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5-Step Guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss

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Dr. O blogs at Muslim Medicine, a site that strives to serve only the freshest grade-A certified abiah ḥalāl comedy. Contact your local ḥalāl butcher for more details.

 

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HEY. HEY YOU. YEAH, YOU. STOP DAYDREAMING ABOUT EATING AND PAY ATTENTION.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, Ramadan is finally here! That special time of the year where our divinely-ordained worship blossoms into a beautiful month of passionate devotion, rigorous spiritual purification, profound remembrance, deep self-reflection, unshakable inner tranquility, and selfless compassion.

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Ramadan is a truly blessed time that gives us a much-needed opportunity to rediscover the immaculate wisdom of the Qur’an, to rekindle our relationship with our faith, and to edge ourselves closer to He who fashioned us from clay and dirt, and to partake in vitriolic fighting in our communities over sighting the moon while subsequently declaring others who don’t follow our sighting as deviant. Ahh, the inspirational beauty of how we Muslims respectfully treat the entry of Ramadan into our lives.

Anyways, one of the things that make Ramadan truly stand out amongst all the other Islamic months is its mandate of awm, or fasting. It’s a built-in rigorous daily spiritual weight-loss program that trims the unsightly chunks of fat off of your īmān, and gives you a sizzling hot spiritual form that just might make some of the angels blush (okay, probably not – but wouldn’t that feel pretty awesome?).

Think of Ramadan as the intense P90X workout routine for your īmān – in just 30 days your īmān will have abs of steel and pecs so tough that it’ll make Shayṭān feel like a fat little chubby kid trying to tempt you when he finally pays his bail and gets let out of jail on probation after ‘Īd al-Fiṭr. But that’s ONLY if you’re willing to go the extra mile and give your īmān that workout that it so desperately needs this month!

What your īmān SHOULD feel like after Ramadan ends (without tattoos, of course)

Now, spiritual trimming is wonderful and all, but we know why you’re really here. Just admit it: you’ve been letting yourself go this past year, haven’t you? Sneaking in guilty pleasures every now and then like whole family-size bags of M&Ms, weekly orders of super-sized fish filet meals at McDonald’s, and massive bowls of the heaviest chicken masala curry drowned in buckets of oil and grease. All those fattening foods have taken their toll on your weight since last Ramadan, and now you’re probably gearing up for a grand feast every night after ifṭār as a reward for your fasting, huh? Well, shame on you!

McDonalds – where the only thing heavier than your belly is your guilt of eating regularly here.

Despite the fact that we fast in Ramadan, we like to convince ourselves that we’re actually losing weight, but according to clinical obesity research that I myself have completely made up, this is clearly a huge misconception. You might want to ask your kabob roll to leave the room, and tell your Philly cheese-steak to cover its eyes. The information below is not for the weak of heart. Well actually it kind of is, since cardiovascular disease is a side effect of – okay you get the point.

 

That’s right. Kilotons. Does this chart make any sense when you actually think about it? Probably not. But did it make you feel self-conscious? I hope so. We’ve just been fooling ourselves into thinking that fasting would help trim that stubborn chubby belly fat and get us back on the fast-track to getting married (or if you’re already married, getting you back to having your spouse NOT lower their gaze at you out of eye-strain).

You’re probably thinking: “Well fine, you’ve made your case that Ramadan isn’t exactly the automatic weight-loss dream-month that most Muslims convince themselves that it is. So what’s the solution, then? How do I banish my stubborn unsightly fat to the depths of obscurity like Shayṭān gets banished every Ramadan?” Fortunately for you, my friends, MuslimMatters is here to help. This is our 5-step guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss!

 

1 STOP SPEED-EATING AT SUḤŪR

Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that familiar excuse: it’s nearly 3 minutes to fajr, you just woke up and rolled out of bed, and you gotta quickly grab something before time’s up and you’re left hungry and grumpy. So you rip open the kitchen cabinets and stuff yourself full of as many chips and cookies you can lay your hands on, then down a giant glass of milk at Guinness world-record speeds all before the game timer reaches zero and the referee blows the whistle and begins the adhān. What’s worse than that are the folks who have plenty of time before fajr, but somehow are still frantically gorging like there’s no tomorrow. You’re chewing furiously all to beat the clock, and to anyone looking at you, it just ‘aint a pretty sight.

