Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teaching Children Quran

I am brainstorming how to start teaching my two-year-old daughter Quran. She can hardly speak yet, but she is soaking in information at a bewildering pace, putting two and two together in such creative ways. I hope the Quran can be an integral part of her learning in this phase.

For me, results are secondary. She doesn’t have to have a certain number of surahs memorized, be learning at a certain pace, or know how to read by a certain age. If she knows 20 surahs by the time she’s five, or if she only knows three, that’s OK. While we are all amazed by children who memorize the whole Quran by the time they are ten, that may or may not be within our own children’s ability. If we push them too hard, we might get results but in the process crush the internal desire and associate stress, boredom, and frustration with learning the Quran. I care much more that she loves the Quran, loves to pick it up, leaf through its pages, and pretend to recite. I want her to know that it is something very special.

Here are a few things that I’ve been trying. Please share your ideas too.

1. Play the Quran throughout the day. The Quran should be the soundtrack of our homes! Constantly playing in the background whether the children are playing, eating, riding in the car, or going to sleep, the Quran should become a normal, familiar part of their lives.

2. Read Quran before something special. My daughter loves to sit down with a pile of books and read with me. Since I have her total attention at that time, I’ve started reading a short surah before each book. “Ok, let’s read this one! We can start it with Surah Al-Ikhlas…” I’ve found that she is paying attention, eager to get to the story, and she is also associating the Quran with something that she already loves.

3. Have a tape for the car, a tape for bedtime. Although I haven’t been disciplined with this, I think it’s a great idea to play the same tape over and over again in the car, and before sleeping.

4. Set the example. This is the best way, and for me it is what I am most struggling with. When we hear a song, see something fascinating, or taste something good, we react in a way that makes our children share in that joy and interest. If we read the Quran throughout the day, read it while doing housework, listen to it when we want to relax, and feel and show true pleasure when we are with the Quran, our kids will naturally share that love. They will adopt an attachment to the Quran, so intrinsically part of their routine that they miss it when it’s not there.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Death of Another College Student

A relative and neighbor of my sister-in-law was kidnapped and murdered by the lawless, soulless criminals that now run wild in Baghdad. We cried for the Virginia Tech students--I wonder if we have enough humanity to also cry for an Iraqi student.

He was a 21-year-old college student, a giving friend, and a devoted son. His family found his bullet-riddled body, after they had paid the $20,000 ransom in hope of his safe return. You can read an account of his life and death at http://thoughtsfrombaghdad.blogspot.com

May God give his family comfort, strength, and infinite reward for the suffering they are going through. To God we belong and to Him we return (inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un).

Deep Sorrow

We have come a long way in intellectually challenging the isolationist thinking that once blanketed the Muslim community. MAS Youth workers and activists of all backgrounds, whether immigrants or indigenous, are helping to reformulate the American Muslim identity as one that is rooted and invested in society.

When a tragedy strikes, like the horrific shootings at Virgina Tech this week, and America rallies together, at least on the newscasts, it's a good time to study our reactions as a community, to see how well this identity is rooted.

Do we feel the sorrow and grief so deeply, that it aches as if our own child or brother had been shot?

Do we instead place ourselves outside of the chaos, evaluating the situation, wondering how the Muslim element comes to play in all of this? Maybe breathe a sigh of relief that Muslims are neither victims nor targets of media attention?

Or do we blurt, "See how messed up this country is!"

There's not a right or wrong way to react to this incident, but reflecting on our thinking is a good way of knowing where we are as individuals and a movement in establishing a strong American Muslim identity. And perhaps none of these responses is bad—we should strive for a balance between all of them, as did all Prophets when calling their people to Allah.

We feel the deepest sorrow, one that reaches beyond religious identity, acquaintance, and locality. We join our community in grieving the lost lives and shattered families.

We contemplate and think deeply about this tragedy, with the mind of one who has the only solution and the heart of one who is concerned for a beloved unaware.

