A Mindful & Productive Summer
What are you doing for self-improvement? I’m consumed by two fascinating courses that have the potential to literally change my brain. My work impacts improvement for Islamic schools and halal businesses, and now my repertoire includes research-based strategies for mindfulness, emotional intelligence, character development, and productivity. Define 360 has been on my radar for several years, as I was acquainted with the founders since we overlapped in our interests in education and business. I’m in the first cohort of the Character Coach Certificate Course, and it is truly rich and ambitious, reflecting the excellence of the international team that has designed it.
Meditation and multi-faceted nuances of the Self are in the curriculum and have become my daily practice. Added to this is a vast array of wisdom and quotes from a variety of sages. fMRI imaging has verified increased brain connectivity, and studies report better academic performance, increased focus, reduced anxiety, improved emotional control, reduced blood pressure, and a change in blood flow correlated to a more profound spiritual experience in prayer. I’m finding validation in my journey.
“The Productive Muslim” is a book I’d read a few years ago; but in bumping into its author, Mohammed Faris, recently in New York City, it resulted in me taking his Productive Muslim Masterclass online. I’ve found the 4th edition of his book to have even more research and resources than my previous edition. We have weekly assignments and experiments, and I must admit that the most significant life hack has been to eliminate most notifications from my phone. I’d never realized how often I’m distracted, and it took some adjusting to let it go. Another benefit, even though I’d known of it before, was to schedule blocks of focused work periods into my calendar and utilize scheduling software for my consulting calls. Mohammed also fortifies the research with gems from Islamic sources, of which the greatest is about our own mindset, motivation, and reason for existence. What is your Why? Do you think the work you do is truly a source of blessings?
Both courses feature mastermind accountability groups which have resulted in new friends from around the globe who share the passion for sincerely trying to improve ourselves.
Yet, the greatest evolution I have is that I’m juggling this, as well as practicing yoga, studying a little Spanish each day, completing a copywriting course, and adopting a year-long school project in northern California, with caring for my 4-month old grandson during work hours each week. These courses certainly have come at a fortuitous juncture in my life, as I juggle time, productivity, and cultivate him with my newly learned emotional intelligence and mindfulness insights.
Hopefully, your summer has been filled with growth and restorative fun! What do you want to learn about in the next term?
“Resurrection: Ertugrul,” also originally titled “Dirilis: Ertugrul,” is on Netflix. Filmed in the Turkish language with subtitles, it tells a historical rendering of feudal Turkey in the time of the Crusades. I’m not a scholar of Turkish history, but what I like about it is that it is not wretchedly sexualized, indecent, horrifically violent and depraved like “Game of Thrones,” which I discontinued after two seasons. I’d notice how disturbed, agitated, and unsettled I’d felt when watching G of T, but the twists in the tales tended to keep me curious until I just determined that it affected me, costing my peace, at the least.
The Turkish show, though not quite as twisted with multiple story threads, reveals a code of living that we don’t seem to have in many families and social institutions. It nicely demonstrates a life with religious values and customs which relate to Islam. For example, people ask permission to enter the homes of others. This was directly advised in the Qur’an.
“O you who have believed, let those whom your right hands possess and those who have not [yet] reached puberty among you ask permission of you [before entering] at three times: before the dawn prayer and when you put aside your clothing [for rest] at noon and after the night prayer. [These are] three times of privacy for you. There is no blame upon you nor upon them beyond these [periods], for they continually circulate among you – some of you, among others. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise.
And when the children among you reach puberty, let them ask permission [at all times] as those before them have done. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses; and Allah is Knowing and Wise.” – Quran 24:58-59
Another feature I noticed was the role of the bey’s (leader’s) wife, who wisely is the confidante and counsel to her husband. She has significant power and is intelligently aware, but her husband has the position of tribe leader. Other women too, are respected and use their voice in opinions and yet, they are protected, treasured, and valued for the work they do to contribute to the community. Coincidentally, it also features Cameron Diaz’s doppelganger!
Over my life, I have seen some changes in gender roles and in the lot given to American women; and while I do not advise to go back to 1950’s gender roles in the limits that women endured, I see an erosion of family values and vacuum in teaching good character and ethics. Many mothers are working so hard to provide for their families, that they have little time and energy left for personally guiding their kids and enjoying relationships with spouses and friends.
This brings me to another point about the impact of media.
While driving one of my sons (and his two cats) back to his apartment in the city, he shared an interesting perspective with me. He’d mentioned that it was considered “cool” to be rude and disrespectful to adults when he was a teen. Now he finds it incredible that I had the patience to endure his attitudes and antics.
Reflecting on the past, I do believe the Disney Channel, which we “cool” parents were held ransom to provide via cable TV, was culpable in the shift from what I’d modeled as a kid. My high level of TV consumption was certainly instructive.
