First Things First!

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? Do you reach for your phone, check the time or hit the snooze button? Or do you thank Allah? Do you thank Allah for having given you a new day, a new beginning, another day to take charge of your life and write another page?

Before we start any tasks for the day, we are taught to thank Allah (swt) by reciting the following doua:

“Praise is to Allah Who gives us life after He has caused us to die and to Him is the return.”

We thank Allah, for before this wakeful moment, for we were in temporary dead state, with our souls outside of our bodies as we slept through the night. Upon awakening, our souls are restored back to our bodies, and so we thank Allah (swt) who has chosen to restore us after that death.

So tomorrow morning, before you reach for your phone, take a moment and thank Allah (swt) for having restored your soul back into your body. This day is a blessing, it is another day, another chance to continue the story of your life. What will you write about today?

Go Fish

Bismillah.

Do you know the simplest and (in my opinion) best mechanism when someone throws you bait is? First, let me define what I mean by bait. Throughout life, bait may come in many forms, some of which may include: someone who comes and tries to stir up rivalry between you and a close friend, co-workers trying to rock the boat in the relationship between you and your manager, and my all-time favorite, a man that tries to get to know a single woman ‘unofficially.’ Before I get ahead of myself, let me define ‘unofficially.’ Unofficially in my book (and you could totally feel free to disagree with me, but this is my opinion) means a guy who tries to keep the conversation going, just to get to know you, without making it clear what he wants.

We live in a time and age that there are many forms of communication and hence many forms, shapes and sizes of bait that may come. The bait may come in the form of a casual email, a Facebook message, a text message, a comment here and there, etc. Now I am not saying a man and a woman should never communicate or that all communication is haram, but what you choose to talk about, becomes the deciding factor. I actually think it is super healthy for the mental well-being of men and women to communicate so that their sense of awareness and maturity may grow and develop by communicating with those who have complete opposite ways of thinking, feeling and processing than themselves. However, how are we communicating and what are we communicating about? Is it an intellectual conversation about the needs of our community and how we should go about solving them or are we sharing our emotional pains, with neither of us having the tools to help the other? We must always keep in mind who we are trying to please. Is it our nafs (our lower self) or is it the Creator of our nafs?

When we share with another man (in the case of woman) and share with another woman (in the case of a man) our wounds, our greatest accomplishments and our daily struggles, we are confining and connecting with that individual at a deeper level than ‘casual.’ We must monitor what we share with others because what we share with others determines the depth of our relationship with that other person. Are we going from talking about the next masjid project or last week’s MSA meeting, to how stressed you are about your upcoming two exams and how your cousin is about to get married and you don’t know how to dress because this other person is going to be there? What may start off as being a casual, “Hey what’s up? How are you doing?” conversation can very easily turn into, “This is the whole of me, my wounds and my accomplishments.”

In this case, who threw the bait? Was it the guy you were talking to? Or the girl you just stopped to say hello to? Or was it shaytan? Most definitely it was shaytan. Shaytan will take every opportunity he can get, to make you mess up. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an:

“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed, Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” (Surat Al-Israa’, verse 53)

To mess with your emotions and make you dependent on someone else (a random guy you’re going to school with, a coworker, a teacher). Someone else who doesn’t have the means to help you (isn’t a therapist or a life coach) and someone who isn’t your mahram (a male relative in your family, whom you can’t marry). Hence shaytan creates this emotional relationship between you and this guy (or this girl) in a matter of minutes of having a conversation with that person.

What should a person do when they find themselves in the middle of a conversation and they noticed the conversation going from next week’s MSA event to how I’m dealing with my family issues (aka they notice the bait)? The simples and easiest way that I have found to deal with this issue is to act stupid. Yup, act stupid. What do I mean? When you notice the bait, recognize it, acknowledge it, and totally disregard it. The person you’re talking with might not get the hint that your avoiding the bait, so you continue on your way, and ignore the bait. Let me give you an example. Last week you met with a classmate and one thing led to another and you found yourself discussing with him how hard it is for you to be a Muslim going to school here and everyday it’s a struggle. You didn’t notice the bait the first time you were having the conversation so you took it once it was thrown to you, you discussed details of your struggle’s and your hopes and dreams of when you wouldn’t have to face these issues anymore. You see your classmate again in the library, he stops by to say hello, and to see how your classes are going and then asks how things are going for you on campus (since the last time you spoke, you expressed details of things with him). This is more bait. More bait from none other than shaytan. Recognize it, acknowledge it, don’t touch upon it, don’t elaborate. When your classmate asks, say things are good and smile. He/she may ask follow-up more detailed questions (which is totally understandable and it is coming from a good place, the person may genuinely care about your wellbeing), always answer in the same way, things are good/great/wonderful and smile. Basically, end the conversation as soon as you can.

