Ramadan


My recent post on creating a child-like Ramadan generated a lot of attention on Twitter and Facebook — with many commenting about the frustrating balance between motherhood and the sometimes unfair expectations placed upon mothers during Ramadan — usually at the expense of their spirituality. I thought it might be productive to create spaces where people could share stories, commiserate, debate or come up with plans of action to address the issue. Especially now that we’ve entered the last 10 days of Ramadan.

I’ve teamed up with the amazing Asiah Kelley, to explore some of the problems in the discourse on motherhood and Ramadan — which we’ll look at over the next two postsAsiah Kelley is a fantastic person and mother and I am honoured to share her work with all of you. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts and reflections on the importance of recognizing motherhood spirituality.


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Ramadan is supposed to be the month of mercy. But for many mothers and wives, it can feel merciless. The work is unrelenting — food preparation, child care, house work, and all the while trying to fit in any act of worship possible.

Muslims start mentally and physically preparing for Ramadan at least a month ahead of time. The excitement builds as people think of all the food they will eat, and all the events they will go to. Young girls shop and prepare their outfits for the different parties they will attend. Boys think of the fun they will have staying up late nights with their friends, while sleeping it off the next day. But mothers? They just might tell you that Ramadan is met with a sense of dread. All the expectations — their family’s and their own, are hard to live up to.

Something has to give, and that something is usually the mother.

Ramadan crept up on me this year. My husband came home from the store with $45 worth of Gatorade, and I was more than confused until he said “For Ramadan? It starts next week.” I guess I knew on some level that it was coming, but had been ignoring it. In fact, I was dreading it. Since having my daughter two years prior I had slowly sunk into an iman hole. My faith was shot.

Ramadan wasn’t a welcome friend, it was a reminder of how bad of a Muslim I considered myself to be.

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Colourful dresses and Girgian songs at the Scientific Center.

Eryn tore through the white lace curtains hanging between the family room and the corridor leading to the bedrooms with an excited scream. In her makeshift costume, she looked like a sunflower — half of her black, pink and gold abaya obscured by a bright yellow tutu. In one hand she held tight to a multi-coloured, glowing lantern and in the other, a fistful of her favourite candy.

She joined her two cousins who were decked out in fine clothes and the three girls laughed and screamed together as we desperately tried to wrangle everyone into their shoes and then into the car. Then, just as we stepped out of the house, we were met by a group of children coming along the road, singing for candy. Each one had a fantastically coloured costume — and together they took turns singing traditional songs and blessings upon Eryn and her cousins.

Over the last three nights, families throughout the Gulf region marked the celebration of Girgian. Traditionally held in-between the 13th and 15th of Ramadan, Girgian is a special children’s holiday where they dress up in fancy or national costumes and go door-to-door singing songs in exchange for small toys, sweets, nuts and decorative boxes.

Sounds a lot like Halloween, doesn’t it?

And that’s exactly how it was explained to me when we attended a Girgian event at the Kuwait Scientific Centre. While no one detailed the holiday’s actual origins, everyone I spoke to admitted that it was just like Halloween — just with a Gulf Arab flare.

One woman sadly lamented that Girgian just isn’t what it used to be when she was a child. Twenty years ago tonnes of children went door-to-door and neighbourhoods spent a lot of time decorating their homes in anticipation, handing out candy or homemade treats and really enjoying the sweet Ramadan entertainment as a community. Today, Girgian is slowly becoming more and more commercialized with grand public events at malls and ready-made sweet bags or Girgian treat boxes available for purchase at local supermarkets and souqs. Still, there remains plenty of children who excitedly make their own Girgian candy sacs and look forward to singing around the neighbourhood with their friends.

For someone who is always looking for new and interesting child-friendly Ramadan events, being a part of this celebration was an amazing treat. The happy, carnival-like atmosphere was incredibly infectious and I hope for Eryn’s sake, it helps create some fantastic childhood memories.

After parading around in their fancy dress, the three cousins ate traditional Yemeni crepes (thanks to their fantastic aunt who stood in line for an hour), had their faces painted, decorated bags, watched a magician, and sang songs with at least one hundred screaming children – while we parents enjoyed a little cardamon-laced coffee.

Well past midnight when the girls slept on our shoulders and the night was finally over, I caught sight of the full moon and was struck by how quickly the days of Ramadan are slipping by.

We’re halfway through the month. The last ten days of Ramadan will soon be upon us. And many people will be turning toward more devotional acts and events with special attention. Trying through prayer, reflection or dhikr to evoke a different kind of carnival — one that creates memories to nourish the soul.

For the second year now, the awesome writers over at Muslimah Media Watch take a break during Ramadan to lay off the media analysis and instead share some Ramadan Reflections. I’ve added my voice to this collection of personal stories, memories and experiences, and am cross-posting here as well. Enjoy!