As a youngster, I was influenced by reruns of “The Little Rascals”, as was my father. And I gleaned my perspectives of fathers from “Father Knows Best,” “The Lucy Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Bonanza,” “Mayberry RFD,” and “Leave It to Beaver.”
Other shows I enjoyed were “Dobie Gillis,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Batman,” “Superman,” “Zorro,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Honeymooners,” “Gidget,” “The Flying Nun,” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” My family watched “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Lawrence Welk” for entertainment. These all bring happy memories to this day.
Then, as I went through my adolescence, I raced through chores to watch “The Brady Bunch,” “Bewitched,” “It Takes a Thief,” “Love American Style,” “Fantasy Island,” and “The Love Boat.” That correlated with the time when I found myself at odds with my parents, especially my mother who did not appreciate my subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine, with its cleavage teasing cover shots. And life was decidedly not so innocent, nor so happy.
Americans are not happy. Maybe it’s more than the unacceptable conduct and rhetoric of our president. I expect our leaders to exemplify the highest of virtues and to be examples of higher quality character. The media influences us in many ways, and the state of the nation may be a result of our poor choices, as I conclude from the outpouring of ignorance and hate in deeds and words. The resurrection of people with morally diseased hearts is apparent, and I thought the messages of brotherhood, liberation and the Age of Aquarius had taken root. The weeds of society are still among us, and they have nasty thorns.
Some people fail to realize that we are of different races, ethnicities, and cultures as a benefit to our humanity. Exploration of languages, cultures, handiwork, and cuisines is sustenance for our intellect, and I believe diversity in America is our strength. In these are clues for appreciation of our Creator.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” –Quran 49:13
Knowing that we all bleed red, I find the current culture of rudeness unacceptable, and I call upon our schools, media, and parents to promote justice, manners, tolerance, industriousness, and civility. In short, let’s resurrect a conscious humanity, find our joie de vivre, and choose leaders who will work for the benefit of all citizens. We’ve been duped, sold out, but our system has the capacity to correct this mess. I’m counting on it.
But when people are too busy slaving to survive, the fox can get in the hen house. That’s where he is now and we should learn from this. Democracy needs whistleblowers and watch dogs, and this is where media can be a force for goodness and virtue. We just have to choose wisely so they get the message.
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.
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!
Appreciation notes from my students were gratifying aspects of my career as a teacher. If only I’d kept more of them. I found this one as I was cleaning out a dresser, and I love it when former students—now adults—care to “friend” me on Facebook and when I see them succeed various milestones of life.
After all, I always felt that each of them was my kid, and even though the boys and girls are now fully adult men and women, some married and some with children, I remember just about all of them. I guess that I must have done something right.
As we approach the start of another school year, I’m missing the classroom a bit, and have genuine appreciation for the gifts given to me. I am a teacher.
For this reason, if the reader will permit, I want to share and highly recommend a book I received from my daughter, who was gifted with it by her cousin prior to her two month journey to teach, tour, and connect with family in Turkey and Jordan.
Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed taught me that all we tend to put in our heart—our relationships, the value of our intellect, looks, health, wealth, position, and possessions—are actually gifts. Such gifts should be kept in the hand though, not the heart. For the heart is only for the Creator, and gifts bestowed to us are eventually taken away.
If such valuable gifts reside in the heart, they become objects of coveting and obsession; and when removed, they create such deep pain from their loss. We miscalculate that they were given by The One, and we may not realize that the Creator gives what is best for us. Sometimes the revocation of a gift is meant to remind and draw us back to The One.
My daughter, despondent over the genocide in Gaza, asked her aunt if such a horrific situation—one of the most densely populated, essentially trapped and defenseless populations being killed like ‘fish in a bucket’—if it depressed her? Her wise aunt stated, “Allah created mankind to be forgetful, and it is a gift.” Those of us who have lost mothers never forget the strength of our bond; yet, we are able to function because we are able to forget, accept, and continue.
In Islam, families mourn for three days; then they are expected to accept God’s Will and people move on. The loss of a spouse is certainly more disruptive, and two months is acceptable before re-engaging with the world. The point is to realize that we must accept; and we trust that The One gives what is best, no matter how seemingly tragic on the surface.
Given the circumstances in Gaza, I surmise that the haters and malevolent perpetrators will determine their eternal justice. Yet how humanity can generally ignore or misconstrue the situation, in spite of obvious media manipulation, I cannot fathom.
The Palestinians have transcended this world; their faith so solid as to recognize that this existence is fleeting, and so they greet their fate with resolve and capitulation to The One who can best serve justice. When people no longer fear death and accept it, they cannot be vanquished.
Our gifts, our blessings are to be cherished and preserved, but keep them in hand, not in the heart. Hope for their return, and better, as destiny proceeds.
