Salaam everyone! Here’s a piece that’s been published by the Huffington Post. Insha’Allah it’s of benefit.
We welcomed a new addition into our family three months ago-a beautiful baby boy. His older sister is almost three so I had grown accustomed to getting a full night’s rest prior to his delivery. Needless to say, I was dreading the onslaught of sleepless nights, the incessant crying, and the round-the-clock diaper changes and feedings. It’s an intense time that throws one into the deep end, never fully reclaiming one’s old self but coming out a better, more resilient human being. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, these moments of intense child-rearing are very short. Our elders remind us of their fleeting nature although it certainly doesn’t feel fleeting as we trudge through them. No matter how much our nafs rails against it, there is something about this intensity that gives meaning to our lives; that wakes us up from a mundane, ordinary existence and connects us with the Divine. I am often reminded of the first few verses ofSurat al-Anbiya (The Prophets) that force me to reassess my life through this lens of intensity:
“[The time of] their account has approached for the people, while they are in heedlessness turning away. No mention comes to them anew from their Lord except that they listen to it while they are at play. With their hearts distracted…” (Qur’an 21:1-3).
I see myself in these verses, that God is speaking directly to me beseeching me to wake up. It has become difficult to concentrate on tasks for long periods of time without my hand unconsciously reaching for the smartphone. I suffer from broad informational overload and not delving deeply into any one subject. My need to feel connected online has disconnected me from a metaphysical presence that is far superior. My heart is distracted. It is often at play. I believe that many people also feel this way. In fact, Paul Miller from the Verge chronicles a year-long adventure unplugged. He reflects on his initial surge in creativity, focus, and all around healthier attitude towards life, but quickly laments that his liberation from the throes of the internet cannot be sustained. He writes, “I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.”
So what does the initial intensity of motherhood have to do with unplugging from the internet? The common denominator that may be worthy of exploration here is this conscious attempt to shock our system from the mundane and mechanical. As Muslims, we pray five times a day, everyday. It is easy for us to lose the meaning behind the movements if we do not approach every prayer consciously. We fast the month of Ramadan, but also experience the mid-Ramadan “dip,” which roughly translates into less energy and enthusiasm towards our spiritual goals. We recite the same few surahs and if asked which ones were recited, we can hardly recall. Plainly stated, we plateau in our religious endeavors. It’s easy to do. After all, when we pray to Allah to guide us on the straight path, it’s a vertical path which is met with much resistance. So, how can we revive our soul, our spirit that is oftentimes in heedlessness but always yearning towards Allah? What are some ways that we can orient our soul toward Allah, nourishing it and providing a healthful dose of organic ibaadah?
Well, in an effort to lose the postpartum weight, a few friends had suggested that I look into interval training. Interval training is defined as, “a type of discontinuous physical training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity exercise workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods.” The interval system I use has a 3:2:1 ratio of strength, cardio, and core which lasts for 24 minutes. It doesn’t require much time, but the time utilized is intensely productive. My body is not as quick to plateau due to the variation of exercises. I slowly came to the realization that mastering discomfort and deliberately changing my daily routine did not need to be exclusively relegated to my physical well-being. What about interval training for my soul, for our collective souls?
This idea is not new. The concept is actually deeply rooted within our Islamic tradition. The formidable task of delivering a message that would dismantle the power of the elite, usurp alliances, and completely change a people’s worldview required strength, resilience, integrity, and determination. It still does. We find Allah’s prescription to the Prophet and his companions in Surat al-Muzzammil (The Enshrouded One):
“Oh you who wraps himself [in clothing], Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little. Half of it- or subtract from it a little, or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation. Soon, We shall send down to you a heavy Word,” (Qur’an 73:1-5).
Praying lengthily during the night became an obligation for the early Muslims in Mecca and remained so until the duty to perform the five daily prayers was established. It was strength training for the soul. These men and women trained deeply, intensely, unsparingly. The night prayers instilled a profound love and trust towards Allah that may not have developed had the prayers been interspersed throughout the day, intermingled with distraction and occupation.
Even though the obligation to pray well into the night was eventually lifted, the intense interval of time the companions spent communicating with their Lord left them hooked. Many of the companions continued to pray lengthy night prayers throughout their lives because of the intense beauty of the experience.
In order to realize spiritual epiphanies, sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in self-inflicted hardship. Think late night feedings (usually not self-inflicted), 30 Day Shred, marathon training, fasting 16 plus hours during the summer, unplugging, etc. After the initial shock wears off, we realize that the incremental and slow gains will eventually outweigh the seemingly large and immediate sacrifices. Soon, inward changes will spill over outwardly. There’s an extra bounce in one’s step; one has a bit more swag. An exercise in intense spiritual training is exactly the jolt needed to realign us with our purpose.
