course.

Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. ~C.S. Lewis

This quote caused me to pause my reading and finally stop the endless chase of to-do’s in order to write. I have to admit that nearly every day I think of writing on so many topics and observations; but with my mind always thinking of the next (you insert the number) things to do, I have not taken the time to record my thoughts until now.

Passion, expectations, conflicting cultural protocols, and a sense of being victimized by a grave injustice has flared much discussion and analysis within my household. And although I feel we are nearly at a point of resolution, I have pondered and taught my family that when bad things happen we should look for the good.

I believe, based on long-term observation, this to be true. Yet while C.S. Lewis may be accurate that evil its self cannot be good and that time does not make the wrong right, I have found that good can still grow from what evil has seemingly destroyed.

We humans have a fitrah, a primordial directive that expresses itself through acknowledgement of the Creator. We have potential to be the best that humanity can aspire to, and we also have the prospect of being the worst of creations. However, the capacities of free-will and intellect can differentiate us from other creations and give us the ability to choose our response to threats and injustices. It is in how we respond that we find who we really are, and evil gives us the path to perdition or Paradise. For now, I’ll seek peace and tranquility within my book so that I don’t lose my soul.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell ~C.S. Lewis

My Ramadan

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

photo credit: Travelwide-Alamy

My Ramadan

Certainly Muslims from diverse cultures bring characteristics from their upbringing to Ramadan, and nowhere is that more apparent than in America. We find some communities segregated to mingle within their own identified culture, and others truly blend several traditions into unique experiences.

For me, however, although I appreciate the expression of tradition and culture, my Ramadan is mostly a solitary journey of reflection, connection, and renewal.

The fast entails not eating nor drinking in my locale for roughly seventeen hours this year; that means 3:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Mercifully, the weather has featured a cool summer with frequent rain, so that even on the recent longest day of the year it was not as arduous as one may assume. That is, in my opinion, one of the curious aspects of Ramadan. Engaging in the rituals of extra prayers and sleeping odd hours is perceived as a gentle way of cleansing the body of toxins, healing and fortifying the nervous system and internal organs, and drawing closer to the Creator. Fasting also is about refraining from smoking, chewing gum, and intimacy from dawn till sunset, and one should be mindful to not gossip, or lose one’s temper. I don’t participate in some of those anyway, and I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Exemptions from fasting are permitted in the case of pregnancy, nursing infants, traveling, and menses; again, some apply to me and others not. Yet curiously, I have noted that when making up for those days, when I have been legitimately exempt, seems more difficult when it is no longer Ramadan. Somehow, the perception of Time changes in this month.

I sleep at 11:00 p.m. and wake for a middle of the night meal called suhoor some nights, but lately I might be awake until after the dawn prayer and sleep at 4:00 a.m. Lucky for me, I have my own flexible business hours and can nap if my energy flags in the afternoon.

The topsy-turvy schedules, viewing scenes of Mecca, and reading extra pages of The Holy Quran bring a clarity and closeness to my Creator. I have found the capacity to catch up on tasks, domestic, personal, and business related so that my life is in better order. It is the perfect “Stay-cation.”

Once I have settled my priorities, made progress in projects, and deepened my commitments to future plans, solidly convinced that I am on course, I find my communication to Allah galvanized. And when comes the 29th or 30th day of Ramadan, there is a melancholy sense of missing usual favored routines—like breakfast with coffee, bicycling, golf, getting a workout in the sun followed by a cool drink—contrasted by the realization that when Ramadan is over, we somehow lose the glow. The hand-hold of God and His scaffolding of protection somehow slips away.

Too many times while trying to discern if the crescent moon, signaling the end of Ramadan, has been sighted, we can literally sense it is gone. Someone starts a fight, the tensions ramp up again, our patience is less than before. It is explained that Allah chains the Devil or Shaitan in the month of Ramadan, and one gets the feeling that he has been let loose again.

Yet, we realize that if we have used the month to fortify ourselves, we have gained many blessings and have strengthened our own self discipline. My Ramadan brings me back to heal my body, mind, and soul. It is a gift, I wish everyone to cherish it as I do. One finds numerous facets of self discovery and awareness on this journey.

–Haroon al-Rasheed, the 5th caliph, stated on his deathbed, “All the wealth that I had is nothing, and all the power that I had is nothing. Oh God, You are the One whose power never goes away. Have mercy on those whose power leaves.

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Misty

Misty

Hangin’ On Through Ups and Downs

Crazy, never boring, always challenging…these are apt descriptors of life with my family. Especially as my children become adults, my empathy seems to magnify in amplitude. Each has their own set of dramas, and with gravely sad news of deaths of people connected to my acquaintances, I find solace in reading the Qur’an. Of particular timeliness was today’s surah Al-Jathiya, of which I did not recall its meaning, so I read it silently in English before attempting my practice aloud in Arabic. Coincidentally—or not—came the welcome news that another acquaintance had received a legal reprieve that is most fortuitous.