We are members of the human family, and those who remember, care, serve, and educate others will find themselves in rank just under the prophets.
The picture you see is my family celebrating an Eid camping trip after Ramadan in 1998. The red, curly haired, very Caucasian peanut just secured his driver’s license today, and he is a towering 6 foot, 2 inch (183 cm) tall Muslim.
When people see him with brown skinned kids at school, they are very surprised to learn that he is indeed Muslim because most people think of Muslims as ‘Other,’ meaning other than ‘Us.’
Typically, the image that comes to American’s minds is that a Muslim is Arab or perhaps Asian, although a large proportion of Muslims are in fact from African descent.
I believe this is significant to how we tend to value the lives of Others, and in particular to the political perspectives and policies toward the Middle East and Central Asia in general.
What should be known is that anyone can be Muslim. It is not an ethnic or nationalistic reference; rather it is simply a comprehensive religion on the continuum antecedent from Judaism and Christianity that guides the lives and identity of about 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population), according to a 2012 Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center.
Most disconcerting though is a more recent Pew Research Study referencing How Americans Feel About Religious Groups. The study was conducted May 30-June 30, 2014, and cites feelings towards religious groups on a scale of 0 as cold to 100 as warm. A 50 would reflect no particular positive or negative feeling about a religious group. In this report, prior to the Gaza spectacle, Muslims were dead last compared to all other groups, including Atheists. Forty-One percent of respondents placed scores of 33 or below for Muslims, which I find pretty sad and perhaps not representative of where I live.
Fortunately for my family, we live in a relatively affluent suburban Chicago setting with an abundance of educational institutions, houses of worship for many religions, and a fairly large non-segregated population of Muslims. Many of them hold advanced degrees and professional employment.
In retrospect, I noted that when the U.S. economy took a hard pullback a few years ago, it seemed that store clerks were friendlier than they’d been in the past. Looking around the malls, I found a greater percentage of Muslim patrons making purchases than other shoppers. Maybe the cashiers were the first ones to realize the value of Muslim purchasing power.
Even yesterday, I was acknowledged with a smile and friendly “Hi there!” initiated by non-Muslim women in two separate incidents while walking through parking lots at the local community college and at Whole Foods Market. I felt hopeful that the gloomy implications informed by the Pew reports were not representative of every part of the United States.
With this data though, I am asking everyone to help make ‘The Strangers’ documentary a reality. My friends, Abdalhamid Evans and Salama Evans, who are also on the founding team of the American Halal Association, have been working on a film project which is critical to changing erroneous perceptions about Muslims. Their story about a misfit group of hippies who stumbled upon Islam, converted, and created a community about 40 years ago in the town of Norwich, UK, is a story which needs to be told. Please read about their amazing story and see them in the film trailer. Then give a bit of help to this project and share with your friends. It could make a positive move toward reigniting compassion, illuminate hearts, and dispel the ignorance out there. At least get a T-shirt and warm things up for the next Pew report. http://halalfocus.net/the-strangers-documentary-essential-viewing/
Ramadan typically entails much reflection about one’s life and deeds, and this one has focus, sadness, and frustration over the increasingly dangerous situation in the Middle East.
From my memories of living under occupation in the West Bank of Palestine in segmented episodes over the 80s and 90s, recollections on the uprising in Tahrir Square and subsequent coup in Egypt, the massacres of civilians in Syria and Iraq, famine in Sudan, and smoldering discontent of citizens in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there is a heaviness to this Ramadan like none other.
Fasting seventeen hours a day has not been as fearsome as anticipated, but neither has it been very productive. Mercifully, the cooler than normal temperatures are interpreted as a favor. I have many tasks to do, but I am not burdened with the worry of deadlines. My days typically start at 11 a.m. and end at 5 a.m., with an hour nap sometime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The disruption in normal working schedule gives me the night to attend taraweeh prayers at the mosque where I hear the recitation of Qur’an, and I have the chance to read, put time into my social media assignments, and write.
Listening to Qur’an is like putting salve on the heart’s wounds, and making supplication for the ease of people’s suffering may seem shallow in power. Yet, I am reminded of the Qur’anic ayah, “…Allah is the best of planners…” (8:30).
Though the situation may at times seem hopeless, I am also reminded that God gives the hateful people ample opportunity to rectify their deeds. When they eschew choosing compassion and are blinded by base desires, they set judgment against their souls.
A range of criticisms and areas of misunderstanding about Islam are explained quite well by a blogger I reference here. I hope it is useful.
Meanwhile, I highly recommend an hour long panel session from the Aspen Ideas conference, titled “What Will The Map of the Middle East Look Like?” In it, one of the experts cited our collective angst when our own government sanctioned the murder of 4, only 4, Kent State demonstrators. Think how people in other countries feel when whole groups of innocents are murdered by armed authorities?
