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Ramadan Confession #2: I have this type of Ramadan guilt every year

By Fatima Asad

Many things change in your life when you become a mother.  (Wait! This is not just another mama post; I need to tell you when I truly felt this guilt for the first time.)  In fact, you meet another person in the mirror when you are blessed with motherhood.  It was the first Ramadan after becoming a mama- I wasn’t fasting since the two-month old demanded to suck out my entire essence (along with the breast milk).  If you’re a mama who has nursed, you know the seemingly eternal hours you possess to write to-do lists (without getting anything done, subhanAllah), read that book (yes, that book that you attempted to read during the last trimester), stare at the walls, questioning your interior designing judgement, or contemplating life- really going deep within the mind’s avenues.

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It was during one of these must-feed-the-little-human sessions that a realization struck my heart chords hard. It was an overwhelming feeling of guilt that shoved me to such an extent that I felt myself freeze, choke and gasp simultaneously.  I couldn’t breathe during those moments, and I wanted to cry, but there were no tears.  I really wanted the tears to flow out so I could rid myself of this overpowering force, but there were none.  That in itself was another terrifying realization: why am I not crying? Why can’t I cry? Has my heart hardened to such an extent? Then, as I gently laid the baby on the bed and kissed her chubby little cheeks, I couldn’t let go of this affection.  As I reached for her tiny fingers, tear drops pattered on her palm.  There they were.  This miracle would continue to awaken an array of emotions I never knew were possible in the future years.

The guilt was because of this: I sadly realized that I had not been the best representation of Islam in the past and to think that I may have been the cause of even a single person missing out on this astounding blessing of Ramadan jolted me to the bone.  Having lived in America all my life, it had been a constant tug of war between faith and culture.  Most of us will confidently claim that Islam doesn’t contradict culture, but do we really believe it? Have we lived by it? Islam does not contradict culture, but I, like countless others, failed to be educated about this until it was too late in many aspects.  I had spent most of my youth years unconsciously trying to become a follower, trying to impress people through fading trends and false doctrines.  This is because I failed to understand my own identity, allowing others to pick and choose how they defined me rather than holding the reins myself.

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This guilt comes back every year, stronger each time.  I should have done more, I could have done more, I should have learned about my deen earlier, I could have paved a smoother road for myself and others, I should have embraced the real me more…ultimately: I could have painted a better, more authentic picture of Islam if only I had known it myself.  Even though the guilt increases, so does the hope.  In fact, the hope is slowly but surely outgrowing the despair and that is what being a Muslim is all about.  It’s about accepting your mistakes and circumstances, pairing hope with determination, and moving forward.  The past is just that: the past.  Look back to learn not to turn into stone, eternally frozen with despair over what can never be alive again.

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Reflect and Refresh – Purify your soul and mind with the teachings of Qur’an

By Suha Mishal

The month of forgiveness and mercy is upon us.  

This Ramadan, while treating yourself to samosas and chaats, why not also treat your soul. Ramadan is the best time to treat your inner exhausted self to a deep cleanse. Does that seem hard? Worry not, you will find inspiration to do so in this Ayah: 

 “He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul.” (Quran, 91:9-10) 

This success ultimately means success in the hereafter. So, let’s remember in this Ramadan to:  

Pause. Reflect. Purify. Restart! 

I’ve had encounters with people with a lot of money, countless other blessings and everything they’d ever wish for, yet their hearts and souls are not at peace. They constantly are in a rush for something they don’t even know themselves. And what use is money if it cannot buy you the peace and contentment that you still, after having everything, long for?  In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Almighty says, 

“Their hearts relax at the remembrance of Allah” (Quran, 39:23). 

Our heart is not just a tissue mass that is pumping blood; it’s much more than that. It is the center of all our feelings, desires, and emotions. It is the inner self; it is that boss of us that tells us what do to. Purifying your heart with the remembrance of Allah (SWT) will automatically purify your soul and bring you inner peace.  

Listed below are some tips that are guaranteed to make an impact on your journey to purify yourself spiritually:  

1: Pause.  

