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Baba, The Quran and Me

Hiba Masood

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“When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation of the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.”

Sitting together with my friend and our toddlers in a Mommy & Me art class, the words were barely out of my mouth before regret kicked in. I saw the surprised and disapproving frown forming on my friend’s face. Forcing the Quran on a child? How politically incorrect. How backward. How unenlightened. One simply did not say these things in polite, modern, company. I could practically see her censuring thoughts and I felt dismay at my inability to explain myself. Thankfully, the conversation took a turn elsewhere, both of us wise enough not to go too deep into a potentially tricky topic.

Later that evening, after my kids were asleep and the blessed cover of the night slowly drifted over the city, I lay in the quiet, thinking. Remembering. And laughing over the realization that if I were to ever retell this story, I would probably begin the exact same, inappropriate way:

When we were young, every Ramadan, we had to complete one recitation the Quran because my dad made us. There was no question of not completing it. It’s just what we did.

I think I must’ve been seven or eight when I first gained an understanding of this family tradition. My Baba, during the course of some of the most precious conversations of my life time, would often tell us, my brother, sister and I, stories from his childhood. What his life and his days spent with his eight brothers and sisters used to look like.

The Ramadan stories were particularly powerful to hear because he would speak of things that seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar – like abject poverty, splitting one bowl of food for Iftar amongst a family of eleven – that it was almost dream like.

The story we marveled over most was the amount of Quran that, as kids, he and his siblings read each Ramadan. “We would each try to be the one who finished it the most number of times. I usually reached four and gave up. One of my sisters did it seven times each year. No one could ever beat her.”, he would chuckle as he remembered. “But how did you guys find the time, Baba?!” we would gasp. And he would look equally amazed. “It was Ramadan. Once work is done, what else is there to do except read the Quran every single possible minute?” His genuine shock, that one could possibly, crazily, choose to spend their time in unessential worldly matters and how utterly unfathomable that was to him, seeped into our young, impressionable minds. We would pester him again and again for more nuances to this story and he would oblige. “Do you know every letter you recite during Ramadan has 70 times the regular reward? That means every letter, like saying Alif, gets you seven HUNDRED good deeds? Just do the math for reading the whole Quran! Go on! Now do the math for your aunt who reads it seven times!” Our minds properly boggled, we would be wide eyed trying to figure out the answer to this cosmic equation from the mathematics of the Divine.

And eventually, our amazement and interest in this particular competition led to the formation of our own internal, little family game. The rules were simple: The target was Eid, and, more specifically, Eidee, the cash gift that we received from Baba on Eid morning. Whoever finished one, just one, complete recitation of the Quran before the official declaration of Eid, would have their Eidee doubled.

When we first heard this wager, I think we each of us practically clapped in glee. Oooh, twice the amount of money! A parent-sanctioned chance to openly beat the siblings and earn bragging rights, and that too, not just in some vague, metaphorical way, but in actual, crisp, crackling, Saudi riyal note earnings! Oh Daddy, this game was on!!

And our glee was because, you see, the very first year, we operated from a place of total ignorance. We’d never actually attempted what was being asked and so we figured “Eh, how hard could it be? Those old aunts and uncles of ours, if they could do it up to seven times, what was ONE time? This should be a cakewalk.”

Well it wasn’t. It wasn’t the first year. And it still isn’t 25 years later.

There have been years of starting and staying strong. Of planning from beforehand. Of thinking, okay, roughly 30 days, 30 juz. If I read a little more than one a day, I am on track. And in that same pattern, of sailing easily and comfortably to the finish line. Of standing, grinning on Eid morning, keeping my palm extended as first one 50 riyal note was laid on it and then, nodding proudly, yes I did complete my recitation, getting another 50. Of exulting over my father’s proudly beaming face.