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Eryn and Ivy’s Ramadan lanterns, treat bags, and advent calendar.

Thick tendrils of white smoke curl around my fingers as I add more bukhoor to the incense burner. Nasheed music wafts softly from the living room, creating a calm, somber atmosphere. My children have just come back from the balcony, certain that the new moon made her appearance despite heavy storm clouds. We smile at each other and lovingly embrace in a group hug — the girls wishing me a good fast before heading off to bed.

At least, that’s how I imagined we would welcome the blessed month of Ramadan.

Instead, we shattered the quiet, reflective time of maghrib by shaking glow sticks in the dusk, blowing noise makers and jumping up and down. We got high off too many dates — the natural sugars making sure my children bounced off the walls until three hours past their bedtime.

Unconventional for some, but amazing to usher in Ramadan with true abandon and joy.

This is the first year that I’m fasting with my daughters Eryn and Ivy — and I’m doing it solo. The Hubby is currently working in the UK, my Muslim family has returned to Kuwait for the summer, I’m unmosqued from the closest community in my area, and while I’ve previously adjusted to the isolation caused by not fasting due to pregnancy or breastfeeding, I’ve never had to fast alone on top of experiencing a little single parenting.

Caring for two young children is all-consuming. Every moment of their day is meticulously planned, so I can hopefully get them into bed in time for me to break my fast and find an hour to work on my own spiritual goals. Sure, we normally have a schedule, but I rely a lot on the respite gained from passing off the kids to their father. There is barely enough time for me to perform the bare minimum requirements of prayer — let alone engage in the extra acts of devotion normally associated with Ramadan. Literally every second of my day is dedicated to talking, singing, and moving for the benefit of the kids.

Breakfast, dress-up, laundry, park, picnic, nap, splash pad, craft time, cooking, dinner, clean-up, bath, play and bed — doesn’t leave much time for extra worship, Qur’an, or blogging for that matter.

So since I’m outnumbered, I’m learning to experience Ramadan like a child. And that means creating Ramadan spiritual activities that suit the three of us. In doing so, I’m honing and reframing my worship into small, manageable, mind-blastingly fun snippets — in the hopes of encouraging the Ramadan spirit and nourishing my soul in the process. Something that’s a complete departure from the usual austere attitudes and seriousness that I usually apply to increasing my imaan.

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Recently, (mommy) blogger and activist extraordinaire Safiyyah, turned me on to a particularly condescending and patronizing post on Muslim Matters called “My Dear Ramadan Stay-at-Home Mom, I Salute You.”

No doubt there are moms who will find comfort in some of the suggestions this male author decided to make for women in his terrible attempt to understand what it means to be a mother during Ramadan. I however, really couldn’t connect with his assertions that I long for the days before my girls were born; attending the mosque is a responsibility for men only, so I just shouldn’t worry about it; every woman who stays at home makes it by choice; I use my mensus as an opportunity to slack off; and that it’s simply impossible for a woman with children to attend the mosque.

Newsflash: it’s not impossible, especially if fathers and husbands work with moms and wives to help make it happen. So here’s my response, written in a similar style.


My dear Ramadan feminist dad,

I know how much pain it causes you to leave your wife behind at home, taking care of your children, while you and everybody else enjoys their taraweeh prayers at the mosque. I know how much you miss your family, and yearn for the day you can all grow in the deen together by enjoying the warmth and identity that comes with worshiping as a family in an inclusive mosque.

But I also know how embarrassing it is for you to bring your wife and children to the mosque, with the great hope that they will be welcomed — only to hear about the indignity they suffered after being forced to pray in a small, cramped room with other women and children. That while you enjoyed the gorgeous chandeliers, domed windows, and gold calligraphy in a large, air-conditioned room with other men, your wife had wet Cheerios flicked onto her hijab by an unruly 3-year-old, your young daughter sweated and cried for fresh air and your son ran around with other children screaming and disrupting any semblance of peace and tranquility that is always destroyed when women and children are hidden behind barriers and forgotten in basements.

I know how much you want your wife to enjoy just an hour of peaceful worship during this blessed month of Ramadan and that worship for her is crucial to her self-worth and identity as a Muslim, as well as her relationship with God.

For all the times you help her achieve this and more, my dear Ramadan feminist dad, I salute you, and may Allah reward you.

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Two little lips make fish kisses against my left cheek and a chubby fist reaches around to grab my right.

Allahu Akbar!

Looking down at Ivy’s delicious leg rolls, I can barely control the smile that breaks out on my face. She gooes in reply.

Allahu Akbar!

I’m back down in prostration to God, again receiving fish kisses against my cheek.