Imagine driving at a fast speed nonstop, without any breaks without pause for a very long period of time? What will happen? 

Eventually you’ll end up exhausted, starved, and thirsty, both a danger to your own health as well that of others.  

That is exactly how we are living our lives nowadays. We have so much stuff on our plate already that we do not bother taking a pause in that high-speed drive to even notice the beautiful sceneries that have passed us by.  

Likewise, we are so caught up in our lives that we’re forgetting WHY  we are in this Dunya (this world) in the first place. 

One of my favorite verses that really steers me back every time I lose track is:  

فَأَيْنَ تَذْهَبُونَ
So where are you going?
[Qur’an: Chapter 81, Verse 26] 

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Qur’an has, like always, made things so easier for us. Allah has instructed us in the Qur’an and He Himself has created pauses that can rejuvenate our souls and our hearts:  

  • PAUSE IN DAY – 5 Daily Prayers   
  • PAUSE IN CONSUMPTION – Fasting in Ramadan 
  • PAUSE IN SPENDING – Zakat
  • PAUSE IN LIFETIME – Hajj 

Following these pauses carefully could be your shortcut to the purity of the soul and a source of peace for the heart.  

2: Reflect  

Look back on things when you pause; reflect on all the things that you’ve done this year.  

To make it easier for you, make a list. Jot down all the times you went wrong, and the times you went right. This will give you an insight of into yourself, and all that you need to improve. 

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I find that reflection is very essential to a healthy soul. It gives you an opportunity to count your blessings and rejoice in the favours that Allah (SWT) has granted us.   

(While you’re at it, why don’t you take some time and pray two nafl rakats as gratitude for Allah’s blessings upon you?)  

3: Purify:  

After you’ve made the list, think of the ways you need to improve. 

If you’ve hurt someone, think of how you can make them happy. Or if someone has hurt you, learn to forgive them. Forgiveness is one of the keys to purification. It allows you to let go of grudges or ill-feelings and start afresh.  

Butif someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with AllahCertainly, He does not love wrongdoers. (Surat Ash-Shura, 40) 

For all the sins and bad deeds that you’ve intentionally or unintentionally committed this year, you can always repent to Allah (SWT) for it is better to TURN to him before you RETURN to him. Indeed, Allah is Al-Ghaffur “The Oft-Forgiving” and the original source of forgiveness. 

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Allah has said in Qur’an:  

It may well be thatAllah will pardon them. Allah is Ever-Pardoning, Ever-Forgiving. (Surat An-Nisa, 99)

4: Restart 

Always remember, it’s only YOU who can make a change. You can set yourself on the right path. Once you know your mistakes from the past year, keep them in your mind and ensure you don’t repeat them.  

Avoid things that lead you into the things that don’t please Allah.  

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Start fresh with a clean slate and clear heart. You can maintain your purified state by:  

– make pledges with yourself to do good deeds.  

– keep small punishment if you break them  

– keep small incentives if you fulfill those pledges.  

– remember to reflect and purify throughout the year and not just in Ramadan. 

InshaAllah, if you follow the tips in this article, this Ramadan will prove to purify your heart and your soul, leaving you refreshed for a new step on your journey to please Allah (SWT).  

Taraweeh Optimization

By Nasser Ijaz Moghal

Ramadan is here and you want to make the best out of it. When you think of Ramadan nights you think of Taraweeh and Laylatul Qadr. They were MIA throughout the year but lo and behold they too come to pray taraweeh and then it’s like see you next year. The biggest regret that 90% of the Muslims have at the end of Ramadan is that they hear the Quran recited but can’t internalize the message. The Quran doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t soften their hearts. So, this Ramadan I am going to tell you what practical things you can do to make connect with the words of Allah on a deeper level.