There have been years, in late tweens/early teens of total mismanagement. Of letting life take over a little too much and then realizing, aghast, that only five fasts were left and I still had eighteen juz to go. Of racing, helter skelter, through more than six juz on the very last day, squeaking past the finish line just minutes before what would be the last Maghrib prayer of Ramadan. Of encountering a slightly raised, fatherly eyebrow, “So you really did finish?” and of meekly nodding yes, deliberately neglecting to mention the particular speeds of recitation.

Later, once womanhood kicked in, there were years of getting unexpectedly overly long periods and that throwing my entire calculation off. Of feeling gnawing desperation around Day 21, 22. How will I complete it now? Of not giving up. Of, after ghusl, staying up all night and then continuing to stay awake after Fajr to complete the required reading, but now, with the sense of adulthood inside me, only reading in the most measured, dignified manner possible.

There were years when, long after the double-Eidee wager had faded away with other remnants of childhood, with all the impetuous, rebellion of youth, of spending my days in smoke-filled rooms, strategizing with socialist/activists, and my evenings protesting against the Iraq war on the frozen streets of Toronto. Of not praying at all, of not so much as glancing towards the dusty shelf where my Quran sat the entire year. But then, out of sheer habit, on the first of Ramadan, shamefaced from all the spiritual neglect of the past eleven months, taking it down, cleaning it and then getting to it. Of feeling, verse by verse, page by page, chapter by beautiful chapter, cleansed. Redeemed. Able to start over.

There was the first year of my marriage. When my brand new husband, sat back, astonished at this surprising wife of his. This wife who never even put her shoes in the right place when she got back home from somewhere. Whose phone was always misplaced. Whose closet always a disaster. “I never knew you could be so disciplined.”, he marveled as he witnessed my steady progression over the course of the month, the pages on the right of the bookmark growing and the pages on the left lessening.

There were subsequent years in which he figured if I could do it, he could too. Of motivating each other. Of gently teasing whoever was behind. Of eventually acknowledging, that his long office hours and unrelenting corporate job would get the best of him. Of consoling ,“Don’t worry. I read it for both of us. Niyyah is what counts. You got it.”, and of vowing, “I’m going to do it next time for sure!”.

There was the year of expecting my firstborn – a boy who would later go on to have developmental delays and additional needs – when Ramadan was in the month just before his birth. Of, that year, with all the nervous excitement and joyful anticipation of a first time mother-to-be, completing the Quran three times. Of growing bigger and more uncomfortable, curling up on the couch and slowly working my way through the Book again and again, and one more time, to give myself a sense of purpose and calm. A steadying feeling that I was being a responsible mother and giving my very first baby his very first gift as a Muslim child.

And there have many, many more years. Of anxiety. Of scary financial strain. Of a turbulent marriage. A difficult son. Of sickness. Of fear. And of deep, deep grief.

In all of those years, those months and weeks of uncertainty, Ramadan and the accompanying habit of completing the Quran has stood like an immovable beacon.

In the early years, the prospect of either receiving doubled earnings on Eid or facing the disappointed expression on my father’s face was the motivation. In the middling years, it was force of habit, a yearly ritual that I neither questioned nor pondered very much over. Completing the Quran was just another part of Ramadan for me, similar to fasting. I had to fast and so I had to finish the Quran. And in recent years, with the onset of maturity, the wisdom that has come in my thirties, the settling into the very bones of my life and my self, this yearly practice has become an identity and a gift. An eagerly anticipated reconnection. To Allah. To the Quran. To my childhood. To my father. To my self.

Ramadan1

The motivations behind this practice have shape shifted and blurred over the years. They have entered questionable realms and they have exited. They have wavered repeatedly, stretched unbelievably and sometimes disappeared completely. But, now, today and inshaAllah forever after, they are strong, solid and singular in focus. And so perhaps, a better way to start this story would have been:

Every year, in Ramadan, I have to complete the recitation of the Quran because this is who I am. There is no question of not completing it. It’s just what I do.