When will people realize that we are one human family? Compassion is the weapon against hatred, and it is slipping from society.
It strikes me that the only solution is to stop the financing of war machines and mediate grassroots parties into a semblance of democracy or shurah, which is recognized Islamically as dialogue and collective decision making between relevant parties. Even the historic Iroquois League set the example of this model’s value, and the forefathers of our Constitution saw its utility.
This is my humble contribution to suggest that violence and military intervention are ill advised, but a framework of society building could best resolve the mess.
In tandem with this understanding, I learned of the death of one of my elder cousins. Over the years, he’d been what could be described as down and out, and he became typically inebriated and had failing health. Not many of the relatives cared to maintain contact, and he quietly lived out his days downstate until he peacefully passed away in his sleep.
What I consider his greatest achievement was that he patiently endured his problems and maintained a heart of gold. In spite of the cynics around him, through our occasional conversations I could tell that he stayed compassionate; and he leaves an adult daughter with the same quality.
Success has many definitions, but I think the greatest success is when one leaves this life Pure. Ultimately, the rites of Islam aim to purify us, and a soft heart is a good reflection of the quality of purity in a person.
May our hearts stay soft, our supplications answered, and may we endure our trials with dignity and with steadfast faith. Amen.
A pervasive sadness overhangs my days, as I see many images of the injustice toward Palestinians on Facebook, and I know the fear, anger, and terror because I’ve lived through it. Vulnerable is the word that comes to mind also, as I was very cognizant that if I had to run, there was little choice except to chance walking through heavily militarized desert and no chance for cover if attacked. In fact, I’ve had nightmares whereby I see myself disguised as a Bedouin trying to head east toward Jordan, but in the dream my children and I, except for one, perish.
I’ve witnessed armed teenage soldiers with little sense and plenty of bravado stick their rifles in people’s bellies, arrayed in body protection and a variety of weapons like tear gas and clubs. They walk in a group using their walkie talkies for communication, and seek to assert their authority. One morning, as they made their rounds, they came to our door and hauled my husband out to the street. Someone had painted graffiti on the wall bordering our property, and the soldiers forced him to use a bucket of white paint to cover over it. That was vividly cast in my memory because my spouse was wearing his red tartan plaid pajamas, and my son was horrified at seeing his father humiliated at rifle point. That certainly made a lasting impression on the lad. He was only about 5 years old, but it sowed seeds of anger.
Especially disturbing is when they go after the young school children, and raid the universities to destroy property and harass college students in the middle of the night. One night, as I peered through the kitchen window, I’d seen soldiers bang on the neighbor’s door. The owner answered and I saw those soldiers rough up the teen boy within their view, seemingly without provocation. Another evening, the street was filled with soldiers in their jeeps, and my teenage relative had to get home nearly two blocks away. I recall tucking my own children into bed, asking my sister-in-law to watch over them, and then I escorted my visitor past those soldiers to home. I was very scared, and the thought occurred to me that I might not live to see my kids again if I were unlucky enough to be picked for torture or persecution. Lessons like these affect one forever, and I empathize with those who have no way to escape the strain of occupation.
I also feel remorse for senseless deaths that I’d learned of last night when two boys, in their early twenties, were drag racing on a busy street in a southern suburb. One was the nephew of a former colleague. They crossed into the oncoming lane and killed two innocent parents, leaving at least one child orphaned. Such stupidity; such a waste.
Have you seen ‘Inequality for All’? I highly recommend it. Robert Reich and the MoveOn.org movement have my email, and I get daily reminders about the 1 percent and inordinate power the wealthy have to corrupt our democracy. There was a terrific interview with Bill Moyers that recaps the salient points of the film. The necessity to flex the responsibility of citizenship is imminent.
Then there is my own father. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that over a year ago he had suffered a minor backyard tumble that ended up resulting in a severe infection on his foot. It was only recently that he has been able to walk without a walker or cane, but he is precariously unstable and his benefits for ongoing physical therapy have expired. He is not getting enough activity now to continue his progress, and I’m seeing regression that gravely concerns me.
I know, this is getting heavy, and there are a few more dear ones who have health battles that are on my mind, but it is Ramadan. I bear in mind that although things seem dark, there is a divine plan. Not to be preaching, but when I feel such weight from how much I care I turn to nature. For in it, I find timelessness, peace, the intelligent design, and it fortifies my patience.
I believe that we all have a role to play; and that if we choose our responses to such trials with compassion we will prevail in some way. In nature, I connect to the water and rocks; the ground gives me comfort. It reminds me of my insignificance to the larger picture, and also humbles me. Gardening is satisfying, as long as the mosquitoes are kept at bay, but we are having the worst year due to all the rains we’ve had. Cruising on my bike and playing tennis with my youngest son helps put me back on track. We also like to visit Klein Creek Farm and commune with the sheep and walk the property.