Why do I suggest you do this? For your own, internal, well-being. You deserve to share your feelings, hopes, aspirations and everyday struggles, but with certain people only. Those who have proven they genuinely care and are part of your life for the long term. All these short term emotional attachments are not healthy for your internal well-being. You deserve to share these details with people in your life, but those whom are there, your family, close friends of the same gender, and of course your spouse. The relationship between a husband and wife is so special, so deep and so intimate that Allah (swt) describes it in the Qur’an as both of them being clothes for the other! What is the closest thing to your physical body? It is your clothes, your garments, that which adorns you and hides your faults and weaknesses! Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.” (Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 187)

I can go on and on about spouses, so let’s leave that discussion for another day. For now, my only suggestion is, don’t take the bait. Remember who is throwing it!

Love in Cancun

Before I tell you about the book, let me tell you how I found out about the book! I was on a visit to meet an old co-worker in New York City because she had recently undergone surgery and I hadn’t seen her in years (practically). She is such a sweet and kind soul, she invited all of her younger friends that same day. She knew I would enjoy their company and she wanted me to meet them. There I met Bisma.

It always amazes me how I meet someone for the first time and the conversation just rolls. We spoke about so many different things that day, from our struggles to our hopes and then (my all-time favorite topic) the power of doua. She then pointed out to me, Love in Cancun. She said she had just went to a “meet the author” type of event in New York and there she met Ganiyah Tope Fajingbesi the author of Love in Cancun. Ganiyah spoke about the parts of her book that were based on actual events and which parts were based on events that happened later. I remember vividly Bisma sharing the story of how Ganiyah actually met her future husband and how it was exactly how she wanted it to happen and exactly what she had been making doua for it to happen.

Fast forward a few months later, I start working for ICNA Relief, a domestic relief organization focused on building transitional houses, food pantries and free health clinics all throughout the country. I reached out to Bisma to ask her for the name of the name of the book, because we were having our annual fundraising banquet themed “The Power of the Pen,” and I wanted to reach out to Ganiyah to support our cause by providing us signed copies of her book. A few weeks later, we received five copies of the book mashaAllah.

Finally getting the book and being able to read it, I was excited to have my own personal (signed!) copy! The poem entitled Life, which Ganiyah used to open up the book with, just spoke to me. I didn’t just relate to what she said, but was actually coming to the same conclusions she stated so beautifully in the poem, I knew I would totally relate to her six-days in Cancun vacation.

From her thoughts on what ‘others’ thought of her fully dressed in over 90-degree weather, to her enjoying the fresh ocean breeze from her balcony, to her night time walks on the beach, I related to her every move, her every reflection and it almost felt like I went on the trip with her! Through the book I learned the importance of hitting the pause button in life and to gather one’s thoughts, dreams and hopes for the future, no matter how unconventional it seems to others.

My favorite part, was of course related to the title of the book Love in Cancun. It happened at the most unexpected place and at the most unexpected moment, but she embraced the idea with an open mind and of course an open heart. Even though the moment she found love was expected, it was the most perfect timing for her and for him. That is exactly how doua works. It comes at the most unexpected moments but it always comes in the most perfect moment. That is the power of Allah’s planning if we trust His plan.

The way Ganiyah ended the book was like icing on the cake. It not only spoke to me, but it reaffirmed to me and it was almost like an affirmation that I am on the right track and I have the support of Ganiyah herself. She says, “I pray that Love in Cancun inspires you to connect with your soul. And I hope it inspires you to speak greatness, love and success into your existence because, as I found out after writing this book, your biggest dreams can and will come true if you believe.” Then she states the most liberating (yet scariest) thing, “Thank you so much for reading my story, it’s now time to write yours.”

Will I respond to her request? Only time will tell. For now, I will doua it.

Route 80

PART I

Earlier this week, I was conducting an interview with a psychologist (I must say it was a very interesting interview, the study of the human mind / brain always fascinates me), for work, and I was about thirty minutes from home. After the interview I was debating whether to head back to the office or head back home and work from home. It would be an hour drive to the office and only half an hour back home. I really preferred going back to the office because I would get more work done there than I would at home (too many distractions!). On the way to the interview, my car was giving me problems…nothing new. So my mind kept going back and forth, office or home, office or home. I hate being indecisive because I feel like I put more energy in the decision than in the action!

Can you remember a time of complete indecisiveness? Maybe you were getting ready to go out with a group of friends and you couldn’t decide if you wanted to go with a “BAM, I just arrived” all out look or with a more mellow, “Hey I’m here, what’s up?” kinda look? At the end, did you just wish you just made a quicker decision?

