Islam


Many of you will be familiar with some of my thoughts and sentiments in this post because I’ve shared glimpses of them here before. This piece was written late last week, and first posted on Muslimah Media Watch. Since then, I’ve had time to reflect.

To give this piece some more context: I feel at odds with myself. I find myself saying things like my heart has hardened — but will joyfully sing dhikr with Eryn and Ivy. Even though I go through the motions, I feel that something is missing. An essence or presence that should be there. A gap in the space around me. So perhaps I’m joyful because the song is familiar. Maybe I find fulfillment in entertaining the girls.

And this is disquieting.

A friend of my sister-in-law very suddenly and tragically passed away on Tuesday. This young woman has not left my thoughts since I heard the news. I think of her family, her sister, her mother — and I shatter. I make dua’ for her with more sincerity than I make for myself. And maybe I do so selfishly. Because there is no greater fear than the thought of harm coming to my children. And so thinking about her absence in this world, praying that her good deeds will endure and give her countless blessings, and asking for her entrance into the highest heaven — makes me reflect and imagine her family’s loss… and I ferociously beg God to protect my girls.

It bothers me that fear of losing them is my motivation. Because I might not otherwise speak to God.


The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely. [8:2]

heartIt doesn’t feel like Ramadan.

The excitement, the struggle of the fast, the security of knowing that every good action is an added blessing, exercising patience and feeling contentment when tested, the thrill of biting into a sweet date at iftar, the peace of sitting in the mosque and smelling the perfumed air, feeling my heart soar as I lay my forehead down to the ground to honour and beseech my Lord for forgiveness — it’s all been missing from my Ramadan experience this year.

I fast. I eat my date. I exercise considerable patience (even with two rambunctious girls jumping on me after commuting from a stressful day at work). I beseech. I go through the motions because that’s what I have to do. But I feel like a spiritual zombie.

We’re told by traditions, Internet articles, and admonitions related through mosque culture that Ramadan is a training ground for the rest of the year. That we should strive in our worship to gain more spiritual benefits, to use the fast as an opportunity for self-reflection, to develop our empathy, and nurture our spiritual selves. That if you only fast from food and water, your reward is only hunger and thirst.

But what if that’s all you can do?

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Do you have ten minutes? Watch this. It’s absolutely fabulous.

As a man of no faith, Zach Anner is on a personal mission to find out more about the world’s religions — and he’s doing it by speaking with those who believe. Starting with Muslims.

In this first episode of Have a Little Faith, Zach speaks with Marwa at the Islamic center of Southern California. While going through some Islam 101, they hit a couple of hot topics like hijab and dating — and he’s sharp to make sure viewers hear a pretty balanced perspective. As a bonus, he does it with tones of class and humour.

It’s a great video and I’m really looking forward to seeing the entire series. Check it out:

Mothering in Ramadan can be difficult without support. And it’s not just the demands of children, work, cooking, family or guests that can effect a mother’s participation — but also the immense personal pressure to find and create time for worship. Especially during the last 10 days when moments of solitude are at a premium for people to really focus on prayer, Qur’an and dhikr.

In our second post in this ongoing series on motherhood and Ramadan, I offer some thoughts on the larger social and religious constructions that can prevent mothers from enjoying a more fulsome spiritual experience and look at the benefits of empowered mothering.


Nursing and reflecting in an 'Asr glow.

Nursing and reflecting in an ‘Asr glow.

Three dessert spoons break into a molten chocolate lava cake — satiny, near-black cocoa ganache spills out, mixing with raspberry coulis swirls and vanilla ice cream. Savouring the moment and sighing into our coffee cups, we soon start laughing over a shared love of decadent sweets.

I’m sitting with two other mothers — one from Yemen, the other from Kenya — reuniting after a long time at a cafe in Kuwait. We have seven children (and one on the way) between the three of us. In a rare moment we’re finally alone together without our kids to distract us (except for a new sleeping baby and Ivy who is occupying herself quietly with a snack). After getting caught up on each other’s lives, I direct the conversation toward experiencing Ramadan and the delicate balance between the demands of motherhood, family and personal spirituality.

A pregnant Samiya complains that she barely has time to read the Qur’an. She’s feeling divorced from Ramadan this year because she is not fasting — and with a house full of visiting relatives, she often finds herself in the kitchen. Today her back and sciatic nerve pain is especially bad and she wishes someone would simply offer her a seat so she can relax and focus on herself, her prayers and the growing baby. She’s really hoping to attend Qiyaam-al-Layl, the night prayers, with the other adults in her favourite mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan, but will probably end up praying at home. That is, if the kids cooperate and go to bed on time. “Alhamdulillah, caring for children is a form of worship,” she sighs.

Bushra has a slightly different outlook and experience this Ramadan. She has somehow found the strength to fast, despite breastfeeding her new son and running after her two other children. And while God has blessed her in this regard so she can enjoy the act of fasting — she is especially looking forward to what comes next, when her children are old enough to look after themselves. Right now, she’s trying not to stress too much about doing any extras and is just concentrating on her children. But she won’t be caring for little ones forever and needs a plan for the future. When I ask her about what she intends to do when that time comes, she says simply, “Ibadah.” Worship.