Take it easy there, buddy. Suḥūr isn’t an eating contest – it’s meant to give you a small energy kick to start your day off, but after you quickly expend that energy, you’re on your own for the remainder of the fast. Stuffing yourself with more food doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more energy, so don’t fool yourself into thinking a 7-course gourmet suḥūr meal will carry you all the way to ifṭār.

Take it easy, relax, moderate your intake, and eat just enough to give you strength for a small kick in the morning to get you started on your day, and leave it at that. Trust me on this, your body is an amazingly intricate biochemical machine. During a fasting state when your fuel starts to run on empty, your body begins producing hormones which naturally target your fat and energy stores and begin slowly burning them throughout the day to keep you on your feet. Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has given you an incredible body that keeps you constantly monitored on energy and sugar levels. That’s as natural as you can get with automatic weight loss.

2 DON’T OBSESS ABOUT FOOD

Let’s do a little psychology experiment. I’m going to put a word here, and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind as soon as you read it. Are you ready?

 

Chicken.

I’m almost 99% confident I know EXACTLY what you thought about once you read that word. You were thinking about lamb gyros. Don’t even try to deny it – you had food on your mind. It’s all psychology, and your mind follows that basic impulse just like everyone else’s. I’m willing to bet that if I wrote “marriage dinner” as the phrase, the brothers would immediately think about their fantasy future wife’s heavenly cooking, and sisters would immediately conjure up warm thoughts of all the romantic candle-light restaurants their future husbands probably won’t take them to out of lazy stinginess. The point is, you’re too preoccupied with food during Ramadan, and that’s got to stop.

While fasting, you can’t lose yourself in your day-dreams about the magnificent ifṭār feast waiting for you at maghrib time and drooling over the guessing games you play over what kind of delicious dinner awaits you every night. Obsessing over food while you’re fasting is unhealthy and creepy, and points to a deeper dependence on food that you need to break.

Turn off the food channel, stop hanging around the kitchen staring at the fridge, and stop talking about food in general. Focus your time and efforts on worship and remembrance, and make every effort you can to expel all subconscious thoughts of food and drinks. It’s tough to break dependance on snacks and meals, I know, but in the end, your tummy and your brain will thank you for it once Ramadan is over. Weight loss is just as much a battle of your mind as it is your body. Train both this Ramadan to give yourself the best edge over fighting your fat.

3 EXERCISE (DUH)

Okay yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “Exercising to lose weight?! Gee, thanks for the tip, Captain Obvious.” Well you know what, sometimes the most obvious solution is the one most overlooked or brushed off. So you’re welcome, Lieutenant Sarcasm. The fact that we’re fasting is the single biggest excuse that Muslims always come up with during Ramadan to justify their vegetable lifestyle during this month. Even potatoes get to see more movement than we do during Ramadan since they’re skinned, cut up, and cooked almost every night. This is not a month of laziness, so DON’T USE FASTING AS AN EXCUSE FOR YOUR LAZINESS!

 

Yes, we’re in a weakened state with low energy reserves while fasting, so it’s understandable that for older folks, exercising might be dangerous. But for you younger able people, I’m not asking you to do Olympic weightlifting but to be active so you can speed up your body’s fat burning. Like I mentioned before, in a fasting state, your body starts to mobilize your fat and begins burning it to power you. If you lay around all day and just nap and rest, your body won’t need to burn much fat at all to keep you active, so your stubborn belly fat isn’t going to magically disappear just because you’ve stopped eating for part of the day.

If you’re young and able-bodied this Ramadan, start building habits of taking the stairs instead of the elevator, lightly walking to places instead of driving for 5 minutes, and opt to help with heavy work around the house instead of napping all day. Starting up a light, simple, and consistently active routine during Ramadan serves as an excellent means of really shaving off that excess weight and shaping you up quite nicely to force a lot of gaze-lowering once ‘Īd al-Fiṭr rolls around.

4 STOP FEASTING AT IFṬĀR

Of all the Ramadan enemies that cause your weight-gain, this here is the biggest culprit. We’re all guilty of doing this at one point or another during Ramadan – yes, even you, uncle in self-denial with the dried masala stains on your shalwar and the old grains of biryani from 3 Ramadans ago still imprisoned in your beard. Fasting all day makes even the smallest of ifṭār morsels taste like the most wonderful food in the world, and your appetite at break time is so voracious that you’re probably ready to inhale the entire dinner table. That’s why we tend to consider ifṭār and the subsequent dinner to be a rewarding entitlement for us that wipes away the guilt of other people seeing us using construction vehicles to pile on mountains of food onto our plates after we break our fasts.