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1. Purify your Intentions:

It is common knowledge that actions are based on intentions as per the hadeeth of Rasul Allah. We often focus on the what in our lives rather than the why. This Ramadan I want you to step back and reflect; Why am I going for taraweeh? Is it because just everyone’s doing it and it would be weird if I didn’t follow the crowd? Is it because my parents said I need to go? Is it because it’s a cultural thing? Is it because if I don’t go people will think less of me? Is it because after tarweeh I can socialize with friends?

Now here is what your intention should be this Ramadan: I want to listen to the words of Allah so that it softens my heart, changes my life, in order that I may please Allah.

Once the basis is strong the results will surely follow.

2. Dua

Undoubtedly, you’ve had a long day at college or work. You’ve been fasting in the hot weather. You are still digesting the pakoras and samosas of iftrari and you are sleep deprived. But you still wish to drawer closer to Allah through non-obligatory prayer; taraweeh. In such times supplicate to Allah to ease the hardship and allow you to focus on your Salah. Rather than be distracted by other thoughts. Then never give up as Allah will provide His help in ways you cannot imagine.

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3. Select the Masjid

There are Masjids out there where the Imam recites the Quran at lightning speed. The tarweeh is more of a workout rather than a soul touching activity. Go to a masjid where the Imam’s recitation touches your heart and makes you cry. The Imam has adequate speed such that you can hear the word properly. Furthermore, they have a Quran tafsir session where you can at least know what was recited. It’s very important that the conducive for understanding of the Quran as well because if there isn’t an AC, there are mosquito’s everywhere, the sound of the imam from the speakers is unclear, the masjid itself smells awful of sweat, chances are that you won’t be able to concentrate on your salah. Choose a masjid that is convenient for you and has at atmosphere to enable you to focus on your salah.

Traweeh

4. Prepare

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is essential that we make an effort to prepare for Taraweeh. What you should do is join a Daur-e-Quran course online or in person which should be in sync with your masjid. So at least during the Salah you can pick some Arabic words and get certain contexts that can better help you to understand. Furthermore, always take an afternoon nap otherwise you would be so sleepy during tarweeh you would be literally be dosing off in and out of Salah. Take a shower before you go for prayer. A cold shower is helpful in sharpening your senses. Don’t eat too much during iftari. Do you know what would happen to the Imam if he over ate during iftari and then attempted to pray taraweeh? He would vomit and die. And the person following the Imam is not better off either. Bring a bottle of water to the masjid. It is very important to keep hydrated as it prevents person from tiring too quickly. Don’t stick to one place during the entire tarweeh change places or move to another row after each 4 Rakaat to bring that freshness to your salah.

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5. Make it a family thing

There are certain acts of worship that a person needs to do on a personal level. However, make plans with the entire family to go for taraweeh. And then after tarweeh each person should share their experiences and motivate each other to improve themselves. So rather than going on iftar parties your rocking at the Masjid with your loved ones at tarweeh.  So, bring your fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters and all and enjoy together as one family.

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6. Drive Self Accountability

Make a calendar and set a daily target for yourself for taraweeh. For example, you plan and set the target that you will pray 20 Rakat on the 5th of Ramadan. If you meet this target, then right down on the calendar 20 and say I am Awesome MashaAllah and if you don’t then write the amount that you prayed for example 12 and say I will improve inshaAllah. Now you need to be a detective of your life and figure out what stopped you from achieving your goal and then take an action to prevent its re-occurrence. Maybe what stopped you from completing your target was that you felt sleepy and back tracing you realize that you normally sleep for an hour in the evening but today you only slept for 30min because you spent too much chatting with your friend on facebook. Red flag! Take an action to limit your facebook time in the evening and go to sleep for 1 hour. Remember the golden words of Umar bin Al Khattab:

“Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable and weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.”

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7. Never lose hope

Many people lose faith in themselves and think it’s too late for them to understand the Quran. That it’s something that should be left to scholars. They then resign themselves to a life of mediocrity where rather than becoming an educated Muslim they choose to become a cultural Muslim.  Allah inspires us with a passion to win:

Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (39:53)

8. Focus

Make a conscious effort during Taraweeh to focus on the words and listen to the Imam with all five senses. Make sense of the meaning and allow the what you learnt in tafsir to flow into your heart. If stray thoughts come your way, say Tawwuz and push them away. At first it will be a struggle to pull your attention back however with practice this can become easier. You need to totally immerse yourself in the moment, now. Forget about the past and forget about what you need to do next. And pray with the level of Ihsaan as if you are seeing Allah otherwise one should know that Allah sees them.

