Genesis 11:5

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

Whatever Good You Would Send Down

If I'm addicted to anything at the moment, it is Surah Al-Qasas. More specifically, I replay minutes 13:12 - 19:29 of the Mishaari Raashid with Ibrahim Walk [Saheeh Intl Translation] every chance I get. I pray the prayer of Musa (alayhi salaam) myself, kneeling with my hands open and flat in front of me. Even curling my fingers slightly would suggest that I am not entirely impoverished before Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. 

Allah is merciful - my mom did not make a negative comment about my hijab when she picked me up from the station last night. A few comments flew at me today, but I want to be patient and kind. I miss smiling faces and friends in New York. The garment below was a parting gift from a dear lady from the masjid, who I love like she's my own mother. These traditional clothes she gave me are so beautiful, I find myself completely entranced by the designs.

I'm trying to learn how to be more generous. First, I learn by spending time with people who are much more generous than I am, who can exemplify generosity, and thereby, influence me to be more generous. Allah instructs us to give from our wealth, or our poverty, from whatever we have, despite our love for it. I think that my upbringing led me to have a hoarding mentality, where I always worried about giving too much, for fear of not having enough for myself. Allah acknowledges in Al-Quran that we may well love what we have, and that this love may cause us to hesitate to share. But Allah teaches that to be righteous, we must give away what we love, despite any worry or attachment to our wealth.

To be honest, I gave more during Ramadan than I'm used to. I gave to the masjid, I gave to people I knew who are in need. I spent money on food for Iftar, even when I was worried that I wouldn't have enough for my own food. You see, I tried, although I wasn't perfect. And I notice there's still some money in my account. Perhaps I can't believe it, or can't understand how.

So, today I made a small donation to Islamic Relief. I was going to donate to CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), but I noticed that they have met their most recent fundraising goal. I don't have much in my bank account; I mean, I didn't have much even before I made the donation. But my actions (generosity) with little should reflect what my conduct would be with plenty. I want to give; I want to give as much as possible to as many who need it. Perhaps I didn't give as much as I should today, but eventually I'll learn to have more faith, to be more generous.

New York was a gift in countless ways. First, I had independence and privacy. I could fast without being harassed by my family in person about it. Second, how fortunate I was that Allah blessed me with an ideal summer job, which involved working in the mornings, and gaining experience for my upcoming escapade. The job allowed me to fast in an air-conditioned setting, without working a normal 9-5 schedule. I had time to spend at the mosque in the afternoon and evening. Third, I was with wonderful people throughout July and August. The kindest family, who accepted me and welcomed me and who I can't forget. And my dear friend Khadija, who I speak to more comfortably than I do my own sisters. 

Just last week we sat chatting by the river in Jersey City at night, Manhattan shining in our view. She has this way of making me feel better, no matter how bad I feel. She always advises me to truth and patience, and therefore, has exemplified yet another essential aspect of Islam. Allah says in Al-Quran, Surah Al-Asr:
By time, Indeed, mankind is in loss, Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds, and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.
We sat by the river on the Jersey side, and we listened to Adhan and Surah Al-Qasas together. The beauty of Al-Quran being recited at night by that river was profound to me. I shared with her a favorite video featuring the beauty of Al-Adhan that I've been watching with joy for years now:

You Absolutely Can't Go Wrong with Pancakes

This morning I took time to convince myself that it was OK to eat, despite the sun shining outside. Hah, it's strange to suddenly start eating and drinking during the daylight hours after having not done so for an entire month.

I love how huge the syrup in the picture (above) looks in proportion to the pancakes and two scrambled eggs. Ironically, the syrup was probably the smallest of all. I enjoyed a delicious lunch of 3 blueberry pancakes and eggs with dear friends this fine Eid afternoon at The Vinegar Factory. Not much beats pancakes over delightful conversation on Eid.

As soon as I walked into the masjid (mosque) this morning I was recruited to collect Zakat Al-Fitr and charitable donations from the women coming for Eid prayers. Thankfully, my task was not terribly difficult, as the Zakat Al-Fitr box was only meant to remind anyone who had not yet paid $10 of Zakat to do so. Technically, Zakat Al-Fitr should be paid prior to the first of the Eid prayers at some point during Ramadan, and if the deadline is missed, it cannot be made up. Nonetheless, it is important to give Zakat Al-Fitr as soon as one is able. As is stated in the Zakat Al-Fitr Wikipedia article, The Prophet of Allah said that, "The fasting of the month of fasting will be hanging between earth and heavens and it will not be raised up to the Divine Presence without paying the Zakat al-Fitr." Mine was given directly to someone in need; it is not necessary to pay Zakat through the masjid.

