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.

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.

Cooking

Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

Quran
In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!

Collaboration

Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!

Halal Fests Making a Wave in America!

Halal Food Tour Realizing the potential of Halal foodies at their community’s Halal Food Festival, co-founders of the popular web show Sameer’s Eats, Sameer S. Sarmast and Saad Malik, were blown away when the anticipated 1000 attendees swelled to a wave of 4000! Last August’s festival was planned with the local New Jersey Muslim Youth Community Center (www.myccnj.org), and Malik reported that most vendors even ran out of food. Mesmerized by the diverse crowd, Malik turned to his partner and said, “Dude, this is mind boggling. We need to take this on the road.”

Stoked by inspiration, Sarmast confirmed, “We saw that great Halal food brings people together no matter their race, religion, or professional background. This year we’ve decided to spread Halal food across America. We’re putting on five big events in five cities. We look forward to working with local organizations in each city to help their initiatives and more.”

The Halal Food Tour (www.halalfoodtour.com) has them partnered with Yvonne Maffei, the personable and effervescent publisher, cookbook author, and blogger of My Halal Kitchen (www.myhalalkitchen.com). The five city tour will kick off with Los Angeles on April 13th; then to New York in June, Washington DC in August, Chicago in October, and finally to Houston in December.

Besides appearances by Maffei, several other celebrities have signed on to appear at some of the venues. Mo Sabri, singer and lyricist; Preacher Moss, the thought provoking writer and founder of “Allah Made Me Funny” Muslim Comedy Tour; Aman Ali, reporter, storyteller, and co-creator of “30 Mosques in 30 Days;” and Omar Regan, who is best known for his acting and comedy talent. This creative production team is seeking many more popular Muslim personalities and businesses in each city that represent the diverse American Muslim landscape. The ticketed events are expected to bring much publicity to the nascent Halal Movement in America.

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Also inspired by the huge attendance of the New Jersey festival, Irfan Rydhan, the Event Director of Jam-Productions is collaborating in partnership with Atif Qureshi of Zabihah.com ( the world’s largest guide to Halal Restaurants and Products) and Javed Ali, founder of ILLUME Media (www.illumemagazine.com) to produce “California’s First Halal Food & Eid Festival” aka “Halal Fest” (www.HalalFest.com) for August 17th in the main parking lot of NewPark Mall in Newark, CA.

The event is open to the public and is scheduled approximately 1 week after Eid ul-Fitr. Rydhan stated that their intent is to cultivate awareness of delicious Halal food, promote Muslim businesses, and express diversity and cultures in an atmosphere of fun for the whole family with children’s air jumpers, super slide, and merry-go-round. Halal Fest will feature Halal food trucks, restaurant booths, and a large bazaar with approximately 30 vendors selling a variety of clothing, jewelry, arts & crafts, books, and other novelties.

Nationally recognized Chef Jimmy Sujanto of Padi Restaurant in Berkeley, CA that features Indonesian Halal dishes, will be there to conduct a Live Cooking Demonstration. Representing a variety of cuisines, arrangements have been made for Indo-Pakistani , Middle Eastern, African-American Soul Food, and Indian-American Fusion as well as the standard food festival fare of burgers, fried chicken and pizza – all Halal of course. Surely, it should entice everyone to explore some new flavors and bridge cultural gaps to familiarize neighboring communities with Halal food from Northern California.

For the adventurous set, the multi-talented partners have signed on a live skateboarding demonstration by professional American Muslim skateboarder Jordan Richter (read his story here: http://www.illumemagazine.com/zine/articleDetail.php?Wayward-Son-The-Jordan-Richter-Story-13769), and other activities for the whole family to enjoy are in the works.

Will this be the year for Americans to really catch the wave? Don’t miss it; sign up if you are a Halal enterprise or vendor. These events are likely to be the start of something big for Americans who really love food, and who doesn’t appreciate great Halal, healthful delights that appeal?