I know, in writing this, that there will be dissenters. There will be those who strongly disagree with this idea – those who will be disgusted by the linking of monetary motivation to the Holy Quran. Those who will insist everyone should give weightage to spending more time understanding the Quran rather than rote reciting it. Those who will find my descriptions of “racing” through the Quran in my earlier years the exact raison d’etre for not setting unrealistic targets.

Perhaps, they are each right in their own way. But they, their reasons, their motivations, their goals are not right for me.

I cannot explain to them how I feel about my father and how the prospect of attaining his pleasure can compel me to move mountains. I cannot explain how this practice he has instilled in me has been my spiritual lifeline. I cannot explain to them the deep, intrinsic pleasure of reading that Book from cover to cover in a fixed time frame and that too, during the most blessed days of the year. I cannot explain because I am always far too busy trying to make sense of my own story.

See, I feel, to thrive in this Life, we each have to do what we can to try and make sense of the lot we’ve given. To try and comprehend our messy, marvelous stories and see them for the treasure they are.

When I look at my life, when I take the long view, I see two, exactly opposite, completely diametrical truths. I see that I have had, through the Will of Allah, so much turbulence. Such storms. Such darkness. And I also see that my father in the form of this and other traditions, gave me such stability, so many anchors. So many lifebuoys. In all the years of my life, when I was flailing and thrashing about in the uncertain seas of physically painful, fibromyalgia-filled school days, a rebellious university life, a tumultuous early marriage, a special needs child, difficult subsequent pregnancies, financial strain and unemployment, sickness, grief, this tradition was an always present marker on my horizon. A rope to grab on to every single year no matter how stormy and darkened the rest of the eleven months were. A steady, brightly shining lighthouse that by virtue of always being there, always brought me back to my center.

As another Ramadan approaches, I think of the ghosts of Ramadan past. The years flitter in my mind like a fast paced slide show and I see my recitation efforts stacked up on each other. Year after year after year of trying. Of working towards a challenging but clearly identified goal. Of honing my discipline and time management skills. Of experiencing the fear of failure and the dedication required in overcoming that fear. Of experiencing the high of personal achievement and the two-folded spiritual satisfaction of reconnecting to this glorious book of Allah and, in the process, beating down my inner demons of laziness and indiscipline, those lesser parts of me who, every year would rather give up but don’t.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly lost as I look at my son, this boy who refuses to comply, whose anxiety levels are always so high, who doesn’t speak like other kids his age, I clutch to my heart the memory of those hours and hours my pregnant self spent with the Quran, those three complete recitations he heard while he moved inside me.

Sometimes, when things seem excruciatingly lonely, I think of my ancestors and my aunts and uncles and my cousins. All those children of all those siblings of my father. I think of the dozens and dozens of my family members, all of whom carry on this tradition proudly today. Each and every one of the kids and adults in my dad’s side of the family (and there are many!) completes the Quran every Ramadan. Because that is who they are. That is who we are. If they can do it, I can do it. I am reminded that I not alone. I am held aloft by a strong family, good values and faith-full traditions.

Sometimes, when life seems particularly overwhelming, too much work, not enough time, I think of all those years in which I took stock of the situation, ”Okay ten days left, 16 juz to go. How can I manage this?” and then slowly and diligently accomplished what initially felt to be an insurmountable task. I hold daily to my soul the knowledge that I am resilient. That I can overcome. That I have. That I will.

And sometimes, when my now sick and aging father is asleep, his gray hair glistening softly in the shadows, I lean down and press my cheek to his. I put my lips to his ear. And I whisper things. I whisper how the kids made me laugh today and cry simultaneously. I whisper that Ramadan is coming and he better get my double-Eidee ready. I whisper my love and my prayers and my hopes. I whisper how afraid I am of the future. How much I already miss him. But most of all, I whisper my gratitude. Gratitude for gifting me so freely all the things, all the lessons, all the beliefs, all the forces of habit and inspiring stories and abiding, enriching traditions that have blessed my life. For giving me an identity and an anchor. For always being my lighthouse when he was able, and whenever the time came that he wasn’t, to make sure to leave my life with enough Light to see me through.

Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera
Rabbir humhuma kama rabbayaani sagheera

 – – –

Hiba Masood is a writer, storyteller and speaker. You can find more of her and her work daily on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/etdramamama

Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.

37 Comments

37 Comments

  1. Avatar

    fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    hey hiba, beautiful beautiful beautiful piece of work. Seems like i was going through all the stages you wrote and my relation with Quran, throughout my life flashed as i continue to read your words.
    just out of curiosity, when you mention completing a quran, are you refering to the translations or the arabic text?
    lots of love.

    • Avatar

      Murah

      July 12, 2016 at 2:41 PM

      duh! seriously…translation? wow! when i think i heard them all…..what planet are you living in?

      • Avatar

        Anonymous

        July 22, 2016 at 8:44 PM

        The Arabic text suffices as a reply. Fatima’s point is coming from a peaceful place, let us be merciful with one another insha Allah.

  2. Avatar

    Anonymous

    June 17, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    i can only imagine what a task this must have been for you to put this all in writing. Job well done. It was a pleasure to read, and so relatable that it made me go down my own little memory lane! Thank you for writing this!

  3. Avatar

    Aisha

    June 17, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    Yeah, it’s a tradition in my family too. My mum instilled it in us, though we never got any monetary benefit or so. But somehow she inspired us and till today one goes through that guilty feeling if we r not reaching our target. I m glad she forced it on us eventhough i dnt feel that dhe actually forced it. N i hope i am able to inspire my kids in the same way ins Sha Allah.

  4. Avatar

    Qurratulain

    June 17, 2016 at 8:39 AM

    What a moving piece of work! Made me teary. I often follow everything you write on your page and it’s true the words that seep out of suffering are undeniably beautiful. Sending lots of love. Continue writing. You inspire many unknowingly.

  5. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 17, 2016 at 9:27 AM

    I’m crying reading this.
    My father never forced us, but everyday it was a daily question of ‘how many did you read? Which para (juz) are you on?’
    He told us stories of his older sister reading 5 every year and we were always so impressed.

    Thank you for this reminder of my own childhood.

  6. Avatar

    saaliha

    June 17, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    Wow this is beautiful mashaAllah! May Allah accept you and your family and may he grant you all shade under his throne on the day of judgment, ameen

  7. Avatar

    umme ammar

    June 17, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    Excellent piece of writing..?. got me crying! And alhumdolillah this tradition of completing one quran in ramadan is still alive in many families includin mine… if only we can successfully transfer it to our children
    the best part
    rabbir hum huma kama rabbayni sagheera?

  8. Avatar

    umm e hanzalah

    June 17, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    SubhanAllah…tears r felling from.my eyes…with few changes could easily relate to the values we got from our parents..beautiful piece of writing..pulled me back to my childhood days…May Allah s.w.t help us all to transfer these values in our children..ameen..n yes off course rabbir hamhuma kama rabbiyani sagheera..Ameen..

  9. Avatar

    Hira Danish

    June 17, 2016 at 6:24 PM

    I have been following you since a couple of years now Hiba, and find you as a person quite parallel to my own self. I admire your courage and determination to keep pouring your heart out on paper. Sending lots of Duas for you and your generations that may you all uphold this amazing tradition of yours and be beacons of light forever.

  10. Avatar

    Tabassum

    June 18, 2016 at 1:39 AM

    Beautiful writing. This all sound so familiar. I have been questioned for encouraging my kids (11 and 8) to fast and recite Quran, do other activities with eid gifts and other such things but my own experience made me felt , this will work. Now reading your article make me felt more assured. Thanks for such a hear touching piece

  11. Avatar

    Um talhah

    June 18, 2016 at 2:26 AM

    jazakumAllahu khairan.
    The account of your teenage years both surprised and encouraged me. I didn’t expect a rebellious teen who’s not praying to recite the quran. May Allah reward your father abundantly.