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Things are not perfect and often things don’t go as per plan and Allah is the best of planners. So even though you don’t see the results immediately but Allah knows your efforts and you will be rewarded inshaAllah based on your intentions and hard work. Understanding Quran and living it in our lives is not secluded to Ramadan; it’s a life long journey. Ramadan is here to facilitate but we need to carry the learnings forward.

How to manage Ibadah along with daily activities during the month of Ramadan

By Minahil Hasan

When we look around us, all we see is people who are endlessly busy; busy in their jobs, busy at school or even busy wasting their time. Time is now a commodity that people are constantly short of. More importantly, when we are so busy in our dunya, where do we find time for our Akhirah?

The blessed month of Ramadan has dawned upon us which is the month in which the Shaytaan is chained, the doors of forgiveness are opened, and the reward for every good deed is tenfold or more. In this month, Muslims try their utmost to perform as many good deeds as possible to gain the pleasure and forgiveness of Allah. Yet people still find it difficult to find time to do their ibadah.

The most important thing to do is to understand the FOCUS of our life. Is it to please Allah, gain his forgiveness and attain Jannah in the hereafter or is it some worldly aim? Having worldly focuses is not forbidden but the foremost focus should always remain gaining the pleasure of Allah. If your focus is clear, then no matter how busy your life gets, you will always manage to do your ibadah. But to make it easier for you, here are some practical tips:

The first thing to do is to keep the correct intention in mind while doing anything. For example, if you are cooking in Ramadan, think about how your efforts will result in an iftar for your family. If you entertain your younger siblings, have the intention of helping your parents, and even when you go to sleep, keep the intention that you are doing this so that you can wake up for Fajr refreshed. The reason for this is that keeping the correct intention can also be rewarded. So even if you are doing worldly things, you can still attain rewards from Allah (SWT).

Secondly, you should prioritize good deeds over others. For example, if you have school work to do, and you still haven’t read the Quran for the day, read the Quran first. You will be doing a good deed and completing a task which will make you feel more productive and motivated to do your school work.

You should make sure that you are never wasting time if you have an opportunity to do a good deed. If you feel like surfing the net, why not surf the net for interesting lectures by Islamic scholars or a Islamic documentary? If you want to read, why not read a biography of a notable Muslim or a book of Seerah? Repurposing your time this way will ensure that you remain connected to Allah (SWT).

You can also multitask so as to make the most of your time. Listening to the Quran or a lecture can be a soothing activity to do while you are cooking, cleaning, or doing something else.

In short, you have to correct your intentions, prioritize your good deeds and do your best to STOP wasting time. This life has been given to us by Allah (SWT) to first and foremost worship Him. To do so, we need to retain a connection with him, regardless of how hectic and busy our lives get.

Ramadan Confession #1: Why I don’t stop using social media in Ramadan

By Fatima Asad

“I can’t see the moon, Mommy!” A frustrated 6 year old tugged on my dress as she jumped up and down, eagerly trying to spy the Ramadan moon behind the infamous Beijing skyscrapers.

Ding. Ding. Ding.  As predictable as iftaar pakoras, my phone started celebrating the new moon before us.

“Oh, I have a feeling we will see the Ramadan moon soon enough, in sha Allah.” I replied as I reached for my phone. Sure enough, Ramadan Mubarak, Ramadan Kareem (which by the way doesn’t make sense- ask an Arab speaker), and Happy Ramadan messages adorned the screen.  There were also those messages- you know, the “I bid you adieu for 30 days”, the “time to turn off for a month”, the “it’s time to detox the soul” messages.  I smiled, pondering over the familiar feeling of this dedicated decision of going cold turkey with social media, as I too had sent off similar messages (because, you know the world will miss my posts about my kids eating my lipstick or how I found a dead dragonfly).