First I decided office, then when I realized how much time I would spend commuting, I decided home. I set the GPS to take me home. Two minutes later, I pulled over and reset the GPS to take me to work, all I could think of was all the distractions I would face when I got home, and I didn’t want to deal with them. After about five minutes I found myself on Route 80 and my car was starting to slow down, even as I hit the acceleration. I quickly decided to pull over and see why my car was doing that. As soon as I pulled over, my car completely shut down. I turned off the ignition and turned it on, a muffled sound and nothing more. Again I turned off the ignition and turned it back on, again, a muffled sound and nothing more. All I could think of was, Alhamdulillah this happened on the shoulder and not twelve feet over to my left, on the right lane of the highway!

I called my mechanic and I decided the best thing to do was to tow it, it probably wasn’t an easy fix. I looked up the nearest towing company to where I was in the middle of the highway on Route 80, and I found a towing company about 3 miles from where I was, Alhamdulillah. I decided to go with them. It was cold, the heat in my car wasn’t working, and I was not dressed warm enough to withstand all of this cold air. As I waited in my car for the tow truck to arrive, the car would sway towards the right from the effects of the wind of the passing cars and trucks. I decided, let me read a few pages of Qur’an, something I aim to accomplish daily, as I wait for the tow truck to arrive. The office mentioned it would not take more than thirty minutes, but from my experience, those thirty minutes could very easily be an hour.

In less than 15 minutes I heard the beep beep beep sound of the tow truck backing up in front of me. I was so thankful because I was sitting in my cold car trying not to be upset at my heat not working. Instead, I tried to be thankful for all of the times it was working. I took this moment to reflect, sometimes Allah (swt) takes something away so we could remember the value of it. We get sick, so we become more thankful for our health. Remember the last time you had a stuffy / congested nose? After you got over it, were you not more thankful for all the days you were not congested? Or even worse, a runny nose! After one day exactly, when I have a runny nose, my nose gets super red and it pains me when I use a tissue. SubhanaAllah, after every congestion, runny nose, or cold, I become more thankful for my nose (something I never even think about on a regular basis!).

Enough about runny noses, back to my “stranded on Route 80 story.” As the tow truck driver is getting his truck ready to lift my car, I get out of the car to say hello, I’m thinking of how to make the oncoming awkward car ride back home, less awkward by at least saying hello. He asks what happened, I reiterate the story to him, and he asks, “So it’s not turning on?” I respond, “Nope.” He nods okay. I ask if he needs me to do anything, because now its colder outside on the side of the highway (and the cold wind of the passing cars is really getting to me now), and he says, no “You could take a seat in the truck.” As I was walking to the truck, I decided, I don’t want this to be an awkward thirty-minute car ride home, I have to try to make conversation with this guy. For an introvert like me, I plan my “extroverted” moments so that it is less awkward and comes off more natural. (Maybe I can write a post in the future about the secret life of introverts.)

This will be my first time riding in a tow truck.

I’ll let you know in my Route 80 – Part II post how the car ride goes!

“O Allah, there is no ease…”

“O Allah, there is no ease other than what You make easy. If You please, You ease sorrow.”

Our happiest moments are gifts from Al-Wahab (the Perpetual Gift Giver) and our saddest moments are tests from Al-Latif (the Subtly Acquainted), and in each is a sign to turn us back to Allah (swt). Our happiest moments are there to remind us to be grateful for all that Allah (swt) has given us and remember that everything comes from Him. That we will always be indebted to all of the favors and blessings He has bestowed on us. Our saddest moments are there so we can turn more earnestly to Him, to Al-Latif (the Subtly Acquainted), the One who knows the details of our situation better than we do.

In those sad moments, it is He, Allah (swt), who can take away your sadness. It is He who can ease your pains. It is He who is Al-Jabbar, the Mender of Broken Hearts, that we turn to rebuild that which was broken. And that which is rebuilt by Al-Rahman Al-Raheem is restored stronger than before. So for those times of pain, call out to Allah, “O Allah, there is no ease other than what You make easy. If You please, You ease sorrow.”

Ya Jabbar, ya Rahman, ya Raheem, ya Lateef, mend, restore and rebuild every heart that is broken, ease the pain of this ummah, forgive the ummah’s sins through the trials that is it is going through and allow us to come back stronger than before. Ameen.

“Rabi inny lima anzaltu illaya faker!”

“My Lord, whatever good you may bestow on me, indeed I am in need.”

