Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Children Are Awake: Post-Election Spiritual Lessons

We woke our children up with extra gentleness the morning after election day. The night was too long, filled with sad, sleepless thoughts about the road ahead.

Calls for optimism filled our social media feed, but many of us were still busy calming the anxiety within ourselves and our homes. We had some dark dreams that night, but it's morning now, the children are awake, and God is the light of the heavens and the earth.

Islam teaches us that the wisest, purest, and bravest things result from the burn of trials and patience. The only way forward is through painful labor, which also carries the promise of ease and the beginnings of something great: “Do not lose heart or despair-you will have the upper hand if you believe--if you have suffered a blow, they too have suffered one like it. We deal out such days among people in turn, for God to find out who truly believes, for Him to choose martyrs from among you-God does not love oppressors...Did you think you would enter the Garden without God first proving which of you would struggle for His cause and remain steadfast?” (Quran 3:139)

While many pundits assure us that all will be well in the upcoming years, we should still brace for a tough time ahead. We will all raise our children a little differently, a little more purposefully. Over the next few weeks, Muslim parents will be drawing from a rich reservoir of verses, remembrances, and practices from their faith to help their children navigate a changed world. Here is a sample of what they may be sharing and teaching:
  1. Allah is in charge. “God always prevails in His purpose, though most people do not realize it.” (The Quran, 12:21) No matter who is in the oval office, who lives next door, who stands in front of the classroom, our Lord is always, always in charge.  He owns the soul of every evil-doer and can give and take life in the blink of an eye. He is the best planner: “They made their plots, but even if their plots had been able to move mountains, God had the answer.” (14: 46)
  1. The Hadith of Ibn Abbas. These words of the Prophet should be present in the minds of every Muslim child. If your child has not memorized them yet, now is the perfect time. They will carry her through every test and fear, in every time and place:
Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.

  1. Life is a test. There will be easy times, and there will be tough times. No one can escape hardship and difficulty in this life. Tests teach us how to be strong and become better people. “Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those who passed away before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that the messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly God’s help is near.” (The Quran, 3:142)

  1. Be generous and do good. Immediately following the verse above is one about spending for the sake of God by giving to our families, orphans, needy, and homeless. Hard times should make us turn to action. We need to think long and hard how to help our children rise out of apathy and helplessness. Helping them serve others and be proactive will deflect the anxiety and build confidence and a sense of agency.

  1. Tell the stories of the Prophets. Our legacy, the legacy of all of the Prophets from Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, to Muhammad, is a cycle of difficulty and ease, corruption and purification, failure and success. Tell these stories to our children, often and many times over, so they learn what to expect when walking on the path of struggle and faith.

  1. We have great friends. Allah is the protector of the believers. He blesses us with each other, to strengthen one another and encourage us upon the path of activism. There are good people, friends, neighbors, and classmates who will help us and join us in working for a better country. Draw your children’s attention to the helpers, the people who reach out, and the people who stand out against injustice. “The believers, both men and women, support each other; they encourage what is right and forbid what is wrong; they keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed charity; they obey God and His Messenger. God will give His mercy to such people: God is almighty and wise.” (The Quran 9:71)

  1. Learn the supplications for protection. The Prophet taught us words to say in the morning and evening and words to say when leaving the house. Teach our children the power of these supplications and the power of Allah’s protection. Mothers and fathers can recite these words for their children every day until they learn to recite them for themselves.