Ramadan is fast approaching and we can easily meet it ill prepared. In order to maximize the potential of this upcoming month, let’s implement some interval training for our souls beforehand. Here are a few ideas that may help:
1) Wake up for Tahajjud 4 times a week for a month
2) Determine to memorize 2-3 surahs in a month
3) Fast every Monday and Thursday. If you already do that, fast every other day.
4) Force yourself to pray Fajr and Isha in the masjid for two weeks straight
5) Get out of your cocoon and meet ten new neighbors in two weeks.
6) Resolve to unplug one day a week for the entire day.
Keep the same goal(s) and gradually increase the intensity every week. Ideally, there should be an overarching goal that you’re working towards (maybe it’s memorizing the entire Qur’an or consistently waking up for Tahajjud prayers, or becoming a minimalist). Grab a group of friends and set up an accountability system for collective success. Once you find yourself plateauing, it’s time to shake things up again. Choose another spiritual mountain to traverse. Establish an end date and do not give yourself any time for deliberation. It will be hard. It will be uncomfortable. Insha’Allah it will be intense. As our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, stated, “Hasten to do good acts before you are overtaken by temptation, which will be [gloomy] like parts of a dark night,” and “Deliberation should be in everything except in one’s work for the Hereafter.”
If you can establish a disciplined regimen following P90X or Insanity, interval-training for the soul is definitely manageable. At the very least, you probably won’t throw up.
I washed my face for the third time that morning. “I can do this,” I thought to myself as I slowly clamored out of the bathroom, willing myself to drive to work. Even though it was still relatively early, I was going to explain my circumstances to my supervisor. As I made my way to his office, I found myself speaking to Allah in hushed tones;
Please Allah don’t let me throw up in his office.
Oh Allah, tell me what is the best thing to do…I am at a complete loss.
Please guide me and give me strength. Make me content with what’s to come.
“Marwa so very nice to see you, have a seat.”
My supervisor has a nice, bright smile. His face is rosy, while mine felt green.
“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out before we even exchanged pleasantries.
“Well, mabrouk! Mazel Tov!” and then after awhile, “Can you make a decision by January if you plan to return to work?”
By January, I would have been five and a half months pregnant. It was October.
That was a little more than three years ago. And yet, most things have not changed for women in the workplace. After reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s much talked about book, Lean In, I was able to identify with many of the circumstances she describes. I felt in many ways that she was speaking to me. And yet, there was still something missing.
What’s been bothering me is not the book itself, but rather our current society. We value individual goals and successes to such a great degree that a paradigm shift has been created. We no longer think of pushing families forward, but rather, bolstering individuals who are talented, driven, energetic, and great at multi-tasking. On top of that, Muslim women are bombarded with the idea that the decision to work outside the home will be detrimental to their akhira. Just last week, a Muslim mom blogger posted this quote from a well known Muslim scholar:
“It is not permissible to put Muslim children in nurseries unless in cases of extreme or dire necessity. Paid caregivers can never replace mothers and fathers. It is the right of the Muslim child, and all children, to be cared for and loved, and to become properly bonded with his or her parents, especially in those critical early years. If we deny them in early childhood, they will deny us when we get old, as is happening on a huge scale in the West,” Dr. Bilal Philips.
There are quite a few Muslim women who are working mothers and are not doing it out of dire necessity, but because they feel strongly about what they can contribute to society. As a matter of fact, most stay at home moms will seek out the female Muslim ob-gyn, pediatrician, midwife, and counselor. On a broader scale, we will not be able to change our condition without Muslim women in the media, academia, business, politics, social services etc.
In essence, it comes down to a personal decision that every Muslim woman has a right to make. It may be the case that her deal with Allah is to work for the greater Muslim community and He will ensure the children’s upright upbringing. Or, it may very well be the case that a woman decides to stay at home and Allah is preparing for her a great role in society once her kids have grown.
What’s detrimental to our general well being however is that we’ve taken wishy-washy positions and few are content with the decisions they have made. We’re flooded with opinions and information telling us to lean in, lean back, co-sleep, ferberize, pursue degrees, etc. etc.
The hadith that, “Allah loves to see one’s job done at the level of itqaan (of high quality),” could not be more applicable as we navigate our roles as Muslim mothers. Having itqaan requires that we have a deep conviction in what we are doing. That if I’m going to parent full-time, I will try my very best to do my job well. And I will try my best to not regret my decision, because inevitably, that same regret will seep into all my efforts and actions at home.