I’d mentioned dramas…one is getting married, another is going to Italy for the summer, one is worried about health issues, and another is hoping to graduate early, yet has much coursework to complete without definite future plans. Oh, and we’re between visits of overseas relatives for a short spell, so we are getting a new roof. When the dumpster comes to do that, we hope to purge the house of 19 years worth of clutter so that we can sell it, hopefully.

Actually, that roof job was scheduled for this weekend, but the forecast of rain has it rescheduled so that we can have more time and flexibility to fete my youngest who is about to cross his 18th milestone in life. That is, he is my youngest child, for we have recently acquired a new member to our family, a bearded dragon, as in lizard, named Misty.

I suppose I’ve been a sucker for feeling badly that my son finds his siblings all moving out of our home in close succession, and so a pet seems to compensate some for that void. Now I get to start each day with initiating the heating lamp and find myself feeding collard greens, crickets, and wax worms by hand to this companion while I write curriculum and work on various projects from home. In a weird way, she’s kind of cute, and I never thought I would ever take a liking, much less own, a lizard. However, one of the benefits of having her is that we are selling my son’s video games to pay for her; therefore, I have started to declutter the house. Next, will be separation from years old clothes.

A friend shared a video with me about Marie Kondo, author of
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
The gist of it is that we pile and sort each item, while holding it in our hands, to introspect if it gives us a “Spark Joy” feeling. I’m willing to try it for I really must be aggressive in lightening my load in anticipation that I may be anywhere within the next year, as we have no solid direction about where to relocate. We just have that sense that it is time to unload the house, be flexible and free to go. We may stay in the area in a townhome until our kids are more stable, but at least for winters a Mediterranean climate sounds divine!

Reminders about our age keep surfacing; and although we enjoy good health now, the efforts toward organic, gluten-free, minimizing sugars, and increasing exercise are becoming more heightened in our thoughts. Moderating stress, getting enough sleep, and reducing inflammation are all part of our goals that will play into the decision about where to go next. Because while reading Qur’an may assuage my mind and soul, I still have to be aware of what the ups and downs in life are doing to my body. A votre sante!

Muslim Women’s Alliance-Celebration of the Muslim Woman

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With Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen

 

Each year the Muslim Women’s Alliance (MWA) luncheon hails the we’re almost there emergence of springtime with a sold-out gathering of 500 diverse Muslim women in Chicagoland. It attracts women from daughters to grandmothers and from a multitude of ethnicities, which is characteristic of Islam. They come to get reconnected after winter’s cabin fever, network, and celebrate accomplishments of their own cadre.

This year featured three award winners whose contributions to society were made public. Dorothy Habibah Collins, Founder of Sisters Nurturing Sisters, a non-profit that offers transitional and permanent housing on Chicago’s South-side, described her own start with sincerely wanting to help a woman and child who only earned about $300 each month and were having to set up their sleeping arrangements in a public park. She felt awful to not be able to do more than offer encouragement, but it galvanized her desire to do more for other women who she would help through her organization.

Another winner was Um Serage Rahima, the loving Prinicipal of Al-Siddiq Weekend School for over 20 years. She warmly related the gratification she feels when former students now enroll their children in her school, and she teaches classes in mosques and homes all around the city and suburbs. A life-long learning of several topics in Islam, she is certified in Quranic recitation and is a resource for many.

The final recipient of the MWA award is Joohi Tahir, who has had a successful corporate career in sales and marketing for over 20 years and is the mother of a 13 year old daughter with Autism. In her story, she related the challenges faced by many in the Muslim community, and she recently went into the non-profit world as Executive Director of Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education Needs (MUHSEN). Her organization seeks to create awareness, build programs, and provide much needed services across America that will strive for inclusion of all members of the Muslim community. Their first fundraising banquet is this Saturday, March 7th in Garland, Texas.

MWA awards scholarships, provides events every month, and is actively seeking volunteers to empower, support, engage, and build leadership and community service by women. Embodying the spirit of a woman who humbly sought to do something in the interest of social justice, the keynote speaker was Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, she is a Brooklyn-based activist who is gaining much publicity nationally for her accomplishments.

Sarsour spoke of the day she realized that she, a mother of teenagers, could make an impact. She simply helped someone for whom she felt she should offer assistance, and the effect raised her consciousness to learn that simply doing a little something can have a major boost to help someone who could not help themselves.

During the luncheon, the attendees were reminded of the many names and headlines from this past year that have born introspection about injustice and feelings of helplessness. Sarsour struck a note with the crowd when she related that upon learning of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, she hopped a plane to see for herself what was reality. She shared several observations, but among them was one that again jolted a revelation. When the protesters were bombarded by police with tear gas, Palestinians in Gaza were Tweeting about how to deal with tear gas attacks. The connection and desire felt from a subjugated population who sought to help Americans was astounding. It was from this that Sarsour cited that no matter how small we think we are, we must speak up. Together, we are a significant power that can bring positive results.

She reminded the audience that politicians are supposed to work FOR THE PEOPLE. The People have a responsibility to engage in dialogue and qualify their representation. That is America. We have to speak up to pave a better future for our children. We have to engage and contribute more to our communities. Give a little, for you never know how great that can be for someone today.