  1. You are escorted by angels. Everywhere you go, every time of day, there are angels in front of you, behind you, and on your sides protecting you from harm by the will of God. Nothing can come to you unless Allah has permitted it. “Each person has angels before him and behind him, watching over him by God’s command…” (13:11)

  1. Light is stronger than darkness. As dark as it may appear, light is always stronger. Bad words are like an upturned tree, good words are a tree with deep roots and high-reaching branches. Goodness will drive away the hate: “They wish to put His light out with their breaths. But He will complete His light, even though the disbelievers hate it.” (The Quran 61:8)

  1. When you are feeling low, remember Allah. One of our primary jobs as Muslim parents is to remind our children of God, everyday, constantly. Remembering Him, praising Him, soothes the hearts and calms our fears. It also helps us restrain our own anxiety, which may cause us to have short tempers. “Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility.” (13:28) And: “We are well aware that your heart is weighed down by what they say. So celebrate the glory of your Lord and be among those who bow down to Him: worship your Lord until what is certain comes to you.” (15:97)

Prophet Abraham and Prophet Yusuf, Salman, Bilal, and Ammar came of age amidst flames, persecution, and estrangement. Maybe our children growing up amidst this confusion will become bolder than we are. The frivolous things in life, which so consumed us yesterday, will occupy less space in their minds. May God guide, protect, and empower every human soul with goodness in his or her heart.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dried Up

In the name of God... Bismillah.

I wrote prolifically once, filling notebooks with ramblings, author imitations, and the opening chapters of several novels. A shy teenager, I wrote poetry with my back to tree trunks and by the edge of streams.

Later, I turned to translation and editing as a way to develop my writing professionally and serve social causes I believed in. Less personal, translations, editing, and ghost writing allowed me to write without exposing any raw edges or vulnerability.

Then the chaos of motherhood shook my will to be a disciplined writer. Exhausted and over-stimulated, I slept through the creative hours of the morning and looked forward to the night for more time. Arriving in the dark, post-bedtime, my soul was deflated and creativity sapped. Tomorrow, I hoped, there will be time to write.

But the promise of a successful tomorrow is more musical than today's mediocre work. I am silent to all but my kids-to them, I am a stream of chatter, tsks, and calls. Mothering is a lonely, noisy march.

It's been several years since I've written anything. There have been emails, edited several pieces, some minor translating jobs, but I have not written in my voice for a long time. I've forgotten what it sounds like on paper, and whether I ever had one at all.

In all that time of not-writing, I still feel the writer's impulse, the slights and shrugs of nature still reach my ears and whisper to be captured. Ideas churn and I compose blog posts in my mind, save ideas in notebooks. Whether or not I am good at it, writing is part of my soul fabric and will always beg to be set free.

I know better than to promise a return. I do not know if there is a writer to be rediscovered, or if years of silence have dried up the well. This blog may be an act of courage. Or just a clearing of the throat.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Moment

These days, I am struggling to find time for even the most basic necessities. Blogging, to my very deep regret, has taken a seat waaaaay in the back.

[this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Inspired by Soulemama.

Marvelous Winter
To our friends and family on the East Coast, come visit us. Houston winters are marvelous. The children live in the backyard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Moment

{this moment}

Learning that a sunset cannot be enjoyed behind windows.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Slow Living

Our baby boy was born three weeks ago on the 15th of Ramadan Alhamdulillah. I prayed up until the last minutes of Ramadan that Allah swt would make the upcoming months easy, as I struggled to manage a house full of little ones, homeschooling, and all of the other duties of a mother, wife, and housekeeper. I cried several times the day my mother left, as though a safety net was taken away and feeling that I was totally on my own with four kids.

Five days later, I feel very peaceful and content, thanks to Allah. Yes, it is crazy and I have to remind myself to breathe in between the long sequences of mechanical activities: feeding, washing, nursing, changing two diapered bottoms, cleaning up messes, laying babies down to sleep, and satisfying endless pleas for attention. At one point, I laughed at the scene we created: me in my rocking chair nursing the baby, the toddler in my other arm singing (yelling) very loudly in the baby's ear as I restrained her from putting all of her weight on the baby, my eldest giving a long narration about the different characters in her drawing, and my three-year-old whining for more yogurt at my feet.