For how can we remedy what may be in our power if we grieve too long? Granted, some things we endure are out of our capacity to affect, but some other things are able to be resolved. Lastly, my heart finds strength from the Holy Qur’an. I can read it, but it is easier to catch the recitation live on Mecca TV. With that, and asking for God’s help, I somehow recharge and find strength. Verily with every difficulty comes relief (94:6)
Allow me to sweep you toward a parallel universe, one that has been chronicled to change lives, the pilgrimage to the House of God, the Hajj.
Destiny opened the door to me in April 1989, when I made Ummrah, the lesser pilgrimage made in the off-season, with my husband and 11 other members of his family. By that time, we had been married seven years and had tried several interventions to procure a sustainable pregnancy.
It was said that water from the Meccan holy spring of Zamzam could cure. We all prayed, dutifully performed the sacred rites, the same as in Hajj, and I discovered myself expecting what was to be the first of our four offspring by the time we arrived after our Ummrah to Jerusalem. It was an experience that certainly changed my life, and I still recall the unique and other-worldly perceptions from it.
That is why I gladly accepted the offer of Dr. Badar Zaheer to edit and assist with editing and publishing his work, Hajj: Medical and Practical Solutions (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7). At this time, it is in formatting for publication and Dr. Zaheer will be sharing information from it relevant to pilgrims who have medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and some of the general cautions about avoiding dehydration, crowd control, fitness and conditioning before the journey, in-flight exercise, and emergency phone numbers while on Hajj. I will also field questions and inquiries on behalf of ladies who may prefer to talk to another woman about our special issues and medical needs.
The previous blog, “So You Think You Can’t Write” was intended to invite fellow teachers and writers to realize that everyone can document, employ the process of writing, distill through multiple passes of the editing process, and procure something rich. I was not disappointed in the result. There was the prospect that I might teach middle school writing this year, in addition to my other projects, but I was delivered something better suited to my interests with this Hajj project. I believe it will bloom into more editing projects and publishing of my own work and others’.
As preparation for this assignment, my local library presented The Art of Hajj by Venetia Porter (ISBN: 978-1-56656-884-5). It is part of the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys that I have cited before. The book meshes art, including print, textiles, photography, and various Islamic antiquities, with rich prose, quotations, and translations of script from those artifacts. It is a work of love and beauty, and it took me back…
…to Taif, where the Prophet Mohammad was once stoned and chased out of town by its people. Except that later, they greeted him back warmly when many of its residents accepted Islam. (Read the whole story here http://www.saudilife.net/saudi-arabia/84-personalities/252-taifs-most-epic-story) We’d driven all night through the desert in a GMC with seven children and six adults. I recall that we had to stop a few times for bathroom breaks and to pray at a mosque that was juxtaposed to a gas station. It was morning, and we saw a Saudi Arabia different that I’d seen in pictures. This place was green and mountainous. There was a garden park by a city center with fragrant flower bushes, and we ordered carry-out breakfast consisting of hummus, fava beans with lemon and salt, tea, and flatbread. Our next stop was to be Mecca, and I’d longed to see her. However, to my alarm, when using the restroom, I’d noticed that I’d started to spot blood. This condition did not permit me to pray. Dashed expectations, hiding tears while seeing my own reflection on the GMC’s window; I felt dismally that God did not want me!
We arrived outside the Harem (the Sanctuary) in Mecca, the place where all the Hajj photos show crowds circumambulating around the black cube-shaped building, the Kaba, the place of the first house of worship to God, build by Abraham (Ibrahim) who which monotheism is attributed.
It was necessary before entering the Harem to use the restroom (to find that I was able to pray again), wash and prepare for the rites. Outside the building, it was not clean, not feeling very hospitable, nor comfortable, and I was wearing a black abaya over a long, thin house dress topped off with a wrapped black headscarf.
We entered the immense, monumental building, and suddenly everything within me and around me became perfectly calm. I saw in the inner court the black Kaba in the center of a white, round, marble floor with pilgrims circling it in a consistent and orderly manner. I approached the periphery, my feet on comfortable, red carpeting, into a type of amphitheater surrounding the entire scene and on multiple levels.
My father-in-law, who knew no English, gently took my hand and led me, with an excited look in his eye, and explained many details he thought I should know about it in Arabic. Somehow, I understood everything he said, and he even pointed out to me the Station of Abraham, where a footprint cast in mud is attributed to be his and housed in an ornate case on the clean, cool, white marble floor.
Our niece and my husband’s sister walked the expanse with me all around the amphitheater, and witnessed the men and women circumambulating just below our level but in closer proximity to the Kaba. Then we prayed and sat for I do not know how long. Time stood still; I was content, felt I was home, and did not care to ever leave that place. I was bewildered and in love with the immense feeling of peace, simple, such simple peace.