Yup. Your Ramadan seems to be going great.

For the sake of your health and your weight, you need to stop that. The point of ifṭār and the subsequent dinner is to sustain yourself and replenish your strength and energy after a long day’s fast. It’s not meant for you to consume the entire combined food volume of breakfast, lunch, brunch, afternoon snacks, and dinner all at once in one sitting. What was the entire point of you fasting if you’re just going to shamelessly reward yourself at night with a MASSIVE meal fit for Jabba the Hut?

Just like the rule of thumb we established earlier with suḥūr, at ifṭār, eat just enough to stop your hunger pangs, and always moderate your intake and choose healthy meals rich in nutritious value. Lay off candy, junk food, and heavy meals high in fat and calories. If you’re serious about losing weight during Ramadan, then you need to get serious about how much you allow yourself to eat at nighttime. We’re Muslims for crying out loud, not Sumo Wrestlers. Take a lesson from Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and always eat in moderation, especially afterifṭār.

 

5 BE MINDFUL OF OTHERS

One of the most oft-forgotten aspects of Ramadan is its strong focus on charity and providing means of support for those less fortunate than you. We tend to limit this solely to monetary forms of charity, which detracts focus from an equally important goal for this month: feeding those less fortunate than us. Our money goes a long way, alamdulillāh, and it’s wonderful that this month opens our hearts and our wallets as well, but it’s rare that fasting Muslims reach out to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and orphanages that are all around us. Not to mention parts of our own ummah which are suffering severely from drought, famine, war, and natural disasters. Giving your money for these causes is excellent, but disingenuous when you’re throwing away entire plates and trays of leftover uneaten food every night while other Muslims are clearly starving to death.

Want to know the most sure-fire way of losing weight this Ramadan? Treat each morsel of food that you’ve been blessed with every night as the most precious commodity you can ask for. Picture that lavish plate of delicious gourmet goodness sitting in the lap of a starving Somalian girl, or in the hands of a grief-stricken refugee mother of a hungry newborn, and I promise you that you’ll treat your food with a far deeper level of appreciation than ever before, and you’ll certainly think twice before greedily jumping for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th helpings. That crushing guilt becomes even more compounded when you’re approaching the garbage can with a half-eaten plate of food with overestimated portions that you yourself slapped on in the hopes that you’d mindlessly devour it.

Ramadan is the month of remembrance, so remember your starving brothers and sisters abroad and make an effort to not just throw money at the problem and feel good about yourself, but also make sincere du‘ā’ that Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) lifts their suffering and showers mercy upon them. Every grain of rice, piece of meat, and drop of water waiting for you at the very end of your fast is an immeasurable blessing from Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). You may be trying to lose weight, but elsewhere your brothers and sisters can only dream about having the kind of food you’re breaking your fast with. Don’t forget them – and don’t take your ifṭār for granted.

 

And there you have it, folks! Be sure to follow this guide for the remainder of this blessed month and inshā’Allāh you’ll see striking results in no time!

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Hailing from New York, Dr. O is a current medical student who blatantly misappropriates his study time by posting absurd articles lampooning the weird things he often notices within the Muslim community. His articles often contain unhealthy doses of odd wit and humor, sprinkled with overly-pretentious medical-jargon, but covered in a sweet milk-chocolate coating of small sincere life lessons. Despite not actually having a medical license and pretending to impersonate an actual physician online, Dr. O aims to heal patients with just a tiny bit of bitter advice contained within a sugary pill of light-hearted laughter. He hosts his own blog, Muslim Medicine, at http://www.muslimmedicine.net.

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Pingback: 5-Step Guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss – MuslimMatters.org | Weight Loss Program Broward

    • Avatar

      DuhaSweet

      May 25, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      Even though it is May 2015, Ramadan is in a month and I look forward to using these techniques InshaAllah!
      Wonderful funny article!

  2. Avatar

    MuslimTeen

    July 25, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    This was a great article :) The humor of it really makes the article much more enjoyable to read. I will definitely use these methods and practices in Ramadan. I love the graphics :) Ramadan Mubarak! :)

  3. Avatar

    samar

    July 25, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    Really beneficial and hilarious too Jazakallah khair for.the excellent reminders

  4. Avatar

    Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    July 25, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    Dr O, that was hilarious but great advice!!!