We realize the disaster of a community without belief, recognize the side-effects of a system that extends no hope to the suffering and no protection for the innocent. We resolve to work harder to demonstrate and work for the message of Islam.

What are your thoughts about Virginia Tech?

Monday, April 16, 2007

5 Tools for Self-Development

In Parenting from the Inside Out, a book that argues that deepening self-awareness can help us become better parents, the authors identify five tools that are key to parenting. I found that these are general internal principles that are helpful in any endeavor, whether character development, building habits, cultivating a marriage, and overcoming weaknesses. I'm summarizing the five points here, mixed in with a few personal remarks.

1. Being Mindful. This mindfulness is the essence of a strong relationship. It is to be aware of the present moment, aware of the person or situation in front of you, not preoccupied with the future, your fears, your self-doubt, or your history. With a child, being mindful is truly connecting with her, listening to her, fully experiencing the shared moments, purposefully choosing your responses and behavior. The authors write, "Children can readily detect intention and thrive when there is purposeful interaction with their parents. It is within our children's emotional connections with us that they develop a deeper sense of themselves and a capacity for relating."

2. Lifelong Learning. When I became a parent, and more so everyday, I realize the glaring character faults and weaknesses I have. Instead of reacting with frustration, this realization should be a positive one--an opportunity for self-growth and learning, the ultimate tarbiyah experience from Allah (swt). No matter what stage we are in life, difficulty and obstacles are opportunities to become better people. Whenever we grow and learn as parents, our children will benefit, even if the road is bumpy at times. As one dear friend said, "Your children will learn courage, persistence, and strength by watching you deal with your issues and improve, and they will be all the better for it."

3. Response Flexibility. This is the skill of prioritizing, thinking quickly, and changing behaviors, and this ability can be developed through the previous two abilities--in many people, it does not come naturally. The first step in achieving response flexibility is insight, acknowledging our weaknesses. The authors write, "Response flexibility is the ability of the mind to sort through a wide variety of mental processes, such as impulses, ideas, and feelings, and come up with a thoughtful, nonautomatic response... it is the opposite of a knee-jerk reaction... When tired, hungry, frustrated, disappointed, or angered, we can lose the ability to be reflective and become limited in our capacity to choose behaviors."

4. Mindsight. I thought this was really similar to the concept of ikhlas, sincerity. It is a deep level of self-awareness, and the ability to perceive our own thoughts and emotions. KNOWING our minds. Not only must we be aware of what is going through our own minds, but also what is going through the minds of our children. We might be able to get our child to read Quran/wear hijab/eat her food/put her shoes away, but what is going through her head? The behavior is what we wanted, but is the deeper level of the mind where we want it to be?

5. Joyful Living. The author writes, "enjoying your child and sharing in the awe of discovering what it means to be alive, to be a person in a wondrous world, is crucial for the development of your child's positive sense of self.... Remembering and reflecting on the experiences of day-to-day life creates a deep sense of feeling connected and understood." This section should be renamed, "Joyful Living for the sake of Allah, and Appreciation of His Bounty."



Saturday, April 14, 2007

Favorite Passages: Gentle Diversion

From "In the Footsteps of the Prophet", pg. 16

After recounting the story of the Prophet (saw) as a young man wishing out of curiosity to attend some of the Makkan celebrations, and Allah making him fall asleep before he could even reach the celebrations, to protect him from witnessing the immoral behavior, Ramadan writes,

"While gentleness and diversion were used to protect him, those events--which the Prophet was later to mention--gradually built in him a moral sense shaped through the understanding of those signs and of what they protected him from. This natural initiation into morals, remote from any obsession with sin and fostering of guilt, greatly influenced the kind of education the Prophet was to impart to his companions. With a teaching method relying on gentleness, on the common sense of individuals, and on their understanding of commands, the Prophet also strove to teach them how to put their instincts to sleep, so to speak, and how to resort to diversion to escape evil temptations. For those Companions, as for us, in all ages and societies, this teaching method is most valuable and reminds us that a moral sense should be developed no through interdiction and sanction but gradually, gently, exactingly, understandingly, and at a deep level."