  12. Avatar

    Spirituality

    June 18, 2016 at 12:23 PM

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran for the beautiful piece!

    Recitation of the Quran has tremendous benefits, so we should never be ashamed :)! The past few Ramadans have been difficult, as I have been unable to fast and attend taraweeh due to health reasons. So, one of my goals is to recite the entire Quran during Ramadan.

    Thanks so much for sharing your life story with us through your writings, with its ups and downs. One day, could you write about your struggles with fibromyalgia and how you overcame this disease? I and others suffering from similar health problems could really benefit.

    Also, I would love to hear anyone’s experiences of how they use Ramadan as a platform to boost not only recitation, but comprehension and deeper understanding of the Quran – for themselves as well as their children. Imagine, we get 700 rewards for reciting just one letter of the Quran. But how much more benefit would we get for really understanding the book (which is after all, a guide for those with taqwa), and trying to live accordingly?

    In addition to daily recitation, I’m trying to study the tafseer of an ayat or two everyday. I watch Nouman Ali Khan’s Quran Cover to Cover Series and take notes. Other ideas, and ideas on how to make such a process fun for families most welcome :)!

    Jazakum Allahu Khayran and I hope everyone is having a blessed Ramadan.

  13. Avatar

    Waheeda Sadik

    June 18, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    An absolute pleasure to read.I get you.jzk for your precious memories.

  14. Avatar

    Uzma

    June 18, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    Beautiful writing…totally relates to it.

  15. Avatar

    Umm Ayesha

    June 19, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    MashaAllah a beautiful piece of writing. I remember the time when we were young,the womwn in our family would challenge each other on how many Qursns they would read in Ramadhan. Five , six, seven was nothing to them. Some would even read ten Qurans. Then came duas, at tshajjud they would do the lenghthiest of duas, an hour or more, would anyone do this these days?

  16. Avatar

    Omer Riaz

    June 21, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Excellent Article Hiba. .Very Well Written. One of the noblest things to do in Ramadan is to extensively recite The Holy Quran, contemplate on one’s own existence and spend as much time as possible in the remembrance of Allah (SWT). Ramadan is a very special and spiritually rich month. In it Muslims find within them cultivated a deep and sincere love because fasting is done only for the sake of Allah (SWT) and it is no doubt that those people who worship Allah (SWT) sincerely and love Him also love all those around them and are good people.

  17. Avatar

    Badr

    June 22, 2016 at 8:04 AM

    Beautiful and touching story Ukhti….Jazzaki Allah Kheir.
    InshAllah, I can finish reading the Quran this Ramadan. At least once !

  18. Avatar

    shah

    June 28, 2016 at 1:57 AM

    Quran Focus is the best place for online Quran Reading. We have excellent programs that enable kids, older children, grown ups and new Muslims to learn Quran at Home.

    Please join Quran Focus Academy (http://www.quranfocus.com) to learn Quran Reading, Hifz, Translation, Tafseer and Essentials of Islam. One to one lessons via internet, qualified English speaking teachers, one week free trial classes, no advance fee, pay fee via PayPal, low monthly fee & family discount available.

  19. Avatar

    KB

    June 28, 2016 at 8:50 PM

    What a wonderful article. It moved me to tears. I will go read Quran now- the month is almost over

  20. Avatar

    sfk

    June 28, 2016 at 10:00 PM

    You made me cry…this was such a moving and relatable piece. My father too is the person who brought me closer to the Holy Qur’an. For the past couple of years I have been slacking off and I promised myself that wouldn’t happen this year. I still have 16 juz to go and I was getting depressed but your article has motivated me to reach the finish line!

  21. Avatar

    Alia

    July 1, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    Mashallah thanks for sharing with us! Your story reminded me of my friend’s family teaching the kids how to pray. All the things our parents “made” us do which appeared to be chores as we were kids are now good habits which benefit our lives tremendously! This Ramadan hasn’t been the same for me, I’m so behind on reading the Quran. This article just inspired me to try! With a few days left, I’ll still do what I can to make the most of it. You’re amazing!