  5. Pingback: 5-Step Guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss | Strong Daddy

  6. Pingback: 5-Step Guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss – MuslimMatters.org at weight loss

  7. Avatar

    Tarannum Ansari

    July 25, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    That was one of the funniest articles I have read! I will surely be looking out for more. All masjids should post it on their websites during ramadan.

  8. Avatar

    Cookie

    July 26, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Very good article!! :) I started doing a couple of the above mentioned things myself this very Ramadan, focusing specially on incorporating exercise in my daily routine, taking the stairs and keeping myself distracted by some work at all times. It has worked wonders mashAllah. I’ve become more productive alhamdolillah and feel less dependent on both food and water – despite being a complete foodie throughout the year. And I have to say it is very liberating because it helps one concentrate more on the important tasks at hand… which we usually forget or neglect when lost in thought of food!

    It’s a different kind of freedom altogether and makes acts of worship more easy to do as well, particularly the post-iftari rukus and sujuds, which can be quite difficult to perform with an overly stuffed stomach!! :)
    The article is very helpful. Love it! And the pictures make it ever the more entertaining to read!
    *lol at lower your gazes*

  9. Avatar

    hajara

    August 1, 2012 at 6:17 PM

    Wonderful article Masha Allah. Helpful funny, thoughtful and informative! Jazakallah khair…

  10. Avatar

    kanzali

    August 3, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    interesting information done great work

  11. Pingback: 5-Step Guide to Healthy Ramadan Weight Loss | Extreme Weightloss Methods 1

  12. Avatar

    mariyam

    August 11, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    i really appreciate the helpful advice Jazakullah khair. Not to mention the halaroius graphics! They made my day:D

  13. Pingback: Lastest Fasting For Weight Loss News

  14. Avatar

    Said

    June 26, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Thanks brother for the article. Allah will help us all throughout this great month. I wish everybody RAMADAN KARIM.

  15. Pingback: Anxiety & Panic Relief Information

  16. Avatar

    afroz

    July 6, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Very good Article, Mashallah keep it up..

  17. Avatar

    Anitha

    July 9, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    very useful message to us. Thank you.

  18. Avatar

    Ayesha

    July 11, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    thanks.. a really nice article it is,quite well written and informative !

  19. Avatar

    Fairouz

    July 12, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Hahahahaha I love the last picture especially because my 8 month old sons name is Aladdin (A) Lower your gazes baby sisters!!1

  20. Avatar

    sdfsdf

    July 19, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    long-winded answer

  21. Pingback: Healthy Eating in Ramadan | Musings of a Mohajababes Girl - Kaftans & Accessories for Every Occasion

  22. Avatar

    Salma

    June 26, 2014 at 4:56 AM

    Excellent read, good humour and a great reminder. Thank you. God Bless

  23. Avatar

    sarah

    July 1, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    Haha…. really funny but most informative as well. Ramadan Kareem

  24. Avatar

    Miss HaychEm

    July 2, 2014 at 12:47 AM

    Excellent steps, I’m laughing as I’m typing, the sarcasm and images were on point.

  25. Avatar

    Muhammad Akhtar Raza

    July 4, 2014 at 1:36 AM

    Excellent topic providing attention that we are not meant for eating.

  26. Avatar

    Azwany

    June 17, 2015 at 4:12 AM

    A hilarious good advice. you make loosing weight seems lot easier. As I always believe, Islam way of life is the ultimate healthy lifestyle!
    In shaa Allah will try this tips starting tomorrow 1st Ramadan

  27. Avatar

    Anon

    June 17, 2015 at 12:24 PM

    Good article…but not useful to me.

    I already have incorporated these things during ramaddhan (actually probably since I started fasting)
    The issue I have is I want to lose weight…my metabolism is quite bad (i think), but I need a routine to help me do intense/gym exercises. Timing is a huge issue…we start at 2:30 and end at 9:30
    when can I actually do heavy exercise so that I can lose weight? (also gym is out of question as it is not nearby, I do not drive, and parents would probably say no anyway to going out at night)

  28. Avatar

    Abdur Rahman

    December 3, 2015 at 2:25 AM

    Nice article,
    undoubtedly we can reduce our weight in ramazan kareem but we don’t try to get benefit from,”Ramadan ”
    When we make schedule, we will eat in “Sehri” too much because we don’t feel appetite in a days but fast (roza) does not required this, When “Iftar” comes we also take meal too much..When this routine we adapt how can we loss weight..Therefore should take feasible diet Appropriate and Healthy Diet.