Last year, I made a conscious decision to get more active on social media, especially during Ramadan.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Let me tell you why I don’t stop using social media in Ramadan.  In a nutshell, it’s because my browsing quality improves tremendously during this blessed month and becomes more disciplined (as is the target for all activities).  You see, fasting is about increasing one’s taqwa– love, fear and consciousness of Allah SWT. That continuous string of taqwa can only be achieved when we starve our nafs (desirous self) – not merely the bodies – of negative habits, seemingly perpetual poisonous cycles of bad choices.

The first few days of Ramadan are always the toughest for me, and I’m not talking about my coffee deprivation.  I split into two people and it’s as if I am hallucinating. I see my dark side, more visible than ever.  In fact, it’s as if Iblees (Satan) has been training this “me” for this precise moment- to do his dirty work in his absence.  On the other hand, I see my truest, more serene and sensible self, slowly but surely rising up from what seems to be a stance of hopelessness and fragility.  These first days are difficult, painful, exhausting- a struggle in which I can feel each sigh, cry and pull as if it were a million paper-cuts.  The worst part is the heavy fog being pushed down by my stubborn dark side over my eyes.  My mind is clogged and a feeling of despair and helplessness overtakes me.

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What does that have to do with my social media use? Everything. I have witnessed firsthand how social media is a major tool- nay weapon for wielding out the dark sides of people.  It knows no limits of immodesty, disrespect, effortless arguing, and poisonous malice.  It’s oh so easy to slide into various degrees of wrong when swiping through a favourite app.  One thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re watching bloopers from Downton Abbey even though you actually sat down to write down the recipe for Shakshuka.

Yes, Downton Abbey may not be the most evil, immoral content in existence, but the point is that we have become techno zombies, allowing social media to lead and control us, rather than making conscious, deliberate and wise decisions ourselves.  Did I really need to waste another hour on the bloopers after watching the series? Of course not.  Even watching the series failed to help me achieve my higher purpose in life; in fact, it most certainly hurt it, no matter how respectable or innocent the content.

 

When this slip happens a few times, I still seemed to spring back; however, as it social media 3transforms into a habit, one that became a part of my being quite effortlessly, *that* is the point where the darkness within me feeds off the cycle.  This is the reason the struggle is a powerful one when the time comes to break away and remember my purpose.  After that initial struggle in Ramadan, I engage with social media with an acute, sharpened sense of consequence, realising that whatever I do will impact not only my future habits, but also my fast for that day.

The rules of engagement become refreshed and the content that I deemed acceptable or was apathetic towards now stings my eyes, ears and heart.  The energy still needs to be used, so I redirect it towards tools that will undoubtedly aid me in achieving the greatest goal: Jannatul Firdous (Paradise of Firdaws).  This takes the form of listening to lectures, audio books, motivational TED talks, brushing up on my basic Islamic knowledge, rekindling my bond with the Quran, and improving relationships.

I absolute love using social media during Ramadan- heck, I’m so thankful to be a part of halaqaat (circles of knowledge) and various tafseer circles from my afar apartment in China.  I get a sneak peak of what wonders technology and my positive choices can have all year around.  Today, I know countless around me who use social media as the measuring stick by which they measure their worth, impact and existence.

However, we need to remember that social media is just that: a tool which needs to be consciously used and controlled, not be the cause of misery, short-lived pleasures, addiction and losing one’s self.  Use this blessed month to make a positive social media change.  This is the time for new resolutions, closing past chapters, and giving yourself a fresh start- in fact, you are being gifted a fresh opening by the Creator, Himself.  Will you accept it with all your being or simply “like” and swipe left to see what if Prince Harry shaved for the royal wedding?

Say it with me: *I am stronger than my dark side and I am definitely worth more than a hashtag.*

The Best Version of Me

Naivity

I recall once while on the road with friends, someone mentioned it was almost Maghreb and she hadn’t completed her evening azkaar yet. Another friend sadly remarked how often she has been missing them lately.