But my mantra has been, "Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly." No outings, no cooking (thanks to a freezer-full of food), no to-do lists, and no obligations. My expectations for myself are zero--if I can get through the day without yelling or losing my sense of compassion, and incorporating a little bit of Quran for me and the children, then I had a good day. Ironically, those days are also when I surprise myself with how much I actually end up doing to educate and nurture my children, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We've made playdough, collected tree bark rubbings, decorated sugar cookies, learned some yoga, read tons of storybooks, and spent lots of time on the couch with a blanket, pillows, and a nursing baby, talking and learning. Being confined to the house has calmed the pace of our day and my older ones are forced to tap into their own creativity to entertain themselves.

This week has been an experiment in slow family living and I'm very inspired by this new rhythm of home life!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Five-Year-Old Fears

I know I haven’t been writing for some time, and probably will be quiet for at least another month or so. We’re expecting our fourth baby any day now and I am slowly chipping away at a long to-do list and several challenging projects, but in a non-stressful and trust-in-Allah (swt) way.

I wanted, however, to share a few thoughts and happenings while they are still fresh in my mind, so I may come here to post intermittently in the next few weeks.

My five-year-old recently made the most interesting proclamation.

“Mama, there are two things I am so, so, so, SO afraid of.”

“What are they?” I was expecting a deep confession.

“Onions and Elevators.”

And then she took a deep breath and launched into a dramatic, aggrandized monologue.

“Onions because they hurt my eyes and you ALWAYS cut onions at the table and we have to run away. And they hurt my eyes so, so, SO much. And I’m also afraid that the elevator doors will close on Noor. I am so, so, SO afraid of the elevators. They open and close SO fast and we never know what button to press. And we might press the wrong floor sometimes and Noor might get out when it’s not the right time…”

Onions and elevators. Reminds me of a Shel Silverstein poem. Only a child could have thought of such a pair!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grand Canyon


When you visit the Grand Canyon, there is not much to do but hike and look. You can spend the whole day gazing at it, watching the light play off the cliffs and the shadows move across the expanse. Two days of looking though wasn't enough for me. The first time you see the canyon, and for a long time after that, you can only stare at it. If it weren't for the restless children, I would have found a spot on a cliff, brought my lunch, and sat there in meditation from morning to dusk, watching the shadow and light give shape and dimension to the canyon's peaks and ridges, an entirely different view unfolding every hour. It is so vast that it is unsettling, as if your mind has an idea how huge it is but your senses cannot grasp the proportions. So you just stare into the enormous chasm before you.

Every national park I visit, I find that John Muir has described it as though he has seen what I've seen and felt what I felt. He described coming across the view at the Grand canyon, "as novel to you, as unearthly in the color and grandeur and quantity of its architecture, as if you had found it after death, on some other star …"

The naturalist in the visitor center mentioned that the canyon gets deeper on average by less than a fingernail every year. When you look at the enormous space and vastness of the canyon, and imagine that all that grew by fractions of inches every year, you begin to have a vague sense of the canyon's age. The drops of water, snow, slow-drifting glaciers, and wind all shape the canyon in miniscule, painstaking ways, yet have created one of the most enormous geological wonders of the world. I was reminded of one of the sunnan (ways or laws) of Allah (swt) on this earth--that of gradual change. Within civilization and history, even when things appear to be hopeless, immutable, or impossible, there are the smallest, subtlest forces of change at work. Grains of sand blowing against the rocks, carving away at the walls, creating a new landscape. Tiny forces of erosion are working to build us up or wear us down, within our own hearts, as individuals, as families, as communities.

Nothing is still, not for even a second. Whether we are doing our best to raise our children, working for social change, or teaching others, we are responsible for the effort, the sweat and the toil, the long hours and sleepless nights thinking, discussing, planning, and praying, "HOW?" And then the rest happens through Allah (swt) in His power and in His ways. For those working for a better place on earth, it gives us hope and something to pray for-that the winds are blowing behind our backs, that the sunsets are softening the hearts, and the rain is making the soil firmer beneath our feet.



(In case this post inspires you to visit the Grand Canyon, due to the current boycott of Arizona over the SB1070 immigration law enacted this summer that mandates racial profiling and unjustly targets the Hispanic community, I humbly recommend postponing any visits to this beautiful state and national park until the call to boycott has ended)