Qur’an


Just a little chaos under the story tent.

Just a little chaos under the story tent.

An ant runs screaming as the ground around her shakes with a boom, boom, BOOM. Suddenly her cries are overheard and a great king yells, “stooOOOOoop” to his advancing army. Then, with a wry look on his face and a goofy edge to his voice, he points wildly to the ground saying, “There’s an anthill! We have to go around.”

The army changes pace and chants “oh wee oh” like the witch’s guards in the Wizard of Oz — much to the delighted giggles and coos of Eryn and Ivy.

At certain times throughout the day, we have Blue Meanies, grandiose Kings and Queens, Jinn, and honoured Qur’anic historical figures marching, singing, running and dancing under the “story tent” (made from a decorative scarf hanging over the bed).

I’ve been wanting to write them down, not only to keep them for the girls’ memory books — but also because they’re really fun to tell. But they’re never told the same way twice, and you can’t quite capture spontaneous goofy voices or the girls’ reactions to my antics in a random blog post.

So I recorded one for kicks.

It’s a little reserved because we were conscious of the voice recorder, and Eryn politely sat through the story just to hear herself say, “BLAH BLAH BLAH” at the end. So I’d say this is only a small example of our story time. A story time that is often chaotic and funny and that doesn’t always have all the historical facts correct — but at least is making the Qur’an and seerah accessible and entertaining for my kids.

Here’s a quick story about the first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. And if you have any, I’d love to hear about other techniques, songs or stories making the Qur’an fun.

(Also, OMG, it’s my voice!)

There are moments when I crave connection to God through recitation of the Qur’an.

Sometimes these moments are marked with struggle. During prayer when both babies demand my attention. When I read, and read, and read and still can’t memorize a simple verse. Or when I approach a difficult passage and I’m not happy with how the interpreter has rendered his understanding of the text. In these attempts to engage with the Qur’an, I’m discouraged and distant from sacred words that should easily be written upon my soul.

And so I turn to the creative act of writing — and become lost in the smooth lines and flourishes that make the visual Qur’an so beautiful.

A close friend recently commissioned a “calligraphy” from me. It’s something I haven’t done in years — And I’m thankful she reminded me just how much I love engaging with the Qur’an in this way.

For me, there’s something grounding, satisfying and nourishing in the creative act of drawing God’s word.

Have you not considered how God presents an example, making a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches high in the sky?

It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And God presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. (14:24-25)

“And do not befriend the Christians and the Jews.” This is what the Qur’an says. Youth, please remember this while you’re in school: keep Muslim friends. Having Muslim friends is important. We are mirrors unto each other. When I see you doing something wrong, I will remind you. When you fast and pray, I will be encouraged to fast and pray. The Christians and the Jews will only lead you astray. This is why it is important to have Muslim friends in this country of unbelievers. We remind each other to hold true to our Islamic values.”

What. Since when does holding true to Islamic values mean vilifying others?

I looked around at the other women spread out in our private section of the mosque. No one seemed to be listening. No one was engaged or looked up at me as I tisked and shook my head. A couple were propped up against the wall reading Qur’an; another was trying to control her son who really just wanted to run around in the large carpeted area; but most were just sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking down at their laps, clicking prayer beads, picking dry skin off a toe or dreamily gazing at the one-way, mirrored glass that kept us hidden from the men.

Just another consequence of gender segregation. Though, from what I hear, most men are just as disengaged with the Friday sermons. It’s a rare gem to hear a khutbah that gets you fired-up, excited and shouting praises to God.

I looked over at Eryn who was modelling perfect mosque behaviour for the rambunctious boy. She was sneaking glances at him while making her sock monkey touch its forehead to the ground in mock prostration. I was so thankful that she was too young to understand the hate speech coming from the pulpit.

I sat through the rest of the sermon absolutely seething and thinking about how I had to cut short a meeting with an amazing non-Muslim friend (the fabulous Renee!) in order to make it to Friday prayers on time. And here the khateeb, the community volunteer delivering the sermon, was telling me to stop associating with my friends, my parents, my interfaith partners and my colleagues. Because Muslims are somehow better, more righteous people.

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Out of the darkened room, a single light glows.

Qul a’udhu bi rabbin-nās.
Malikin-nās.
Ilaahin-nas.

Her clear voice commands my full attention. The recitation folds in over itself, echoing and reverberating. I’m transported from a tiny New York apartment to a concert hall – as if I’m experiencing a live event instead of a digital recording from a computer.

Everything around me disappears.

Min sharril waswasil khan-nas… Alladhi yu-waswisu fee sudoorin-nas… Minal jinnati wan-nas.1

It’s beautiful. I have chills and her voice tugs at my soul. It’s ethereal and the feelings the recitation invoke of me are ineffable. I’m frozen in this one moment of praising God.

Suddenly, a voice from the audience: WOO!