The mercy of Allah astounds me. Eid is the day when the reward for fasting Ramadan is distributed. If the fast of one person is accepted, Allah forgives the sins of the entire congregation. Allah is abounding in mercy, and is looking for every possible excuse to bestow this Rahma (mercy) on us. Several hadith point to the mercy of Allah, even after those who sinned on earth are denied heaven.

Abû Sa'îd al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allâh (saw) said,
"Allâh (subhana wa ta'ala) will admit the people of Paradise to Paradise and He will admit whomsoever He will by His Mercy. And He will admit the people of Hell to Hell, then He will say, "Look for anyone who has the weight of a mustard seed of faith in his heart, and bring him out"". [Sahîh Muslim, Kitâb al-Imân, Bâb Ithbat ash-Shafa'ah wa Ikhrâj al-Muwwahhadîn, 1/172]

Anas ibn Mâlik reported that the Prophet (saw) said:
"Whoever says Lâ ilâha illâ Allâh (there is no God worthy of worship but Allah) and has a barely grain's weight of goodness in his heart will be brought out of the Fire. Then whoever says, "Lâ ilâha illâ Allâh" and has a wheat grains weight of goodness in his heart will be brought out of the Fire. Then whoever says, Lâ Ilâha illâ Allâh and has an atom's-weight of goodness in his heart will be brought out of the Fire". [Sahîh Muslim, Kitâb al-Imân, Bâb adna Ahl al-Jannah Manzilatan, 1/182]

Never, however, can we take the mercy of Allah on us for granted. Quite the opposite! We must constantly express our gratefulness to Allah, and be thankful servants, following the example of our Prophet Muhammad (sallalauh alayhi wa salaam - peace and blessings be upon him).
Narrated Al-Mughirah: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to offer night prayers till his feet became swollen. Somebody said to him, "Allah has forgiven you your sins of the past and the future." On that, He said, "Shouldn't I be a thankful slave of Allah?" [Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6/4836 (O.P.360)
Prayer area for the imam downstairs at Islamic Cultural Centre of NY. Children like to hide hear during Tarawih prayers. No one is restrained from entering this space, unlike the Orthodox church, for example, which restricts the altar area to men.
After passing a lovely morning and afternoon with very dear friends, I enjoyed the evening with my Moroccan friend Khadijah, who I speak to most naturally, as if she were my biological sister. We enjoyed salads and bread at Le Pain Quotidien, and watching the sunset at The High Line. The picture does the beauty of the sunset and atmosphere no justice at all, unfortunately. Together we rejoiced over the happiness we experienced this Ramadan, the gift it was.

Back to fasting tomorrow (Monday), as it is recommended to fast 6 days of the month of Shawal. Thawbaan said that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "The fasting of Ramadhaan is equal to ten months and six from Shawaal equal two months so together they are equal to a year of fasting". If I'm going to fast 6 days of Shawal, I prefer fasting away from home.

30 Days hath Ramadan

I consider it a gift, almost a personal gift, that the moon was not sighted in Mecca on Friday, allowing Muslims to fast one more day of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is usually 29 days in length, but this year extended to 30. The extra day gave me one more chance to pray, one more chance to fast and express my sincerity. The extra day was an opportunity to read the Quran for hours on Saturday - this month I've been so busy teaching and preparing Iftar at the masjid (mosque) on a daily basis, I remain two days behind on my goal to complete the Quran before Eid. It's probably shameful for me to admit that here, but such was my experience this Ramadan. 

I loved the entire month of fasting and praying. Abstaining from food and water is not hard as some would suggest. Of course there's discipline involved, and even more, the mercy of Allah, who makes it easy for us. But for me the greatest challenge was the physical exhaustion due to a lack of sleep. Staying up late for Tarawih prayers and to rehydrate, on top of planning lessons to teach really took it out of me. Let's just say this is the first time I've ever fallen asleep while having my face threaded. To fall asleep during such an uncomfortable ordeal told me a lot about how tired I really am. Thankfully, the 30th day of Ramadan also made it possible for me to sleep until 10:00, which felt absolutely refreshing. What a gift from Allah subhana wa ta'ala.

It's hard to describe the heaviness I felt in my heart yesterday evening, and even in my physical body, as I soaked in the reality of Ramadan's end. Most Muslims will be celebrating with their families, while my family criticizes my fast and religion. I should at least say that I am grateful to Allah for allowing me to feel this month like I had a family. The beautiful traditional Pakistani dress of green and gold that I'm wearing this morning is evidence of how warmly I have been embraced this month.