Eventually, we were summoned to drink Zamzam water from those big thermos containers that football coaches get drenched with after a victory. I was told to drink until I was bloated from it, and then we went to the next rite which was to kind of jog or speedwalk from one end of a long hallway to another. That was formerly the span between two desert mounts, Safa and Marwa. This was where Abraham’s maidservant, Hajar, the mother of Ishmael, who was the brother of Issac, ran in desperation seeking water for herself and her young son. That event is what procured the miracle of God revealing the spring water of Zamzam to her. She was lost in a hopeless place, and God provided relief. The miracle of it parallels our lives and encourages trust in God.
After drinking yet more from Zamzam, we went on to Muzdalifah to gather some pebbles and to Mina where we threw them at the Jamarat pillars, symbolically re-enacting an event whereby Abraham obeyed Angel Gabriel’s order to pelt the Devil in rejection of temptation. Finally, we blazed the desert in the GMC to arrive at Mt. Arafat to conclude our rites and went on to Medina, the friendly city where the Prophet, established a community, received more revelations of Qur’an, and lived 10 years before being able to return to Mecca in a peaceful homecoming and transfer of authority where no one was to be harmed after many years of conflict.
Next, we visited the coastal city of Jeddah, a more liberal, humid, and crowded place where ex-pats work and trade. Completely exhausted, we drove all the way back to Riyadh, and shortly thereafter flew to Amman eventually traversing to Jerusalem where I learned that Zamzam and prayers really worked! My first child was born that December.
If you are going to Hajj, I do recommend Dr. Zaheer’s book (ISBN: 978-1-4675-8505-7), but we are not certain if it will be quite ready in time for this Hajj. If you are an arm chair traveler, you will be swept as near as possible—without having to pay for plane fare—to that parallel universe experienced by those on Hajj.
They say the Kaba is the Heart of the Universe, and it may well be because the continuous focus and worship of those toward the Creator is a unique power, a force, a love without limitations through time and space. I still feel it.
The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Mecca. Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.
In it are signs manifest; the Station of Abraham. Whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God. Those who can afford the journey, but if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures (3:96-97 Holy Qur’an)
Yes, I started with “So.” Every day, for weeks now, I’ve been itching to write with funny thoughts, literary lines, and odd ramblings flowing from my brain. I’m the only one who gets to enjoy them.
I’ve struggled to settle on a single topic, and the possibilities range from humorous, reminiscent poetic, didactic, and even exasperated vents. Yet, I rarely sit with nothing to do, as I manage my household of 6, each day slips by without a word etched to my blog.
Want to Be Part of an Experiment? –in a few days I’ll tell you why
While starting my day with the usual morning bathroom routine (ahem), I contrived a strategy for keeping the writing skills juiced, as well as a potential method for those who think they can’t write or have writer’s block. Instead of formally composing, why not simply journal my odd observations and mental tangents to see what would be the result…?
…Looking at my face in the mirror, why do I have creases on both brow bones? I’m a side-sleeper, but should it really take 15 minutes to dissipate that evidence?!
…Why do I have grown children who leave their clothes, even after I remind them countless times, for a week on our bathroom floor (sigh)!?
…Breakfast is my favorite meal. Today, we have tea, bread, olive oil with zaatar (Greek oregano, sesame seeds, sumac), scrambled eggs, and fried sheep cheese from Palestine, which I share with my husband, Riad. Over breakfast, we review happenings on the stock market, the 60-some degree weather this morning, the fact that one of our adult children is leaving for college in one week, and the bank account. Oh, and the prospects of going to a water park, as Riad has never been initiated.
Over a robust cup of freshly ground coffee while enjoying my view from the patio, I calculate and negotiate the options for my schedule. Among them are the following:
Capture the chance for a morning bike ride
Grocery shop because it must be done today
Tackle the long “to do” list for developing my professional work
Visit a relative whose mother came recently and deliver to her my Eid gift
Pack a box of books from my basement and run them to the Book Rescue
As a former assistant principal, I’m trained to prioritize, constantly reevaluate and prioritize again. However, first I’ll choose to read two pages from Qur’an. It’s better than vitamins, and keeps my Arabic skills intact.
Decided. Pack a box of books, drive in a loop to the next town to drop off, after a bank deposit, and pick up groceries at 3 stores en route before returning home. I have an appointment with my Dad at a wound clinic in 2 hours. The race is on!
…On 2nd thought, the van is still a mess from the Eid weekend camping trip and needs a wash and vacuum. With Dad about 40 minutes away, who am I kidding?! Pack books, jump in van and plan to shop after Dad’s appointment.