My senses snap back and I snicker. Excited by the awesomeness of the recitation, a concert-goer shouts out his appreciation. Packaged in that one WOO, I could hear a giddiness, fan excitement and maybe even a touch of exoticism upon hearing Arabic erupt from the sound mixer. I’d like to imagine he slapped his thigh and thought, “oh man, this is my favourite Qur’anic verse!” But after speaking with the performing artist, I know that he was probably just an unknown factor in a crowd, sharing his appreciation of music.

The Qur’an isn’t just read. It’s lived.

Last month I had the unusual opportunity to speak with Sajida Jalalzai – by day a brilliant PhD student at Columbia University and by night a talented trip-hop, indie singer with the New York band A Bit Cagey.

I was intrigued when I heard that she opened a recent concert with the recitation of the Qur’an.

While it’s not surprising to hear that a practicing Muslim would want to begin an event by evoking the sacred text, even during a non-religious event – some would definitely be surprised to hear that a female artist recited the Qur’an in front of a mixed gender audience:

I know that I don’t really reflect the “norm” of Islamic etiquette, but I have absolutely no problem with women reciting Qur’an in front of non-mahrem.

The first divine injunction given to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel was to “recite,” and I think that this is both a privilege and charge given to every Muslim, both men and women. I think that if a man is sexually aroused by a woman reciting a holy scripture, he’s got more problems than I can help him with.

Over 1, 400 years ago in the month of Ramadan, the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed, “Recite! Read in the name of your Lord who created you…” (96:1) And ever since then, Muslims have been reading the Qur’an in melodious and breathtaking recitations.

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I wear a gold horn pendant around my neck.  Next to it dangles a small diamond teardrop that my mom made for me out of her engagement ring. When I’m just holding her, Eryn gnaws on the horn and twiddles the teardrop — and when I’m nursing her, she holds onto both tightly.  At night when she wakes from a bad dream or from teething pain, I collect her into my arms, and her hand instinctively looks for the necklace.  Even when it’s hidden by my hijab or underneath a sweater, she fingers the pendants through my clothes.

Since the day she was born, her hand has rested in the center of my chest (unless she’s waving of course).

I never thought that I’d be nursing my baby at 15 months, and that I didn’t see an end in sight, nor want one.  We both have a pretty healthy nursing relationship. Eryn nurses to sleep and has the occasional snack when she’s in a funk and needs to regroup or calm down.  She asks for nursing only if she’s really tired or cranky — otherwise we have a good handle on when she likes to nurse and I am able to anticipate these times.  Naturally when I miss out on her cues, I end up with Ms-whiny-pants or she grabs my attention by biting my clothes.

When I was pregnant and looking forward to nursing, the 6-month mark was my initial target, and then a year, but the 2-year mark always floated somewhere in the back of my head.  The recommendation to breastfeed a baby to two years or beyond is not only encouraged by the WHO, but is also mentioned in the Qur’an (2:233) as the standard length of time to nurse offspring.  And once breastfeeding was well established with Eryn, I was very happy with the idea of nursing her to two years (and beyond?).

I recently came across two lovely prophetic traditions mentioning breastfeeding that have made me reflect more on the beauty of extended breastfeeding.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.*

Straight from the mouth of babes:

Once while a woman was nursing her child by the side of the road, a stately rider passed by and she exclaimed, ‘God, please let my child become like this rider!’ The child stopped suckling and said, ‘God, please don’t make me like him.’  The child then resumed nursing.

After some time a woman passed by who was being heckled and teased by a group of people. The mother exclaimed, ‘God, please don’t let my child become like this woman!’ Again, the child stopped his suckling and said, ‘God, please make me be like her.’

Then the child explained, ‘The rider is an unbeliever and proud, but the woman is an innocent, falsely accused.  Even in her suffering she says, ‘God is enough for me because God knows the truth.’

And on a mother’s unconditional love:

Some war prisoners were brought toward the Prophet, and among them was a woman distraught over her lost child.  As she frantically searched for her child in the group of people, every time she found a child, she would take it to her breast. She continued her search until finally her child was found and immediately she took her child to her breast and gave it milk.

The Prophet said to his people, ‘Do you think this woman is capable of throwing her child into the Fire?’ The people answered, ‘No, by God she would be unable to do such a thing.’

The Prophet responded, ‘God has more love for believers than this woman has for her child.’

*These parables are retold in my words. You can find the originals in Bukhari V4, 56:672; and V8, 73:28.

On Friday I went downtown to participate in the Veiled Constellations conference on hijab play in the park with Eryn. But it was also a chance for me to pop into work to find out about my maternity leave.

Alhamdulillah, I am blessed. Truly. I live in Ontario, Canada, where women are afforded the right to have a year of maternity and to have 65% of their pay covered by Employment Insurance (not including whatever “top up” your employer may give you) for the entire year. On top of that, you need only to work 12 weeks to be covered AGAIN for maternity leave once you return to work (Provincial standards. Employers may require more time).

I have an additional blessing of working for an employer who has just granted me a 6 month leave of absence (unpaid). This means I don’t have to return to work until Eryn is 18 months old.

No child care worries. No day care fees. No career advancements.

Oh. Right. That.

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