Genesis 11:5

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. Genesis 11:5

The old man is snoring

The rain is pouring, pattering on all of the rooftops and asphalt. There's not much a view from my window - I can't see the sky, only another building stares back at me. A cool breeze drifts into my room, a mercy on this the 9th day of Ramadan. I've been spending my afternoons and evenings at the mosque. The environment is growing on me; strong personalities, the array of cultural differences, and all. Sometimes arguments arise between the men, or between the women, and the conflicts are resolved quickly. But other times more challenging personalities with very negative behaviour wander into the mosque environment, posing serious problems. Last night the police were called to escort a disruptive man out of the building. Overall, I want to attend as many days as possible, accepting the weaknesses and challenges facing the Muslim community in New York City. It is different from what I experienced in the UK, and will take more getting used to.

I've met several ladies who came to the US many years ago, but still do not speak English well. Perhaps if I stayed here, or if I ever return here, I could offer free English classes. Also, whenever I've mentioned my background working with refugees, I've had ladies approach me saying that they are refugees and need assistance applying for asylum. In short, the needs of the Muslim community here are becoming apparent to me. I feel strongly that I can't complain about the areas that concern me, unless I stay or invest long enough to contribute myself to the improvement and growth of this community. 

Photo of men's prayer area taken from the women's balcony. Notice the man napping in the masjid. When he woke up he recited one of the most beautiful recitations of Ayat al-Kursi that I've ever heard. Incidentally, his recitation woke me from my nap in the balcony.

More education about Islam is definitely needed, as well.  Certainly the conflicts that I mentioned initially would be resolved much more quickly, or even be completely avoided, if folks actually adhered to the mandate of peace and kindness established in Islam. Perhaps I'll return to the states in a couple of years with a lot more knowledge and ability to implement beneficial classes and support in the American Muslim community.

Sinjab (squirrel) hanging out at the masjid. It's not common to see squirrels running around the city!

I prayed Salat Al-Istikharah yesterday and today regarding a marriage proposal by a middle-aged, Muslim professional. Even my mom complimented my decision to refuse it. Allah knows better than anyone what I wish for and need the most.

Taraweeh prayers tonight were most definitely worth the trek down and across town. The children were more rowdy than I expected - now I understand why the ladies were complaining earlier this week. I love the recitation. I love praying shoulder to shoulder with sisters.

Fresh and Whole

I'm feeling thirsty, and a bit weak in the knees. I heard a profound point today regarding the physical sensations associated with Ramadan: 
"Imagine the hunger and thirst we are feeling right now, unfortunately this is normal for our brothers and sisters around the world. Let us dig deep in our pockets and sponsor food packages for our brothers and sisters over the world."
At the same time, one feels happiness in the midst of the obedience and discipline. I've been blessed this week with a lighter teaching schedule, so I'm passing my afternoons praying and reading Quran in the mosque. Now that I've learned the full Tashahhud in Arabic (concluding prayer of 5 daily prayers) and how to pray Taraweeh (night prayers of Ramadan) at home, I feel that I'm fasting Ramadan more fully than last year. I smile when I meet other Muslims on the subway or pass them in the street - we exchange greetings of peace, and revel in the sense of solidarity. I'm inspired by every slideshow I see of Muslims from the United States to London, England to Khartoum, Sudan to Riyadh, Saudia Arabia to Delhi, India to Afghanistan fasting the holy month of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan provides a surge of motivation and strong sense of focus on the Quran, improving our behaviour, and making generosity a habit. I was fortunate to purchase fresh Saudi dates from my fruit vendor today. He sold them to me for barely anything above the wholesale price. We know that Allah rewards the one who feeds a fasting Muslim Iftar (meal for breaking the fast). May Allah reward him.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Oh people! If any of you arranges Iftar for any believer, Allah will reward you as if you freed a slave, and Allah will forgive your sins."
The month of Ramadan is ridden with constant reminders of Allah's mercy and forgiveness, which are offered readily in response to our submission in fasting and prayer. I pray very desperately for peace in Syria this Ramadan. I pray for peace in Palestine. I pray that the world's resources will be more and more evenly distributed between people of every colour, race, ethnicity, and creed, eliminating the gap between the rich and the poor.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”

E 96th St

We've already reached the third day of Ramadan. I thank Allah for making the fast easy on us. I thank Allah for the cool weather, which arrived on Thursday. I didn't need to turn my fan on at all today. 