I've taken a shower, dressed in my newest and best clothes, and eaten an odd number of dates. I'm ready for my first experience of communal Eid prayers. I thank Allah for this chance, and I'm going for the earliest of the prayers (7:30am), because I'm ever so grateful to be in a place this year where I am free and able to go to the mosque.

Allah Kareem (Allah is Generous)

During Ramadan, especially during these final ten days of the month, Muslims strive to increase our good deeds and worship. This includes sharing resources and donations very generously with each other. Almost every time you turn around someone is donating to the masjid (mosque), giving Sadaqah (charity) to anyone in need, paying Zakat (almsgiving that is one of Islam's Five Pillars), volunteering their time to help others, or sharing food to feed those who have been fasting. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said that 'Charity is the proof of our iman (faith)." If someone starts to make us angry, we are taught to say "I am fasting, I am fasting" as a reminder to stay focused on spiritual discipline, and that Ramadan is no time for disputes.

I am struck, سبحان الله (subhanAllah - Glory be to Allah) by how Allah has blessed our masjid with wonderful food for Iftar. Especially in the past few days, we've felt the increase in the community's generosity. I am deeply saddened whenever I hear a select few of the community complaining about the food, as if there is not enough. It is haram (prohibited) to be ungrateful, and is shameful behaviour during Ramdan. This month is an incredibly important time to remember the needs and hunger of the global Muslim community, and to respond with generous donations to organisations such as Human Appeal International, Islamic Relief USA, and Muslim Aid.
The men's table of food for Iftar (breaking the fast).
Women's table of food for Iftar.
Our food for Iftar depends largely on what people bring to donate. Last night was 1/2 banana, some walnuts, watermelon, 3 dates, and donuts or bread. Another shot of the women's table.
White and sweet milk juice and water.
More dates and bananas that we prepared for Iftar.
A number of Muslims along the way have expressed that they find the requirement to abstain from food and water for such long periods to be cruel and unreasonable. Non-Muslims are usually particularly disturbed by Muslims abstaining from water for the majority of day, and during the hot summer at that. But the reality is that the Muslims feels inexplicable joy in obedience, despite thirst and hunger pains throughout the day, if we even feel them. I said before that I'm teaching and working throughout the day, and yet at sundown, my mouth is still moist. This is a gift from Allah. If the fast of Ramadan were too extreme a request, Allah would not require it.

Narrated Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him): The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion, will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by offering the Salat (prayers) in the mornings, afternoons and during the last hours of the nights." [Sahih Al-Bukhari, 1/39 (O.P.38)]

Our prayer during these final days is a plea for forgiveness from Allah:
 We learn that the names encapsulating Allah's profound willingness to forgive us imply that Allah is fully aware of our sins, and yet chooses to overlook them out of mercy. Not only that, but Allah's name Al-'Afuww (the Pardoner) when paired with Al-Ghafoor (the Forgiver), emphasises that Allah forgives no matter how great our sin. See Al-’Afuww: Who Forgives In the Last 10 Nights? on Allah's forgiveness during Ramadan and The Night of Power (Laylat’l-Qadr): Step by Step Guide. Our prayers for forgiveness our not merely words - we increase our generosity and good works and we increase our prayers to strive for forgiveness. We recite specific dua's (prayers) in remembrance of Allah, as a sign of our desperation and need for Allah's mercy (see Step by Step Guide above). Such guidelines for worship and prayers for forgiveness remind me of Saint Maybe, a book that I read back in college, in the sense that forgiveness is a profound relationship with the actions we take to earn forgiveness, and the mercy of God which makes forgiveness possible.

This recitation is that of a 22 year old Bangladeshi Imam who is reciting Quran during Tarawih prayers these last ten days of Ramadan at 96th St.
سبحان الله (subhanAllah - Glory be to Allah) I love listening to the recitation of Al-Quran. The best moments are when I hear portions of Quran that I have memorized and studied myself, and can appreciate the depth of meaning. But even when I listen to the Arabic recitation, I'm overcome by a strong sense of the miracle and gift that is the Quran. I lady I met recently commented that when she reads the Bible she feels too distracted by the number of writers and their humanity involved in the text. This is a major difference to me between 'reading' (or listening to) the Quran and reading the Bible. The Quranic text has not changed since its revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) 1400 years ago. The Quran is the same across all borders and sects of Islam. And Islamic scholars readily highlight the clear distinction between the language of Al-Quran, which comes from Allah, and the language of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Hadith (that which is attributed to the Prophet (SAW) as regards words, actions or approvals, physical features and characteristics). This distinction emphasizes that the language of Quran is not that of a human being, but that of Allah.