  29. Avatar

    Mahvash

    June 9, 2016 at 1:38 AM

    Enjoyable read Dr O!!! Loved the graphics and the humour :)

  30. Avatar

    umm nabila

    June 12, 2016 at 8:15 AM

    MashaAllah, thanks for the dhikr

  31. Avatar

    kang ibing

    June 30, 2016 at 8:19 AM

    Happy Eid al-Fitr

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#Culture

No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

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In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.

“GET OFF ME YOU CRAZY OLD MAN!”

Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

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Launch of Zaid Karim Private Investigator!

Where did the idea for Zaid Karim come from, how much is based on real events, and what is next for Zaid?

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

I’m so excited to share the release of Zaid Karim Private Investigator.

This novel has been three years in the making: from when I first began serializing it on MuslimMatters.org in early 2017, to its completion on MM nine months later, to the first wave of revisions based on comments by my editor Amy Estrada and the MM readers, to the final revision after further input from another editor, Rafael Lopez.

If you’ve already read it online, I encourage you to buy the new ebook or paperback. There’s nothing like holding a physical copy in your hands. And there have been some changes.

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One thing I’ve consistently noticed in the input I’ve received from MM readers is that a lot of you are doctors! My characters always seem to get injured, and apparently I often make mistakes when describing their treatment or symptoms. And the MM readers call me on it. I’m grateful for that, and I have always made changes to the story in response.

The final version is, in my opinion, tight as a drum. I added a few minor transitional scenes, and eliminated a lot of irrelevant musings by Zaid that tended to take the reader away from the action. Zaid has an irreverent and odd sense of humor, and that flavors the book, but Rafael Lopez pointed out that the inclusion of this humor during climactic moments sabotages the tension of the story, and he was right. So I ended up deleting some of those.

A key change from the MM version occurs during the climactic battle on Ouagadiri Island. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say that it was an important change, and had to do with how I see Zaid, and how he sees himself. Let me know if you read the book and catch the change, and what you think.

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Here are some answers to questions I often receive about Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and about my writing process in general:

Q: How much of this book is fact and how much is fiction?

A: Telling the true story of my life would be problematic. So I fictionalize. Every novel I’ve written has some autobiographical elements, with fictional events and invented characters mixed it. Lately, in my short stories, I’ve been trying to branch out more and create characters that are wholly fictional. Well, let me amend that. I create characters whose lives are based on real-world social dynamics and believable situations. I want emotional honesty above all. The particular circumstances of their lives, however, are invented.

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?

East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles

A: When I was twenty one years old I helped a friend track down and find his young missing daughter. But it was quite different from the narrative in Zaid Karim. For example, we started our search in East Los Angeles, first talking to people, then breaking down doors. Along the way we crashed our car in Mazatlan, had a nearly disastrous run-in with the Mexican police in Guadalajara, got in an argument with South African Tablighi Jamaat members at the Egyptian Club in Mexico City, were invited to a bizarre meeting of wealthy Mexican sufis, and ended up in the mountains of southern Mexico. That incident was the seed for Zaid Karim.

As for the setting in the latter half of the book, I lived in Panama for four years, and in fact I lived in El Valle de Anton, the idyllic little town where Yusuf Cruz lives. Though my house was not a mansion!

Q: Zaid’s kind of violent, isn’t he?

A: Yes, at times. He is young, and he’s been through a lot. He wants to change, but doesn’t know how. He needs some catalyst to transform his thinking. I suspect that novel that Alejandra gave him, On My Way to Paradise, will play a role. As he continues to grow, I believe we’ll see him evolve.

Q: So you plan to write more Zaid Karim mysteries?

A: Depends on how well this one sells. If you want to see more, buy ten copies: one for you, and nine for your friends, ha ha.

Q: What about a crossover between Zaid Karim and Hassan Amir?

A: It could happen. Zaid is Jamilah’s cousin, after all, and their stories happen around the same time.

Q: Who would win in a fight between Zaid and Hassan?