Prayer area at the masjid.

View from the balcony. The carpet is brand new.
I spent yesterday evening at the beautiful mosque on E 96th Street. I could only get my hands on one date to open the fast, before Reuters News reporters directed their news camera at me to ask what Ramadan means to me. As I walked through the mosque, I could not stop smiling. I felt so happy to be among other Muslims to break the fast. How different it felt from last year, coming home to my quiet room in Hatfield to break the fast in solitude. I chatted with a couple of ladies, one from Leeds, England and one from Egypt, who very quickly asked me to tell them my story, and how I was guided to Islam. Later, all of the ladies and men were channelled into respective areas of the building, to be served rice and meat with naan. The women were seated in what looked like a school cafeteria, and finding a seat was also reminiscent of a school cafeteria.

I was happy to meet new people, but also disappointed to hear some ladies complaining about certain aspects of the Ramadan regime. They complained about children making too much noise, and about the parents who do not discipline them. Of course parents should teach their children how to behave, but I'm sure that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) would have been merciful and playful with them, not angry. I mentioned this to the ladies, remembering that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), despite his great love for prayer (salah) and Quran recitation, would shorten the prayers at the mosque if he heard a baby crying or a restless child. He knew it was hard for children to sit through long prayers, and he knew that they just wanted to play. 

Tonight I decided to pray at home. I feel better able to study and focus on the spiritual process that is Ramadan, in private. I studied the External Etiquette of Making Dua, Tafseer of Surah Maryam, and Tashahhud Al-Thani. I ate fruit and salad to rehydrate. I ate peanuts and almonds as a snack, and then an omelet with sharp cheddar cheese, and even later, some De Cecco Whole Wheat Pasta with Organic Bertolli Pasta Sauce.  الحمد لله
Ramadan Kareem! (Have a generous Ramadan!)

I felt safer staying inside, safer than last night when I travelled by bus and subway late at night to get home. I spoke with my family throughout the day, and napped intermittently. I am grateful for this month, this fast, when we are able to learn more about this religion and the Quran. We must also increase our generosity during this month, as much as possible. I shared food with my flatmate. I gave cookies to the Latina lady who cleans the bathroom at work, so she could take them to her children. A young African American man was carrying candy bars through ever car of the subway, trying to sell them. Immediately I was compelled to give something, without taking any candy. I also wanted to reward the young man for his hard work.  Perhaps I should have been more generous than I was. But it's as if we're looking for excuses to be generous during this period, and that is how it always should be.

Keep Calm and Welcome Ramadan

I don't know that I've ever made such a major life decision with so little anxiety. The ease of the decision-making process is yet another surprising benefit of Islam. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, but I did not expect to feel such peace after choosing between these two potential next steps. I have been learning over the past couple of years about Salaat Al-Istikhara, the prayer which the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ) taught Muslims to pray whenever they are making a significant choice. I appreciate the incredibly informative and accessible lesson on Salaat Al-Istikhara presented by Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda of the Al-Qalam Institute. Muslims do not pray for guidance about a decision without thinking through the decision logically and seeking sound counsel. Actually, the Muslim is strongly encouraged to learn as much as possible about their options, and to seek counsel from anyone who may provide insight and knowledge that will further inform the decision.

I truly cannot remember a time that I made a major decision without feeling one bit of anxiety about the choice. Even when I made choices that proved good for me, I still second-guessed my choice incessantly, almost always to the point that I nearly turned back. Now, I feel calm, and excitement. Again I say, all praise and thanks be to Allah (الحمد لله) for the peace I feel about where I am going next ان ساء الله.