A Middle Course

I looked up from the fruit that I was cutting in preparation for Iftar, and glanced into the masjid. Momentarily, my heart stopped. An all too familiar face appeared in the distance - he was chatting quietly with a brother in the prayer area. I only saw hair and eyes, as the rest of his face was blocked by the man seated in front of him. It wasn't him, in the end, but my reaction and surprise indicated to me that everything is still so fresh in my heart, and it all could just as well have happened yesterday. I pray to Allah about these feelings with my hands held open and flat before me. This Ramadan, I want to heal, by any means Allah chooses.

An unforgettable sunset over a farewell tea at the University Quays in Colchester, Essex, England.
Often Muslims are described by the media and the public as extremists. When in fact extremism in any form is strongly discouraged in Islam. The faith is meant to be practical and reasonable and moderate. Islam provides spiritual guidance and endless number of prayers for every moment of one's life. Prayers for waking, for leaving the house, for entering and exiting the mosque, for after prayers, for before and after meals, for entering and leaving the bathroom, for sneezing, for before sexual intercourse, for sleeping, and the list goes on. Not to mention prayers for the remembrance of Allah, which are best recited one hundred times daily. But part of the beauty of Islam is that every individual and family and community strives to find the most reasonable way to incorporate such guidance into our daily lives, without becoming ostracized or losing touch with the surrounding culture. 

Consider the following Hadith:
Narrated Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him): Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "The deeds of anyone of you will not save you [from the (Hell) Fire]." They said, "Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah's Messenger?" He said, "No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me and protects me with His Grace. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the middle of the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise)." [Sahih Al-Bukhari, 8/6463]
 Maybe I'm inclined now to mention this, because I am aware that the audience here may feel a bit overwhelmed by the religious language I'm using to describe this spiritual experience. Plus, some of the language is reminiscent of Christian lingo that we've heard in the past. It's true that many beliefs and concepts are similar, which is part of the reason Islam has allowed me to incorporate aspects of my Christian experience that I had lost. It's been a sort of 'coming home' to become Muslim. Ultimately, the Muslim's objective is to practice the religion wholeheartedly, sincerely, and in moderation.

Last night at the mosque a young woman said Shahada and converted to Islam. She was surrounded by sisters in Islam, and everyone hugged and greeted her by saying 'Asalaam aleikum' (peace be on us) at the conclusion.

 Also during Tarawih prayers yesterday evening, we were told that during the Quran recitation of the prayer, we would make sujood (bow touching the forehead to the floor) at a moment when we normally remain standing. After the prayer, I inquired further and learned that there are 15 points in the Quran, when Muslims are compelled to prostrate themselves [perform Sajdat al-Tilaawah (Prostration of Recitation)] at the recitation of those particular ayat (verses) whenever reading or hearing the Quran in Arabic. We encountered one of those ayat during the recitation of Surah Al-Hajj:
“See you not that to Allaah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is one the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and al-dawaab (moving living creatures, beasts, etc.), and many of mankind? But there are many (men) on whom the punishment is justified. And whomsoever Allaah disgraces, none can honour him. Verily! Allaah does what He wills.”
 I was told that one reason for Sajdat al-Tilaawah is for the Muslim to contrast the behaviour of Iblis (Satan), who was unwilling to prostrate before Adam (peace be upon him) when Allah commanded Iblis to do so. The Muslim demonstrates complete and willing submission to Allah through Sajdat al-Tilaawah. I have yet to verify this explanation with Hadith. Nonetheless, I am happy to have learned something new!

Ramadan in the Big Apple

“My sin burdened me heavily. But when I measured it against Your Grace, O Lord, Your forgiveness came out greater.” -Imam Shafii
Ramadan is a profoundly rewarding month. I did not imagine that I could enjoy Ramadan more than I did last year. First of all, I am so grateful for the opportunity to fast this month with friends and a community of Muslims. There is a Pakistani family from the masjid (mosque) with whom I have grown quite close over the past couple of weeks. We prepare Iftar (meal to break the fast) together - slice watermelon, cut bananas in half, and arrange dates on the plates every afternoon. I observe these parents, who have been married for over 25 years. The husband tells me how happy he is in his marriage, even after a quarter of a century. You can see that they have mutual love and respect for each other, that they listen to each other and still make each other laugh and smile. What an inspiration, what a gift. 