This beautiful douas comes from the Qur’an. It is the doua of Musa (as) and it was made at a time when he was fled from his homeland and was with no job and no family. No financial support and no emotional support, yet he understood that everything comes in our lives is from One source and what is taken is also taken from One source. And so, Musa (as) made this doua, acknowledging Allah as his Lord and that all source of goodness comes from Him. So Musa (as) seeks from his Lord and his Lord alone, saying, “Whatever good you may bestow on me, indeed I am in need.”

So within the same day, Allah (swt), the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth responds with a job offer and a marriage proposal. Allahu Akbar!

“Rabi Zidney ‘ilma”

“My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (20:114)

This doua is very unique in that it is the only doua in the Qur’an which asks Allah (swt) an increase in something, and that something that we are taught to seek an increase in is knowledge. Why knowledge? It seems like it’s the last thing a person would ask Allah (swt) to increase them in. Because through knowledge so many doors and gates can be opened for a person that may have otherwise been shut. A very simple example is that of a person seeking a job that would bring in a good monthly income in which a person can spend easily on themselves and others. In order to secure a good paying job a person needs a very fine skill set or a higher educational degree, both of which “knowledge” based.

There is a beautiful hadeeth the shows the superiority of the person that seeks knowledge and the blessings that come with that:

Abud-Darda (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only that of knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.”

[Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi].

No Calamities!

We are taught to recite this doua three times in the morning and three times in the evening. The Prophet (saws) has said, that whoever recites it in the morning will not be afflicted by any calamity before evening, and whoever recites it in the evening will not be afflicted by any calamity before morning! What a powerful doua!

The doua says:

“In the Name of Allah, Who with His name nothing can cause harm in the earth nor in the heavens, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”

As you recite this doua, reflect on who you are seeking protection from the calamities of everyday life. It is none other than the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in between them! So then, it is very easy for Him to protect you, for you are seeking for the sole source. Seek and be firm in your seeking, because of Who you are seeking from!

“O Allah, I seek refuge in You…”

“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from disbelief and poverty and I seek refuge in You from punishment of the grave. There is none worthy of worship but You.”

O Allah, my Caretaker and Provider, my Protector and my Refuge, I seek refuge in You. From what? Firstly, from disbelief. For the greatest gift we have been given as Muslims (and we tend to forget it is Allah’s greatest gift on us) is the guidance of Islam. To be granted the guidance of Islam without having asked for it, Allahu Akbar. So we seek refuge in the Almighty from disbelief.

The second thing we seek refuge in Allah for is poverty. Poverty is a test that nobody wishes to be tested in, so we seek Allah’s protection from that. For every blessing, every form of income we have in our lives is from Him.

Lastly, we see refuge in Allah from the punishment of the grave. For that is one of the worst punishments that will happen to some people in the afterlife. May Allah (swt) protect us from the punishment of the grave and make our graves a room from the rooms of Jannah. Ameen.

There is none worthy of worship but You. For all of these things that we seek refuge in you from, there is a blessing that we haven’t thanked You enough for it. There is none worth worshiping, for You have given us the guidance of Islam, every form of income is a blessing from You and we seek Your protection from the punishment of the grave.

“O Allah, make me healthy in my body…”

“O Allah, make me healthy in my body. O Allah, preserve for me my hearing. O Allah, preserve for me my sight. There is none worthy of worship but You.”

“O Allah, make me healthy in my body.” O Allah, Creator of every cell in my body, my every nerve, my every vein, and my organs that I cannot live without, make me healthy in my body. Allow my body to function in the best of ways, for you are its Creator and Maker.

“O Allah, preserve for me my hearing.” My hearing which allows me to hear the most beautiful of words, allows me to communicate with all those who are around me, and hear the miraculous sounds of your Creations from the sound of the oceans, the ruffling of the leaves and the chirping of the birds, preserve this blessing for me.

“O Allah, preserve for me my sight.” O Allah, the All-Seeing, preserve for me my sight, which allows me to read your words that sooth the most anxious of hearts, which allow us to ponder on the most magnificent of Your Creation, which allow us to see the signs of Your Mercy and Majesty in the creation, preserve for me my sight.

“There is none worthy of worship but You.” How can I deny your existence? How can I worship other than you?

“Allah is sufficient for me…”

“HasbiyaAllah la illah illah huwa ‘alayhe tawakaltu wa huwa rub el ‘arsh al atheem.”

This doua comes from the morning athkaar (words of remembrance which we are encouraged to recite every day).  It starts with the very powerful and all-inclusive statement “Allah is sufficient for me.” Allah and Allah alone is sufficient for me. Allah, not my job, not my career, not my skills, not my friends, not my family, not my spouse, not my kids, and not even my parents…Allah, and Allah alone is sufficient for me. Sufficient in what regards? Since nothing is specified here, then it means with regards to everything! Allah is the care taker, the Provider, the Protector, the Healer of everything that I need.