Ramadan is upon us. I've been practising this month, according to the example of the Prophet Muhammad ( صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم ). Every worry I had about teaching all day, speaking for six or more hours at work without a sip of water, has dissipated. I have fasted several consecutive days in advance, in hopes that both my body and spirit will be more prepared for the month-long fast.

This clever image combines two loves of mine: 1) Reminders of Ramadan and 2) Reminders of London, England
I passed through Grand Central Station on Sunday afternoon, and stopped to buy bread at a small shop inside. The manager began to ask me where I am from - often Muslims from Muslim countries cannot accept "I'm American" as an answer, without convincing. But once I had answered him briefly about why I chose to become Muslim, he became quite happy. It's refreshing to hear about new Muslims; I know that already. In the end, he insisted on giving me a discount on the bread that I bought. Of course I am grateful to him, along with the fruit vendor around the corner from my school, who also discounts my fruit and vegetables because of our common faith. Allah teaches in Al-Quran and Hadith that Muslims will be rewarded for our generosity, for feeding each other, for sharing with each other. Obedience through generosity brings joy to the Muslim's heart, because there's a strong sense that in addition to showing kindness to another person, we've also come closer to earning the favor of Allah سبحانه و تعالى (pure and exalted is Allah).

I feel happy speaking about Al-Quran, and I remain in awe. I think that I always will be. Nouman Ali Khan provides a brief, yet profound, set of examples of the Linguistic Miracles of the Quran that is geared toward non-Muslims. He mentions the significance of the Quran being revealed to and preserved by an oral society, and how this reality compounds the miraculous reality of the Quran. Nouman Ali Khan provides examples of the intentionality and profound depth of every word and its place in the Quran. Through proper study of the Quran and Arabic, one can discover incredible depth of meaning that is lost many times in translation.

Shaban in New York

Shaban is the month of the Islamic Calendar when the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is known to have fasted more than any other month of the year other than Ramadan. For this reason, I have made an effort to fast as much and whenever possible, particularly Mondays and Thursdays. These are the days of the week that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast. I thank Allah because these days of fasting have been good practice and preparation for Ramadan; the worries I had about teaching all day while fasting have dissipated.

There's a man with a fruit stand on West 26th street who gives me free fruit and veggies, because we share a common faith. Today a man a bread shop in Grand Central Station offered me a discount on the loaf of bread that I bought, because I am his sister in Islam. As I waited to take the 1 train today, an Arab family dressed in traditional thobes, goutras, and niqabs exited the train. I greeted them 'Asalaam aleikum' and the women returned the greeting, with smiles I could detect from their eyes. Even the father or uncle of the family, adorned in red and white traditional dress, waved to me and called back 'wa aleikum salaam!' 

What a lovely weekend in Wassaic. Now it's back to the rush of teaching. This week, the start of Ramadan, I am making decisions about the future and praying Istikharah. Alhamdulillah I have been given peace of heart and mind and good, impeccably-timed counsel from friends.

Friday in July

My students ask me if I am too hot wearing hijab and long sleeves. No, I'm comfortable; I'm smiling. I'm grateful for my teaching job, where I can work in air conditioning. It is said that the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wa salaam) fasted more in the month of Shaban than any other month of the year, other than Ramadan. What wonderful preparation it has been to fast these days, in anticipation of the holy month of Ramadan. I'm looking very much forward to the fast. And fasting has been made easier for me, alhamdulillah. The days are longer now than they will be in Ramadan, but I have the energy and ability to fast whilst teaching and working all day and night at my new job. My mouth has not become too dry, nor my body too weak to work and fast. This is a gift from Allah.

These days I'm praying. The prayer of Musa, that I mentioned before, along with two others in particular:

حسبي الله لا اله الا هو عليه توكلت وهو رب العرش العظيم.

Allah is sufficient for me. There is none worthy of worship but him. I have placed my trust in him, he is Lord of the Majestic Throne

The dua (prayer) of Yunus (Jonah) alayhi salaam (peace be upon him)

لا اله الا انت سبحانك أني كنت من الظالمين

There are none worthy of worship besides you. Glorified are you. Surely I am from the wrongdoers note: whatever dua made after recital, Allah will accept it inshallah