While power washing the van to blast off the sticky residue of blackberries—or was it raccoon scat with blackberries?—I recollected the monumental blackberry tree we had in our village in the occupied West Bank. One of the nephews cleared it in order to build some market stalls on the property, which enraged the family, but that led my mind (incredible what thoughts come while washing your car for 3 minutes) to a little flashback.
I had baby #3 in Jerusalem and lived with my sister-in-law and my other two youngsters in the West Bank, while my husband went to explore business prospects in Saudi Arabia, staying with his brother for 6 months. One night, Israeli soldiers came banging on our porch door wanting to take a population survey, a sort of census. In our nighties, we covered in prayer dresses and felt vulnerable because they had rifles, but my sister-in-law stayed calm. She said that the “man of the house” was on a business trip. There was tension in the air. Even the soldier interviewing us seemed a bit uptight. Just then, my 4 year old daughter came to the door, sleepy-eyed; I spoke to her in English to go back inside the house.
The soldier asked in Arabic, “Do you have a car?” At that, my dearly clever sister-in-law covered her mouth with the hem of her headcovering and giggled, Wallah ciara, walla tiara!” (Not a car, not an airplane!). The rhyme gave ease to the situation and the soldier smiled and ended his intrusion, but the realization of potential alternative outcomes stayed with me.
Done with the bank; going to Dad’s– a 30 minute trip from here. The books are in the back of the van. I’m not planning on bringing the wheel chair. He uses a walker now, but we may opt to dose him with a bit of hydrocodone after debriding his heel and Achilles wounds. Today marks 3 months since the tumbling incident that started this.
Waiting at the Wound Clinic for the doctor, Dad came early and is ahead of schedule. After this, he wants to shop for produce; I may shoot two birds with one stone and do some of my own errands this way! His spirits are good and he said that sometimes he forgets his walker when moving about the kitchen. I can tell how active he’s been by how many sticky spots I clean off the floor each visit. Previously, I had to attend to change his bandages each day, except when his home health care nurse would come. Now, my sisters can also schedule in time using a Google Doc we share for that purpose.
The Wound Clinic doctor and main nurse are Irish-American; Dad chose to don his kelly green St. Pat’s sweatshirt. Tick Tock…even though we came twenty minutes early for our 1:00 p.m. appointment, it is 1:05…thinking of all the other things I could be doing. Surprisingly, Dad is not cantankerous yet at the delay. Perhaps he is listening to the court update on Jesse Jackson, Jr. and wife, or the chit chat between an elderly Chinese lady and her attending son, in Chinese. The world has changed a lot since he was a boy in Brighton Park, a neighborhood in Chicago.
1:10 Dad is funny. We have a new nurse today, Elizabeth, who is not Irish. He asked about Kelly, the Irish one, and mentions that he wore his sweatshirt just for her. Kelly is at lunch and may not see him today. For the millionth time over 3 months, he is asked about if he has pain, on a scale of 1-10… He looks at me and rolls his eyes at this point.
Alright, wound doc was optimistic and cited progress. That is only in millimeters, but still positive. He pulled the perimeter scabbing, hurting Dad. Better him than me doing it. Wound dressed and ready to go grocery shopping with hopes to get him back on the golf course by the end of September, if even only on the practice putting green. I had my own first foray of the year on Monday; 9 holes and wishing for more, but the short game killed me. Practice…
2:00 We are on the road again toward the produce market.
3:10 I’m running a tune-up on Dad’s computer because he complained that it was horribly slow. While waiting, knowing he has eaten nothing but a banana, coffee, and orange juice all day, I offer to make him lunch. What does he choose? Corn! “Where’s the wound healing, body building protein in that?” I ask him. We agreed he add some Greek yogurt to that order. Sugar/carb addiction runs in my genes, but fortunately we have no diabetes.
Two of my kids and a friend send texts to me about dinner, my whereabouts, and evening plans. I’d check in with Riad, but assume he is busy now.
Decide to email my siblings about Dad’s doctor visit. We will go to every other day bandaging since his drainage is decreasing. Computer is still in tune-up mode.
3:45 Done! Need to run to buy my Halal chicken and specialty items from the Mediterranean Market close to home and get cooking. Checked in with Riad; business was good today. Whew!
Remembering the books in the back of the van and the folding chairs we packed to see Perseid meteorites a couple days ago by our relatives in the boondocks, exurbs of Chicago.
4:05 Very sleepy, I have 2 more miles till the next tollway exit.
Yay! The Book Rescue was still open to take my donation. Next, I’m going to the health food store to buy some Redmond (UT) salt and coconut oil, then to the Mediterranean Market.
Upon exiting the health food store, I saw a man I recognized as a parent from my former school. “Assalamu alaikum,” he greeted me kindly. It’s nice to see people in my town that recognize each other. We have a rather large population of Muslims of diverse backgrounds. This man I recalled worked at McDonald’s headquarters nearby.