As we navigate this discourse, we need to be able to articulate our stances Islamically. Allah clearly mentions in in Chapter 4 of the Quran, “Men are the maintainers of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth.” While not every household has a sole male provider, I have to come to think of this verse as quite liberating. Married women have the opportunity to pursue passions without the heavy responsibility of whether or not it’s going to put food on the table. Of course this is not true of all working women, but those who find themselves with this blessing can work towards improving the social fabric of their communities, and their nuclear and extended families. Now more than ever, people are craving physical gatherings due to our lounging around in the virtual ones. People are feeling more and more isolated. Mothers have a wonderful and important role to play. No matter how small one’s perception may be of it, a warm invitation to share tea and children horror stories can be what gets another mother through her week.
Whatever role we decide to lean into, whether it be work, school, child-rearing, activism, or social support, let’s offer our support when we can and lean in to the support of others when it’s offered.
This will be a great program that is open to all. We look forward to a blessed day remembering the final messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. We will start promptly at 12:30 with Dhuhr prayer, insha’Allah.
As the new year rolls in, what are we doing to take charge of our own selves? Surely it is a distracted heart that worries about the actions of others when we ourselves have yet to be rectified.
Suraht al-Ma’idah aya 105
Translation: Oh you who truly believe, you must take charge of your own selves. Those who err cannot injure you, if you are rightly guided. To Allah you must all return; and then He will inform you of what you used to do.
Commentary: This aya begins with, “Oh you who truly believe.” In the Qur’an, Allah calls on many different factions. There are times when Allah is calling all of humanity “Ya ayyuhal nas” and there are other times when Allah is addressing Sayidna Muhammad (sas) exclusively. We, as believers, have a very special miqaam in the Qur’an. There are 89 verses which begin with “ya ayyuhal ladhina amanu,” and when Allah addresses us with this call, we must pay specific attention to what will follow. The aya for today is the 42nd call to the believers.
Allah tells us, “alaykum anfusakum.” This means that we cannot let life just take us away. ‘Alaykum anfusakum means that we have a duty to strive to better ourselves. Our parents, our friends, our neighbors, no one will do it for us. The strong conviction to decide on changing one’s condition is not easy. To take charge of ourselves, we have to be aware of the evil within ourselves and the evil that surrounds us. The determination felt in just these two words is so profound- alaykum anfusakum. It is easy to say, I was tempted into doing something and to blame our actions on peer pressure. This is why it is important to be surrounded by a righteous group who also know that their nafs has a right over them to be controlled. It is reassuring to know that if we correct our own condition, we will not be injured by people that have corrupt behavior. Ibn Abbas says regarding this verse that Allah is saying, ”Provided the servant obeys Me in all that I have enjoined upon him as halal and in all that I have forbidden to him as haram, no harm can come to him from those who have gone astray, as long as he does what I have commanded him to do.”
Reading this aya through a different lens however, we can interpret it to mean that we should just worry about ourselves. This would be a wrong interpretation because in order to fully realize alaykum anfusakam, means that we also have to discipline ourselves to enjoin good and forbid evil. Sayidna Muhammad (sas) said regarding this verse:
You must command one another to observe what is right and fair and forbid one another to do what is wrong and unfair, until the times comes when you see the ultimate degree of stinginess being obeyed, passion followed, worldly interest preferred, and every holder of an opinion infatuated with his own opinion. You must then take charge of yourself exclusively, and leave the common people to their own devices. Lurking behind you, there are days when the patient person is like someone holding live coals, and the worker is entitled to thereward of fifty men, all of them doing the work you are doing.
We must also remember that the believers used to wear themselves out with distress, through longing to see the unbelievers enter Islam, so they were told, “You must take charge of your own selves, by improving them, and walking with them on the path of right guidance. Their straying from your religion cannot harm you, provided you are rightly guided.”
This aya should not be taken to mean to avoid amr bil ma’ruf and nahy ‘an il munkar. Abu Bakr asSadiq said that he heard Sayidna Muhammad (sas) say, “If people see something wrong and unfair, and they do not change it, Allah will include them in His chastisement.”
Hence, as for the duty to enjoin what is right and fair, and to forbid what is wrong and unfair, it can only be neglected on account of sheer incapacity because it is a form of ibadah.
Oh Allah, grant us the ability to enjoin the good and forbid the evil while taking charge of our own selves.
Assalaamu Alaykum my dear brothers and sisters in Islam. Last week, we were able to celebrate the momentous occasion of Eid al Adha. We were consistently reminded of the sacrifices made by Sayidna Ibrahim (as) and his family. It is hard to fathom Allah testing us in the same way that the friend of Allah, Sayidna Ibrahim was tested. Yet, we did experience a major test from Allah (swt) when He took away our power. Allah allowed us to experience the first snowfall of the year in an unpredictable time, with unpredictable consequences. As the snow fell, and the refrigerators quieted down, we were quickly reminded of how dependent we are on electricity, heat, and hot water, what we normally call power. Some did not feel the affects at all in Connecticut, while others are still without power as we speak.