I was shocked.
How could someone miss their daily azkaar (supplications)?!
That’s a believer’s essential! And here this ‘practising Muslimah’ is telling us she’s missed them often? I tried hard not to judge her, but man was that a struggle..

Fast forward a few years, and many veils of naivety later, I find myself applauding when I realise I managed to get almost all my morning and evening azkaar done on time for a single day. Not sure if I should laugh at my old self for thinking I could always be that regular in my ibadah, or mourn the fact that I am no more.

Or wait..I could dare aim to be ‘me’ again?

And just like that, of everything that I have ever planned for on ‘new years’ ‘new semesters’ and all those new beginnings, this year I have found the most inspirational one; being that best old version of me!
All of us miss and reminisce different phases of our lives; the cheerfulness of school days, the regular journaling during a certain summer break, baking something new every week, regular contact with family during a certain semester, daily recitation of a certain portion of Qur’an for a few years and whatnot! While life and times may change, we will always have it in us- if nothing else- to be what we strove so hard to be. It took us a lifetime each to achieve all that, how could we let it all just go? Let’s revive our own legacy, and not let our struggles and ambitions die again.

Remember, remember..

Verily, the reward of deeds performed depends on the last actions. (1) 

This year, I note down the habits and hobbies from my past that I feel were the best of me and work on making them a part of my life again.
Take a pleasant ride down your memory lane and pick your favourites too; your top 5 or random 10 and let’s resolve again to be the best versions of ourselves! 

joy this season's good vibes

Bonus guidelines for making your list and charting an action plan from the man best in habits and deeds, ﷺ:

“Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little.” (2)

Wassalam!

References:
(1) Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ar-Raqaa’iq (Book on Softening of the Hearts) no. 6493
(2) Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ar-Raqaa’iq (Book on Softening of the Hearts) no. 6464

The Simplest Life Hack to Track Your Life

By Sara Ahmad

planner 2018

I learned something in 2017- the importance of tracking my life and my habits. Before I started doing this, I felt that time was flowing through my fingers and I was just standing there, unable to grasp it. I felt that I was declining spiritually, mentally and physically but had no way of determining at what pace and why. I wanted to take snapshots of my life at different times and analyse them. I started making complicated timetables to keep an hourly log of every single thing I was doing in a day. I thought it would help me see how productive or how lazy I was. Well, that didn’t turn out to be sustainable… I quit doing that in less than a week. Then I tried a daily journal, but again, it was hard to keep up with and it was hard to ‘measure’ my weekly and monthly progress from pages and pages of written information.

Just as 2017 started, I found a table calendar (the kind which has blank boxes for every day) which unintentionally evolved into one of the best tracking methods I have ever used. I started recording the habits which were most important to me. For example, I wanted to see how much of the Quran I recited in a month, so I chose a pink color and added ‘juz 1’ on the first day and then ‘juz 2’ the next day. If I did not recite, I left the box blank.  After a month, I looked at all the pink ink and was able to see how much I recited and also measure how many days I wasn’t able to recite and figure out if any patterns existed. I used different colours for other habits:

Purple- dawah activities

Green- exercise

Orange- money spent

Blue- times I hung out with my friends

Red- habits I wanted to get rid of but still ended up engaging in them

Black- general activities like studying, spending time with family etc.

I thought I would eventually stop using this method, but it’s so easy that I still haven’t! By the end of 2017, I had a clear idea about which areas I had made progress in and which I still need to work on. For 2018, I’ve been using the same method on a planner instead of a table calendar and it’s working just as well Alhumdulillah. I hope these ideas benefit you in some way and that you are able to look back at your week/month/year/decade and give yourself a reason to smile!

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْتَنظُرْ نَفْسٌ مَّا قَدَّمَتْ لِغَدٍ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

“O you who have believed, fear Allah and let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow – and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” (Surah Al Hashr:18)

 

 

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