This stood out to me in many ways, particularly in its implications for raising children.

Favorite Passages from "In the Footsteps of the Prophet"

An Education, and Nature (pg. 12)

Ramadan writes,

"The spiritual teaching that can be drawn from [nature] is essential, both for the Prophet's education, and for our own education throughout history: being close to nature, respecting what it is, and observing and meditating on what it shows us, offers us, or takes from us requirements of a faith that, in its quest, attempts to feed, deepen and renew itself. Nature is the primary guide and the intimate companion of faith.

...Far removed from the formalism of soulless religious rituals, this sort of education, in and through its closeness to nature, fosters a relationship to the divine based on contemplation and depth that will later make it possible, in a second phase of spiritual education, to understand the meaning, form, and objectives of religious ritual. Cut off from nature in our towns and cities, we nowadays seem to have forgotten the meaning of this message to such an extent that we dangerously invert the order of requirements and believe that learning about the techniques and forms of religion (prayers, pilgrimages, the different fiqh, etc.) is sufficient to grasp and understand their meaning and objectives. This delusion has serious consequences since it leads to draining religious teaching of its spiritual substance, which actually ought to be its heart."

A Book on How to Love the Prophet (saw)

Oxford UP came out this year with a new book on the personality of the Prophet (saw) by Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet.

This work is exceptional among the many English books on the life of Prophet Muhammad (saw). It is not a biography or a seerah. Unfortunately, many of the English seerah books are dry, academic and strictly factual, conveying little of the spirit and soul of the greatest man who ever lived. While there are a number of books that take a different approach in Arabic, they have not yet been translated. It is sometimes hard to foster deep love for the Prophet when all of the English seerah books focus on when, where, how.

This book takes a very different approach, not attempting to cover or even give an overview of the chronological events, but rather attempting to capture the spirit of the Prophet's life. Who was he, really? What made the companions love him more deeply than their own souls, and what can we do to foster that same love in ourselves?

I thought this book was a wonderful companion to someone who is reading the seerah, which is an essential component of our Muslim identity. It's my kind of armchair book: mesmerizing language, easy flow, thought-provoking notions. I might write a few posts on some of the ideas in the book.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Beautiful Hadith

"Allah says: 'Son of Adam: Fill your time with My worship and I will fill your heart with richness, and relieve your neediness. But if you do not, I will make your hands preoccupied and anxious with worldly affairs and I will not relieve your poverty.'" (Tirmidhi)

Always with Wudu

In my usra a few weeks ago, we discussed the spiritual effects of always being in a state of purity, a state of wudu.

It only takes about one or two minutes to perform wudu, yet the ensuing consciousness is powerful. Opportunities for worship more readily come to mind, and self-awareness is heightened. Sin is somewhat more distant, for who would readily sin when in a state of wudu? And death seems nearer, for who would not love to die in a state of wudu?

And then there is the hope for Allah's love, for He says in the Quran, "Truly Allah loves those who often purify themselves."

Not only is wudu a prerequisite to prayer, but it is also worship in itself. There are hadeeth that speak of believers whose limbs and faces will be shining brightly on the Day of Judgment, from their frequent wudu.

It is such a simple measure, not required of the believer, yet it really helps me maintain a higher level of connectedness with Allah. Especially because everything at home is rush-rush, cry-cry, break-fall, open-close, spill-drop. Having wudu makes it easier for me to pick up a Quran and read for two or three minutes in between chores or squeeze in sunnah prayers throughout the day.

It makes me feel that worship is at my fingertips, and only a moment away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Snail on the Sidewalk

Sometime during my college years, I developed a fright of all crawly creatures from spiders to crabs to mice. This is markedly different from my childhood, when ladybugs and caterpillars crawled over my fingers and I collected hermit crabs at the seashore. Now, it is all I can do to keep the screams inside.

But, as I’m trying to nurture a true nature-lover in my daughter, I try very hard to hide the squirms.