While many people suffered during this time, it would be an extreme loss for us not to reflect on and take away major lessons from this experience. The first lesson that I keep reflecting on is a single verse where Allah proclaims:
And if you should count the favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful, (Surat an-Nahl, verse 18).
The fact that snow does not normally fall at a time when leaves are still clinging on to tree branches is in fact a blessing that we could not have possibly understood until we experienced this snowstorm. We saw the major destruction a few inches of snow can have on formidable entities such as trees since they were not able to sustain the weight of the snow while the leaves were still intact. We also saw large, dominating trees completely uprooted in a flash. This should all point us to the fact that as finite human beings, we can never truly comprehend all the beautiful blessings that Allah bestows upon us on a daily basis, wal hamdulillah.
Think about how fortunate you felt when you had your first hot meal after the storm, or the first hot shower. How do we typically perceive these everyday na’mas? I want to ask you this my dear brothers and sisters: What would you be left with if you were to wake up one morning with only the things that you thanked Allah for the night before?
Let us not underestimate the power of dua’a and the power of gratitude towards Allah (swt). After all, the opposite of kufr, or disbelief, is shukr, or thankfulness. We need to be able to understand that a practicing Muslim is then defined as one who is thankful and shows gratitude to Allah (swt).
Another lesson that we can extract from this ordeal has to do with our use of language. The fact that we associate electricity with “having power,” should not only be a lesson on how dependent on it we are to function, but also, makes us realize who has the Ultimate Power, which only lies with Allah (swt).
Allah consistently reminds us in the Qur’an of His Power compared to our powerlessness. He ‘azza wa jal reminds us in Suraht al Baqara:
How can you disbelieve in Allah when you were lifeless and He brought you to life; then He will cause you to die, then He will bring you [back] to life, and then to Him you will be returned? (Surat al Baqara, aya 28).
Who else can give life, take life away and then bring one from the dead back to life? Allah shows us the act of resurrection with each recurring spring, and we see other signs of Allah’s power in various forms.
In Suraht al-Mulk Allah asks us who allows the bird to defy gravity. He declares:
Do they not see the birds above them with wings outspread and [sometimes] folded in? None holds them [aloft] except the Most Merciful. Indeed He is, of all things, Seeing.
The last verse of Suraht al-Mulk is one of the most powerful rhetorical questions posed to us in order to remind us of our complete dependence of the Mercy of Allah (swt):
Say, “Have you considered: if your water was to become sunken [into the earth], then who could bring you flowing water?”
If all the water were to disappear, all of creation would certainly perish. It is only through the Mercy of Allah (swt) that we do not experience these snowstorms on a normal basis. It is only through Allah’s rahma that our bodies maintain perfect temperature, that our eyelashes shield our eyes from potentially harmful particles and that even our fingernails have a texture to make our fingers capable of all that we do.
It is only after we realize that we wake up each morning in a comfortable atmosphere where we are encouraged to think critically and develop intellectually and that only a very very small percentage of people are actually granted this luxury, that we can truly be submissive to Allah’s plan for us.
Aqoolu qawli hadtha wa astaghfir Allahu lee wa lakum
(Sit down long enough to say three istighfaars)
(get back up, say dua’a)
My dear brothers and sisters, in the first khutba we discussed the power outage and what this means for us as Muslims. What is power essentially- who has it and who does not? We know that only Allah has power and we are at the mercy of a Just ruler. We also understand that even though we may have had a stressful few days because of the storm, there are people all over the world, and even in our local communities who look forward to one warm meal a week.
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.
We have the ability to help. Alhamdulillah, next week, we will be enjoying the fifth annual Fast-a-thon and I encourage all of you to donate your time, meal plans, points, and influence to help the Amazing Grace food pantry. Last year, the Wesleyan campus raised over 14,000 dollars to assist over 800 families in Middletown. As Muslims, let us set the example. Let us be the pioneers that Allah has called us to be. He has declared as a just nation. There is no justice when we go to sleep with a full stomach while our neighbors are hungry.
If you have already donated, ask yourself if you can donate more. You probably can- even if you go without several meals for a couple of weeks, we all know it is a short term loss for an everlasting gain.
And so I remind myself before I remind you all with Allah’s words:
Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He will multiply it for him and he will have a noble reward?
On the Day you see the believing men and believing women, their light proceeding before them and on their right, [it will be said], “Your good tidings today are [of] gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein you will abide eternally.” That is what is the great attainment.
May Allah grant all of us the great title of believing men and believing women- the ultimate attainment.