If you’ve been following this blog, you might ask, “What happened to California?” Well, we would still love to relocate, but the reality is that 3 kids in college and their still unstable, dependent statuses have us pigeonholed here awhile. We also have a teenager who has decent friends, and is still at an impressionable age. It is sensible to keep that support for him. Truth be known, there are many positive aspects to living near Chicago, but I do take exception to the weather, especially the long cold season that inhibits our love of doing things outdoors. For now, if we can afford to escape a few times during that long spell, I would be satisfied. However, I do hold visions of relocating in the future when parental obligations lighten.
Also, this past Ramadan, a segment of my community started a new mosque. Lacking a building for worship though, they contracted the local high school gym during the month long evening Taraweeh prayers and hired a wonderful reciter (Qari) of the Qur’an. There, I saw many former students and teachers that just made me feel wonderful to be in their company. Even a former teacher is First Violin of the DuPage Symphony Orchestra; she was so kind to offer me tickets to their October Tchaikovsy concert. I have invited my nephew, a young cellist, to join me, and I am so much looking forward to that!
At the Mediterranean Market, I saw another lady who referred me to her brother-in-law in Ohio. He was my expert consultant on an article I wrote about keeping fit in Ramadan last year. I noticed through Facebook that he has been having some health issues requiring surgeries, so we had a chance to catch up and I learned more details on his struggles.
I thought about squeezing in a bike ride as I drove home, but Riad greeted me and did not feel like biking. Quickly, I pray the last few minutes possible for Thuhr, the mid-day prayer, and also catch the starting time for Asr, the mid-afternoon prayer. Finding the best way to acquire good habits is to tag on to existing habits, I do 15 push-ups and 30 squats for exercise. We have yet to return to the gym schedule after Ramadan.
Throw the folding chairs from the van into the garage and replace 3 broken slabs of jalousie glass panes before making dinner.
5:00 Time to Cook!
Cooking time usually is when my kids know that they can get my ear when I’m in the kitchen. I really don’t love cooking, to tell the truth, but sometimes I can get into it. During Ramadan, it was not unusual to be stuck there for 5 hours at a time, but my family is spoiled to an extent. The kids generally don’t eat breakfast, but they do want a hearty dinner. That is where I put effort and often about 3 hours of my day, but I have plans for 7:00 p.m. so I have to rush.
Why did the recipe state that 3-4 minutes on each side would brown chicken thighs?! It took 30 minutes! I had Moroccan Chicken Stew (magazine recipe) and a steamed kale, turkey bacon, and apple combo as a side dish. Sure enough, two of my sons take time to brief me on their day while I cook, and one acquiesced to take the picture of me cooking for a new Facebook profile pic.
Wolfing down dinner, it is 6:50 and I have to race to mid-town to see my friend, Yvonne of My Halal Kitchen, present at 7:00 at our local library. My daughter, her friend, and fiancé will attend too.
Presented by Yvonne Maffei, she outlined the basics of Islam, the wide array of Muslims representing many cultures and nations, aspects of the lunar month of Ramadan, understandings of Halal and Tayeb (Wholesomeness), fasting rituals in a typical day, the growth of fusion cuisine in America, Eid traditions, and my favorite…dessert demo: Stuffed Dates with Crème Fraish!
Back Home Again and Still Crankin’
9:00 Home again after Yvonne’s presentation, and I have to perform the sunset prayer. The kitchen needs post-dinner clean up, since I ran out the door with my husband still eating.
9:45 It’s time for a 4 mile walk with Riad, whereby we talk and listen to background tunes on Pandora via our phones.
11:00 Back from our walk; one of my sisters calls with news of a conference she recently attended for promotional products professionals, and we trade opinions on Dad’s care. I’m snacking on grape tomatoes and Gouda cheese. My eldest son comes home from a camping and fishing trip, and he debriefs with me by the kitchen table.
12:15 Time to pray, shower, and then my daughter visits us in the bedroom to re-cap on Yvonne’s presentation and how pictures of samosas inspired her and her fiancé to go to an Indian restaurant for late dinner. I’m really tired, but now everyone has touched base with “Mom” and one kid is still out running a nighttime neighborhood blitz type of game with friends. I decide to finally check in on Facebook, as I’d not had a chance to do so yet in the day.
12:50 My last kid is in and I’m signing off with plans to be up at 4:00 for my thyroid medicine, 5:00 for fajr, the dawn prayer, and start a new day by 8:30. Love the summer schedule!
There never was time to write a formal blog, per se, but time to write throughout the day. Somehow it gave me relief to purge out the extension I wished to make and document what seems like a crazed existence, but a happy one. Would you consider this a valid exercise for getting students/writers to express themselves and practice editing?