“Ooooh, Look! A spider.” [breathe, breathe, smile, breathe, don’t really look directly at it.]

“Let’s take it outside—actually, let’s get Abbi to take it outside.”

Today, as we walked back from the playground, we stopped to literally smell the flowers, which were blooming in early April and filling the air with perfume. My oldest daughter stuck her nose into a cluster of flowers and a snail dropped out of them unto the sidewalk. As she bent down to pick it up, I resisted the, “Yuck, don’t touch it” that welled up and instead averted my eyes. It’s not going to hurt her, so I’ll just look away until she’s done with her exploration.

Then I hear a crunch, like eggshells on the sidewalk, and see her step on the snail’s shell with her shoe.

NO! It’s a living creature!

EWWWWW! Gross.

How’s she supposed to learn what it is unless I teach her?

Too conflicted to look at the dead snail on the sidewalk, I grabbed her hand and we hurry away.

The Hummer on the Balcony

My husband calls it my hummer.

It is big, huge, bulky, but it has 12" air-filled tires, full seat recline, swivel wheels, and I can push it with one finger.

I call it, "stroller love of my life."

Since my first pregnancy, I became fascinated by strollers, sort of like an obsession over sports cars. It's not an excessive obsession--although I love looking at strollers in the store, I only have a Zooper Z-street single stroller (under 90 bucks), a $15 umbrella stroller that got run over by our car, and my new Mountain Buggy double stroller. Nothing like the 15 or 20 strollers many of my new stroller fanatic friends have. And I'm not willing to pay $500 for a stroller. Once I decide on a purchase, I don't look back at those message boards, at least until my stroller breaks down or I need to upgrade to a triple.

I spent hours researching double strollers on the internet, and learned about Bugaboos, Baby Joggers, BJCSDs, Inglesinas, MBUDs, and Bobs. Stroller message boards are full of moms boasting their latest $600 addition to a garage-full of strollers. Moms who buy new skins every month for their strollers, who charge $30 to newcomers for custom, personal advice on which stroller to buy, and who laugh at moms who push Gracos (hey, I like Graco strollers, just not their double ones, which, with two toddlers inside, can be like pushing a train)

Materialistic? Yes. Petty? Yes. Do I have nothing better to do? No. I doubt I'd like these mothers very much in person--they are probably the same mothers in designer jeans, $100 diaper bags, who frown at other moms in the playground. The Washington Post would call them "hip moms". I'm not sure what I would call them--definitely not hip, maybe image-obsessed.

BUT, I convinced myself, I needed to figure out what stroller to buy.

I finally decided on a stroller that normally retails for $600--that I found in an overstock, returned open-box, 2005 model. Hurray! I got a top-of-the-line, solid stroller for the price of a Graco.

To my stroller friends, all I'd have to say is I bought a navy MBUD and they would know exactly what that meant. The tough, all-terrain stroller that only outdoorsy moms would like, but their husbands go ga-ga for.

I wanted something more suited to power-walking, hiking trails, suburban streets, and sand-filled playgrounds than malls, narrow aisles, and coffee shops. So I got a super durable, rugged all-terrain jogging stroller that "pushes like butter", as strollermama would say.

Once I buy something that I've researched well, I won't take any criticism. Nope, it's perfect. I don't look back, it's just what I wanted. Never mind that it folds like a 30-lb. bedroom dresser and I huff and puff as I heave it into the trunk of our Corolla. Miraculously, it does fit.

Or that the only place I can store it in our one-bedroom apartment is on our balcony.

Never mind that women--the Graco moms--give me funny looks as I push this lawnmower into my neighborhood coffee shop (effortlessly and one-handed, I might add), but a male customer remarks, "that's a neat stroller!" Even my husband admitted it was a good buy--it has good parts, he said.

I haven't gone back to the stroller boards since my last, and final, stroller purchase. I know strollerqueen would just tell me I need a lightweight, side-by-side for malls and plane trips, but I'm not that hip.