A: Lol, why would they be fighting? But here you go:

  • Gunfight: Hassan.
  • Sticks: Zaid.
  • Knives: Even match.
  • Empty hands: Hassan, by a mile.

Q: What’s next for Zaid Karim?

A: His body will need healing time and therapy, but knowing Zaid he will probably plow right ahead. He needs to investigate this so-called convert who is trying to radicalize the youth. We will learn more about the event that enabled him to be pardoned and released from prison early. We just might learn more about the strange comment made by Farah Anwar regarding Zaid’s mother, that she should have “aborted you and kept the lame one.” Zaid will almost certainly return to Panama, to find Angie and try to help her, especially now that he is a foster father to he daughter. Lastly, an important figure from Zaid’s past, a person of power and influence, might call upon him to investigate a crime he is uniquely qualified to handle. Stay tuned.

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

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Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful. 

Elevating Standards in Muslim Literature

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done. Unfortunately, as ever, the tendency to fall short of professional continues to make itself clear, in both self-published works as well as work that is published through Muslim publishers. It is common to find children’s stories that are riddled with typos, run-on sentences, poor plot structure, and nonexistent character development. In the pursuit of promoting Islamic values, too many fall into being overtly preachy and moralizing, with no regard for the fine art of storytelling.

The result is that time, effort, and money are wasted; having a plethora of “Islamic books” does us very little good when the final product is of little benefit and serves to turn children and young adults away from Muslim-focused stories. Parents and educators also find themselves frustrated with these poorly developed books, especially when they are seeking stories more representative of religiously observant Muslims rather than those who take Islam as a cultural identity marker. 

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While it is certainly encouraging to see more Muslims actively contributing to the field of Muslim literature, we must recognize the difference between quality and quantity – and the importance of the former over the latter. It is true that traditional publishing is a difficult niche to get into, especially for those with no previous experience with writing or the publishing industry. This is often a motivating factor for many Muslim writers to either go with a Muslim publisher or turn to self-publishing as a means of making their work available.

However, the push to keep costs low comes at a price of its own. The vast majority of the time, it is clear that a qualified, professional editor was not hired to look over the manuscript. While some people may think that it is not a serious issue, especially for children’s books, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Children’s books actually require extra attention; one must be clear on the targeted demographic and tailor the story and language appropriately, and the illustrations and the words alike need to be engaging and lively, regardless of the intended age group. In particular, when the subject matter is religion-focused, it is important that the approach taken is not dry, academic, or presented in a way that young readers cannot connect with personally.

The quality of a book should never be sacrificed in order to keep costs low; as Muslims, we should be even more particular about producing high-quality work that will be a valuable resource to be used both within our own communities as well as to the non-Muslim public. 

Self Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is particularly dangerous when the aspiring author has done little to no research on writing and publishing and has even less experience with writing well. Unfortunately, too many Muslim writers over-estimate their own abilities and rush headlong into self-publishing… with painful, often cringe-inducing results. It is particularly distressing when certain over-confident and under-qualified Muslim writers then exult over unearned praise from readers who, unfortunately, are not always as discerning as they should be – leading said writers to feel secure in their writing abilities and going on to produce even more subpar work.

The importance of having a strong editor cannot be overstated; having a “friend of a friend” with no qualifications to review and ‘edit’ the story simply does not cut it. Choosing the professional way to write and publish will inevitably take more time and effort – and yes, financial cost – to produce a final result, but that investment of energy will be much, much more worth it in the long run (and will also spare readers the agony of seeing “there,” “their,” and “they’re” constantly used the wrong way).

Having higher standards and holding Muslim writers (and publishers) accountable for their work is not meant to be discouraging. Rather, our intention is to encourage their success – in a way that is meaningful, not blindly supportive. We all wish to see our brothers and sisters in Islam succeed and to continue to contribute to an extremely important field. Addressing these weaknesses from the very beginning will ultimately result in long-term success and benefit the writers and the readers alike. 

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work, and to seek professional and qualified editors and publishers with whom to work and produce their books. The current substandard quality of many Muslim-produced books is counter-productive to the intended goal of providing beneficial resources for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. It makes parents and educators reluctant to use and share those works with their children and students.

Investing time and energy into improving the quality of our literature will only result in success, for the writers and their readership alike – so let us truly take our work seriously, and be committed to undertaking our efforts with Ihsaan.

Credit to MuslimKidsBookNook for her valuable contributions.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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