Secondly, I'm happy to have the opportunity to pray each night in the masjid and be blessed by the most beautiful of Quran recitations. Apparently the mosque brings a different Quran reciter from abroad every 10 days of Ramadan. Last night they recited Surah Taha, and I was thrilled to understand the Arabic and the meaning completely, since I have memorized the first five minutes of this surah. I felt inspired to memorize more and more, so that I can experience the same joy over all of the Quran.
Ḥasbiyallāhu la ilaha illa huwa ‘alayhi tawakalltu wa huwa rabbu’l-‘arshi’l-‘aẓīm
*To be recited seven times in the morning (after fajr) and seven times in the evening (between ‘aṣr and maghrib).
Also, this month I have the privilege of sharing my journey to Islam with many Muslim and non-Muslim women. Muslim women smile and ask question after question. They say الحمد لله (alhamdulillah, praise to Allah). Many non-Muslim women are close to Islam, as I was. They ask questions about how I transitioned from traditional Christian theology to that of Islam, particularly regarding Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). Many women are interested in Islam and are exploring the religion, as I had to over a period of years. I feel honoured to encourage them to take their time to learn about the faith, rather than rushing or feeling pressure. Islam is easy. Allah says in Quran that Islam is intended to make our lives easier. If we feel that it is difficult, then we're pushing too hard somewhere, or we must reevaluate our intentions. Some things that I found a bit difficult in the beginning feel easier every day. 

Last night I prayed in the balcony with many other ladies. The entire experience is nourishing and beautiful. I am impressed and overjoyed to see hundreds and hundreds of Muslim men and women bowing before Allah in submission. I don't know of another religion that compels millions upon millions around the world, from every imaginable walk of life, to bow before Allah with their foreheads, noses, hands, knees, and toes on the floor. I already mentioned the beauty of the Quran recitation. I love watching Muslims pull their neighbor on the prayer floor closer to them, to ensure that their shoulders are touching. The Prophet Muhammad صـلى الله علـيه و سـلم (peace be upon him) used to walk through the prayer lines and position everyone so that their shoulders were touching during the prayers. We don't pray alone, in other words. The solidarity and strength in community is displayed even during the prayers. It does not matter where you are from, how rich or poor you are, you will still stand shoulder to shoulder with your brother or sister in Islam. (Watch live Mecca webcam here: Click Visit webcam)
The Prophet (SAW) said: If a group of people sit together remembering Allah, the angels will circle them, mercy will shroud them, peace will descend onto them and Allah will remember them among those with Him. [Muslim]
Finally, I feel that everywhere I turn this month, Allah offers us forgiveness and blessings, far beyond what we deserve or could imagine. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: "This is a month, the first part of which brings Allah's Mercy, the middle of which brings Allah's forgiveness and the last part of which brings emancipation from hellfire" (Hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari). My dear Pakistani mother at the mosque tells me that in Ramadan, "this month, Allah is very happy." Of course, Allah is always pleased and eager to bless and reward us. Allah's Apostle said, "When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His Book which is with Him on His Throne, "My mercy overpowers My Anger." (Sahih Bukhari) But Allah's generosity to us during Ramadan is endless.

We are rewarded with forgiveness for praying to Allah:
It is the month of standing (in voluntary night prayer). On the authority of Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, "Whoever stands (in voluntary night prayer) during Ramadan, with faith and in expectancy of reward, his previous sins are forgiven him."
 In hadith, the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) says, "Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted." [Narrated by Tabarani]
The rewards in the hereafter, in addition to this present moment, are beyond our imagination:
Abu Said al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: "No servant fasts on a day in the path of Allah except that Allah removes the hellfire seventy years further away from his face." This is related by "the group," except for Abu Dawud.
`Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah, salla Allahu alaihi wa salaam, said: "The fast and the Qur'an are two intercessors for the servant of Allah on the Day of Resurrection. The fast will say: 'O Lord, I prevented him from his food and desires during the day. Let me intercede for him.' The Qur'an will say: 'I prevented him from sleeping at night. Let me intercede for him.' And their intercession will be accepted." [Ahmad]
Abu Umamah reported: "I came to the Messenger of Allah and said: 'Order me to do a deed that will allow me to enter Paradise.' He said: 'Stick to fasting, as there is no equivalent to it.' Then I came to him again and he said: 'Stick to fasting."' [Ahmad, an-Nasa'i, and al-Hakim].
 During Ramadan, the reward for good and generous behaviour is greater than any other month:
"Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, 'Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.' For the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk." [al-Bukhaaree] 
The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Allah records good and bad deeds in this way: If anyone intends to do a good deed, but does not do it, Allah still records it with Him as one full good deed. If he intends a good deed and then carries it out, Allah records it with Him as ten to seven hundred times in reward or even increases it many times more. If anyone intends to do a bad deed but does not actually do it, Allah records it with Him as one full good deed. If he intends to do a bad deed and does it, Allah records it with Him as only one bad deed.” [Bukhari]