“There is none worthy of worship but Him.” There is none worthy of my time, my attention, my focus, my dedication, and my commitment, but Allah. “I have placed my trust in Him, He is Lord of the Majestic Throne.” I have placed my trust, hopes, aspirations, dreams in Him for He is the Lord of the Majestic Throne.

Route 80

PART II

As I sat in the warm truck waiting for the truck driver to finish securing my car onto the tow truck, I found it interesting how the tow truck actually works. After the chains were shackled to the car, the truck bed tilted up, the car was pulled onto the bed. With the push of a few buttons (and some shaking of the whole truck), the bed was level again, and the car was secure. The driver door was opened and the tow truck driver took his seat. I tried to not overthink the conversation and just make it flow, because as I look back, when I overthink conversations, it builds up awkwardness, but if I just allow the conversation to flow, with no real plan, then its more natural.

I’m not sure who started the conversation, but after the usual “small talk” people usually start off with, i.e. about the weather and the expected snow storm anticipated for tomorrow, the conversation died and all I knew was that his name was Kevin. Out of nowhere, I decided to ask a super deep question and just see where the conversation goes (without thinking too much about it). I asked him, “If you didn’t have to worry about finances, what would work as?” Kevin’s answer really surprised me and the conversation that ensued after was truly amazing. He said, “An EMT worker because I like to help people.” It’s interesting because I guess that is where he finds joy in working as a tow truck driver, because he gets to help stranded people (like me) get home.

We ended up talking about so many interesting topics, from how amazing it is how snow is formed, to how storms happen, to how people learn in different ways, to friends and their effects on our life’s decisions, to corporate America (and apparently how even blue collar jobs are just as stressful as corporate America!), to religion, to traveling and then finally to one’s passions in life. The thirty-minute care ride ended up being an hour, but within that hour I learned a few interesting things from Kevin that I wish to share:

  • It doesn’t matter how grand or minute your life goals are, as long as it’s something that brings you joy, that is what is important.
  • “You can achieve anything you put your mind to. Nothing can you stop you from achieving anything.”
  • It’s just as hard for a man to find a woman that has values, as it is for a woman to find a man that has values. (For a 28 year-old pure white-American dude to be saying this, was definitely news to me. I told him, I thought Americans wait till they are in their mid to late thirties to settle down, apparently not!)
  • Some people, subconsciously, allow their friends to dictate their life’s biggest decisions. How? When you worry more about what your friends will think versus what you want in life!

When we spoke briefly about religion, Kevin brought up an interesting argument, which I never heard before. He said, “Why can’t people do good for the sake of doing good? Without the fear of going to hell or for the reward of paradise?” I tried to get a deeper understanding of his argument, because why did it matter to another human being where one sought the reward from? Because the reward was coming from the Creator, not from His creation. But I couldn’t follow his train of thought.

The whole ride I was thinking, this is a really interesting conversation, what message is embedded in it for me? Because every person we come across in life teaches us something. It is a give and take. There is a reason Allah (swt) allowed our paths to cross. A message for me and for the other person, it is never a one sided message. I picked up on a few hidden messages for myself, I wonder what Kevin picked up on?

On a daily basis, our paths cross with so many people that we never give it a second thought. But every single person you come across is there for a reason. The mail man, the bistro worker, the person you sit next to on your train/bus ride home, your coworkers, etc. Just like Allah (swt) allowed your paths to cross, He could have allowed them not to cross. Did you ever ask yourself why? What message, lesson or blessing is in this person’s life crossing my path?

My Take Away Message on Qadar – Decree

SubhanaAllah, all I was seeking from that day was to go out, conduct the interview, and come back home, but Allah (swt) had different plans for me. That is how our lives become, we think we will attain certain goals, or have certain things in life, but Allah (swt) decides otherwise. What we do in the moments after the decree comes, is up to us. I could have taken this very same situation and had a completely different reaction. I could have gotten extremely frustrated when my car stopped. I could have gotten angry and just focused on everything that went wrong. “Why is my car giving me issues right here, out in the middle of nowhere? What am I going to do now? The towing is going to cost so much money?” and the list can go on. But would any of those questions change my situation? Would they make my situation easier to handle? Absolutely not. I would have just been one angry hijabi that got her car stalled on the side of the roadway.

Guard your thoughts, because your thoughts become your emotions, and your emotions dictate your experience.

May Allah (swt) allow us to always see the good in every situation that He has chosen for us. Ameen.