  22. Avatar

    Zeba

    July 3, 2016 at 6:16 AM

    Oh Hibz, you never fail to amaze and inspire. I miss you friend. <<>>

  23. Avatar

    francis Ayala

    July 3, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Lovely article. You inadvertently demonstrate how humanity shares much in common. We all are profoundly influenced by parents and relatives, and maintain those attachments. We are lifted through spiritual disciplines –reading the holy scripture of our traditions, prayer, meditation, chanting. We suffer and rejoice throughout our lives. We see events, and form opinion through our own prism of experience. We are all one humanity, but imagine ourselves separate. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Avatar

    Farida

    July 11, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    MashaAllah beautiful Tradition the last paragraph about your father and already missing him touched me to tears. Our Parents did whatever they could in the best way they knew how . I hope we will be able to parent our children with such beautiful memorable Traditions. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your article.

  25. Avatar

    shadia

    July 16, 2016 at 11:46 PM

    Beautiful Masha’Allah

  26. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:45 AM

  27. Avatar

    Narayan Murthy

    August 5, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    WATCH – Mr. Deep Trivedi’s fitting reply to Mr. Zakir Naik on https://youtu.be/VRZI_TGAalc

  28. Avatar

    Madiha Khan

    August 10, 2016 at 1:50 AM

    Masha Allah very good article , yes we all should learn quran atleast one time in a year and Ramadan days are best to finish Quran, but I will also say that we also should learn quran except Ramadan days …

  29. Avatar

    Mohammad

    August 24, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    Subhanallah! Excellent piece of writing! and not just writing but the piece also reminds one of their past and their identity.

  30. Avatar

    Umm Hadi

    October 9, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    Asak Sr Hiba,
    May Allah bless your dad with the best in duniya and Akhira.
    May I ask how is doing?

  31. Pingback: Quran and Children | Wifaqul Ulama (Britain)

  32. Avatar

    Hina Shoeb

    June 10, 2017 at 5:06 AM

    Beautifully written! Lots of love your way

  33. Avatar

    Rizwan

    January 29, 2018 at 1:13 PM

    The ending made me cry. Thank you for a beautiful article.

  34. Avatar

    Maryam Ijaz

    April 15, 2019 at 8:23 AM

    Hi Hiba,
    Reading your essay reminds me of the days when my mom used to tell me and my sisters to complete Quran every Ramadan by 27th Roza because my mom used to do Niaz and make special dua for the departed family members. Reading your essay took me back to my childhood and made me realize how much I want my son to adopt the same habit our mom entailed on us which I am ashamed I didn’t carry on. Every year I wait for Ramadan there is something about this month that always excites me beside the fact we get an early off and all the family member sit on the table to break the fast together. This year INSHALLAH I will make sure I completed the Quran and will continue even after Ramadan.

    Thank you for reminding us the wordly affairs no matter how good or bad doesn’t matter because in the end what matters is how much successful are we as a Muslim.

  35. Avatar

    ruqyah syariah

    July 11, 2019 at 3:13 AM

    I had to complete also one recitation of the Quran for every Ramadan because my teacher was made us.

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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#Society

A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

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#Current Affairs

The Environmental Cost Of War With Iran

Abu Ryan Dardir

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war with Iran

Report after report shows how planet Earth may reach a point of no return. An analysis written by Ian Dunlop claims the planet cannot be saved by the mid-century if we continue on this path. And yet here we are marching towards a war with Iran.