Then she reminds us with a serious intensity:

O you who believe, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah. (The Qur’an 63:9)

There is so much emphasis on the elevated position that mothers hold in Islam, that we’ve created a culture taking the institution of motherhood for granted.

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There’s something about Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s smile and glowing face masha’Allah — that makes me excited to be married to a Yemeni.

This is what he has to say in response to a question on the desperate exclusion of women in mosques in the UK.

Here’s an exert of the good stuff if you don’t want to watch the entire thing:

It hurts me deeply that most Muslims today do not implement the commands of God and the counsel of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in regards to women. Women in our societies do get oppressed. And one of the worst expressions of injustice that women are exposed to, is that this oppression in many circumstances is vested with the garment of religion. And the time has come that we who represent religion, who speak on behalf of religion, to move away from defending the faith and how it sees women — to defending women by using the faith itself…

In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) women used to enter the mosque from the same door as the men. And she used to take part in doing things for the mosque in exactly the same way the men took in working toward the betterment of the mosque. And she would go out of the mosque to the marketplace and ensure the marketplace is living according to prophetic code of moral character in its business interaction — exactly like the men would.

I know this. You know this. He knows this. And insha’Allah one day I’ll be sharing a video of some of Islam’s prominent female and male scholars discussing and supporting a serious action plan on how we can change the status of women in the majority of our mosques.

Via Side Entrance.

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Last year I wrote a post detailing what my ideal mosque would look like. This mosque was painted with inclusivity, a shared prayer space for women and men, a soup kitchen, and with a dream that one day Eryn would have the opportunity to write the Friday sermon and call the faithful to prayer. Since many are largely excluded from participation at the mosque in general, I love the idea of women writing or giving the jumu’ah sermon, and wish more mosques would take the opportunity to consult and showcase their female scholars.

So I was absolutely thrilled to learn that frequent guest writer Rawiya presented the following khutbah on broken-heartedness and patience at the Masjid el-Tawhid in Toronto while we were away in Kuwait. She’s allowed me the honour of sharing exerts from it with all with you.

Enjoy and happy jumu’ah!


Have We not opened up your heart
And lifted from you the burden
That had weighed so heavily on your back?
And, behold, with every hardship comes ease.
Verily, with every hardship comes ease!
So, when you are free from distress, remain steadfast.
And unto your Sustainer turn with love.
(Surah 94, The Opening Up: 1-8)

hard-hearts This year, I have found myself increasingly interested in the topic of the heart in Islam. What can be said about the heart, in any definitive way? There is the literal muscle, sitting here somewhere in each of our chests, pumping blood throughout our bodies and giving us life. But of course, the “spiritual heart” represents so much more. We have been raised to consider the heart as one of the centers of our humanity. In some ways, it is a complete mystery, and for this reason, we can’t really say anything about it. But, the tradition of Islam offers a surprising amount of information about the heart to humankind, from the Qur’an, sunnah, scholarly, and mystical traditions.

I have been curious about how the tradition of Islam views the heart and human emotion, partially because of something said by the Sufi mystic and philosopher, Ibn ‘Arabi: “He who knows himself knows his Lord.” And again, “When we know our souls we know our Lord.” I believe that delving into the mysteries of the self helps us in our eternal journey towards God, Glorified and Exalted — as we were endowed from the moment of our creation with a trace of divinity.

As Allah gave life to the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him, He infused him with an-nafas ar-Rahman, “the breath of the Merciful One,” and we carry this fragment of divinity with us to this day. So, it makes sense to me that these human mysteries, these human conditions, have something to say about our Lord, as He relates to His creation, and in His essence.

And here I return to the heart.

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RashidAdDinBirthOfProphetMohammed

Birth of Prophet Mohammed. Tabriz (?), 1314/15. Water colours on paper.

Peace be upon him.

The first time I really felt any love for the Prophet I was baking a cake. This was long before marriage, and I was standing in my mother’s kitchen grating carrots, absentmindedly humming to an English CD of religious Islamic music. A song about his last moments on earth came on the stereo, and for the first time, I really listened to the lyrics: “…as ‘Aisha his wife, held tight to his hand, the Prophet spoke again before he passed away…

There was something about imaging ‘Aisha comforting the Prophet and the idea that his last breath was spent speaking to her, that went directly to my heart — and I found myself sobbing over a bowl of flour and cinnamon.

In a very lovely post, Dr. Omid Safi shares and interprets a poem about the birth of the Prophet — written by the Ottoman Suleyman Chelebi in the 15th century. What makes this poem so incredible to me, is that it’s written not from the standpoint of his Companions, or with a list of prophetic traditions describing his attributes, but through the voice of his mother, Amina, as she experienced giving birth to him.

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