I'm happy with this one-time, and I hope lasting, waltz with a really cool stroller.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Coping with Fatigue

After the birth of my second daughter, I struggled with intense fatigue due to both excessive blood loss during labor, anemia, and the exhaustion of being a new mom. The daily challenges of caring for a newborn and an attention-hungry, demanding toddler seemed just too much. Every night, knowing I would only have 4 or 5 hours of sleep, I panicked and wondered how I would ever make it through the next day.

Somehow, as my mother reassured me, you always make it through the next day. Four things in particular helped me handle the fatigue I was feeling, and still feel from time to time. Actually, five things, if you count Starbucks.

The first was convincing myself that Allah (swt) would never give me this task and responsibility if I wasn't physically capable of handling it. If He gave the responsibility, He would also give me all of the tools-physical, mental, emotional-I need to successfully handle it. The verse in the Quran, "Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear," is not just in tragedy or trials, but also in the daily responsibilities we face. When we feel overwhelmed by a trust or responsibility, it is probably because we don't have the right mindset, or are underestimating our capabilities, not that we are incompetent. So stepping up to the plate was not a physical impossibility, but a matter of working on myself--on my patience, endurance, and willingness to put my personal comfort aside sometimes.

Reliance on Allah, or tawakkul, was the second factor that helped me get through the fatigue, although I wish I had nurtured this characteristic more in myself. My husband and I are not the only caretakers of our children--Allah (swt) watches over them, takes care of their well-being, and envelopes them in His mercy and love.

The third was my sisters in my usra--as usual, they "got my back". They cooked for me, watched my older daughter while I caught a few much-needed hours of sleep, and inquired frequently about me. I will never forget how they helped me get through a really tough time.

Finally, I was reminded about the story of Fatimah, may Allah be pleased with her, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw). Overwhelmed by housework, and probably struggling with young children too, she went to her father to ask for a servant to help her. The Prophet responded with a very different sort of help: recite every night Subhanallah 33 times, Alhamdulillah 33 times, and Allahu Akbar 34 times.

I always interpreted the moral of this story as "increase in remembrance of Allah" and "it is better to increase in worship than seek benefit in this world." Those may be lessons to be learned from the story, but it can also be taken literally. Saying these words every night--will really help lessen the fatigue! It gives you energy to accomplish your tasks, a spring in your step, and relieves stress.

And then, OK, a tall cappuccino every once in a while also helps.

Sensing Sincerity

Have you ever experienced a total mindset change?

Mindset changes can be gradual, developing with the accumulation of experience and knowledge, or they can be sudden, like waking up from a deep sleep. Sudden change requires an instantaneous realization, the precise key that was needed for the lock in your head.

As a MAS Youth worker, I was often skeptical of whether I could really impact the youth around me. I tried this, tried that, was it working? Was it making a difference? Sometimes I thought yes, sometimes it all seemed like one big guess.

Then I heard something in a workshop by the MAS Tarbiyah Department that really got me thinking:

The first, most useful tool for us as mentors is our sincerity.

People around us sense that sincerity, so that even if we make some mistakes or don’t do everything perfectly, they can tell when someone truly cares for them, wants them to succeed in their life mission, and is trying to empower them. Sincerity, hoping for nothing but the pleasure of Allah in guiding others, makes the hearts open and the ears listen. We have an array of tools to make our youth think, make them cry, make them talk, make them act, but it is the sincerity in our hearts: that will win the Help of Allah: that will make them truly feel empowered to change. This genuine, selfless concern for the youth we hope to influence can work wonders.

Aha!

Suddenly the daunting responsibility of helping others to change became conceivable, because while working on others I can strengthen my efforts by working on myself. I can be amplifying the progress of my usra members by making sincere dua for my sisters, nurturing deep-rooted concern and care for them, and always believing in their potential. Not only, as Shaikh Qaradawi explains in Sincerity, is sincerity to Allah the magic ingredient that turns every action into worship, but it also brings synergy to our work and deepens our ability to influence others, with the will of Allah (swt).