When we think of climate change, we rarely think of war. On June 12th, 2019, Brown University released a report declaring the Department of Defence to be “the world’s largest institution to use petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” Burning jet fuel for transportation of troops and weapons make up 70 percent of the Pentagon’s emissions.  Ironically, earlier this year the Pentagon released a 22-page report to Congress stating the ⅔ of their mission-essential installation in the US are vulnerable to flooding, and ½ are susceptible to wildfires. To no surprise, Trump rejected those findings at the time. The Pentagon is now concerned with the impact climate change has on their “foreign missions.”

war, iran, America, Climate change, pentagonWith tensions high with Iran, and several thousand troops are expected to be deployed, if war with Iran is to happen, it may lead us to a more damaged planet that may not recover. This makes the Pentagon guilty of killing people and the earth. The Department of Defense has consistently used between 77-80% of the entire US energy consumption. We see spikes during times of massive war (since America is in a constant state of war), like in 1991, 2001, and so on.

Here is a list of the seven significant sources of greenhouse emissions done by the Department of Defense:

  1. Overall military emissions for installations and non-war operations.
  2. War-related emissions by the US military in overseas contingency operations.
  3. Emissions caused by US military industry   — for instance, for production of weapons and ammunition.
  4. Emissions caused by the direct targeting of petroleum,   namely the deliberate burning of oil wells and refineries by all parties.
  5. Sources of emissions by other belligerents.
  6. Energy consumed by reconstruction of damaged and destroyed infrastructure.
  7. Emissions from other sources, such as fire suppression and extinguishing chemicals, including   Halon, a greenhouse gas, and from explosions and fires due to the destruction of non-petroleum targets in warzones.

This impact on the climate is just the portion from America, in the Iraq war, 37 countries fought alongside America, and 60 are allied against ISIS. There is a way to calculate those emissions as well.

The Rules of War

Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed his soldiers:

  1. Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
  2. Do not practice treachery or mutilation. (Al-Muwatta)
  3. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. (Al-Muwatta)
  4. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food. (Al-Muwatta)
  5. If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
  6. Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
  7. Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle. (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
  8. Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience. (Sahih Muslim)
  9. No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire. (Sunan Abu Dawud).
  10. Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and not to do wrong even if they commit evil. (Al-Tirmidhi)

A verse in the Holy Qur’an

4:75 (Y. Ali) And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!”

How does this potential war against Iran play into all this?

Our first call to action is to organize an anti-war rally. This type of work is weak in America, and virtually non-existent within the Muslim community.

فَقَالَ أَبُو سَعِيدٍ أَمَّا هَذَا فَقَدْ قَضَى مَا عَلَيْهِ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَنْ رَأَى مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُنْكِرْهُ بِيَدِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الإِيمَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ ‏.‏

Abu Sa’eed said: ‘As for this, he has fulfilled what is upon him. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying: ‘Whoever among you sees an evil, then let him stop it with his hand. Whoever is not able, then with his tongue, and whoever is not able, then with his heart. That is the weakest of faith.”‘

War with Iran will be a Greater Mistake than War with Iraq

Historically, anti-war sentiment in America has grown over the years. When the Iraq war first started only 23% thought it was a mistake, today it is close to 60% that believe the war is a mistake. Yes, this is in hindsight, but that it is also growth. The reason the anti-war movement is feeble in America is that there is no platform for the campaign to grow. Both parties are guilty of starting wars or taking over the wars from the past administration. Whether we do it alone as an individual or as a group, we should do everything we can as privileged members of this planet to save and protect those that can’t defend themselves.

There is a famous quote of the famed boxer Muhammad Ali when explaining why he wasn’t fighting in the war. He said, “…I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.”

Fighting Earth

With that said, there is a significant interest in the region for more than just fuel and resources. It is truly a problem, our operations in the Gulf is to address our dependency on Persian oil, and the fuel that is used to address our dependence is to protect those resources and access to them. One estimate is that America spends $81 billion annually defending the global oil supply. They do this because the DOD feels its dependency will make it vulnerable on a larger scale.

In 1975 America decided to take away the fear of losing the resources and developed the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” and in 1978, they created the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). Their only purpose was to defend US interest in the Middle East. This, in turn, leads to extractivism of resources and supplies. (Which will be explained in a future article).

This war can be the end of all wars as it can accelerate us to the point of no return in regards to climate change.

A war with Iran is a war with Earth and all who live on it.

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