It’s the first time I’ve been able to pray in congregation all Ramadan — and it’s amazingly fulfilling to join everyone in the sunset worship.

But soon Eryn is running around us — pulling on headscarves and climbing on baba’s back. Our short dua’ after prayer is made even shorter to instruct Eryn on a better way to behave when the family prays together, and before I can even get into the rhythm of dhikr, I have to attend to a screaming Ivy who’s demanding her third meal of the evening.

If the fasters are disturbed by the noise of children, I don’t care. I spent the first week of Ramadan desperately trying to keep the babies quiet so the fasters could eat their date and pray the sunset prayer in peace. Then I’d pray after everyone started their iftaar — trying to concentrate on whatever peacefulness I could muster while attending to both girls. It was terribly isolating.

It’s hard feeling like you’re actually praying and not just going through the motions when you constantly have to keep your hyper toddler from smothering the baby. It’s hard practicing Ramadan when you’re not actually fasting.

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There’s nothing I love more than anticipating the start of Ramadan. While perhaps every Islamic calendar month should be met with the same enthusiasm for sighting the moon, the special excitement that comes with such a physically challenging and spiritually rewarding time is yet another sign of this month’s many blessings.

When I was a young Muslim, we’d gather around a land line and wait for the call from friends who had an “in” at the local mosque. And once the mosque committee spotted the moon, or ruled when fasting would begin, we’d get the call. It was so much fun waiting for the announcement and searching online to see if San Fransisco or Nigeria had spotted the moon yet. It was even more fun discussing which countries followed Saudi, who went by scientific calculation and who still went outside as a community, engaging with the music of the spheres to search for the birth of the new moon.

As I got older and more and more communities decided to go the way of scientific calculation, the anticipation grew less and less. This year because Eryn is old enough to understand and look forward to the month of Ramadan, I was determined to make it special for her. So even though I knew the majority of Toronto decided the start of Ramadan over a week ago — we played ignorant.

The four of us waited for the sunset call to prayer (announced from the Hubby’s smart phone in his back pocket), and then ran to the windows to search for the moon. There were too many clouds to see anything — but Eryn was convinced the moon was there. Then after prayers, we celebrated the start of the blessed month with excited calls to family and special Ramadan Kettle Corn.

So no matter when Ramadan starts for you, Ramadan Mubarak! May everyone’s good deeds, intentions, fasts, kindnesses, prayers and efforts be accepted and rewarded.

Soon after the announcement for 'Eid the mosque cleared out. It's always a little sad seeing these empty spaces, especially when mosques overflow during Ramadan. I hope the same cannot be said for our hearts.

My forehead sinks into the lush carpet. It’s comforting and enveloping like a dear friend. The imam calls out the final prayer position. In unison the row of women rise from prostration and we bow our heads in concentration waiting for the evening prayer to finish.

I’m reciting the required formulaic Arabic and then take a moment to make a final supplication in English. As I do so, a waft of heavy, oil-based perfume smelling of rose and jasmine floats past me. These refreshing scents found in mosques throughout the world temporarily mask the flint and dust coming from my abaya. The dust seems to get into everything, no matter how many fans and air purifiers are used. Kuwait city is gorgeous with modern architecture and bright lights — but everything is made slightly dull by a thin layer of the desert.

The prayer ends and instead of announcing the intention for additional evening prayers, as is customary during the month of Ramadan, the imam starts reciting a special chant called the takbirat. A collective, “oohhh” runs through the women’s section as we realise the new moon has been sighted. It’s the start of ‘Eid.

My heart explodes with happiness and I catch a glimpse of a woman who obviously feels the same — her face is simply shining with pure light and joy. Suddenly we’re all hugging, crying and wishing happy ‘Eid to complete strangers. In this moment we are all sisters — no one separated by race, ability or status.

I’ve had mixed feelings about spending the last ten days of Ramadan in Kuwait. Like the thin layer of dust detracting from all the glitz, I immediately noticed the indulgences and excessive lifestyle lived by many and often felt uncomfortable staring at my own privilege.

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A very respectable picture of me in front of Masjid Ar-Rashid.

clack… clack… click.

I’m sitting on my prayer mat in the dark, absentmindedly fondling my favourite prayer beads. They’re a lovey blue opal stone with silver markers and a braided chain tail — a souvenir from our honeymoon in Turkey. I bought them in the old souq right next to the Blue Mosque, from a vendor hidden in a dark corner. Patterned, red pashminas covered his folding table and the contrast made the blue beads jump out in the dim light. Full of blissful newlywed arrogance, we haggled — throwing in French and Arabic words as if other languages could better get our point across. In the end, it was simple hand gestures that made everyone happy.

In my solitary reverie, my mind wanders and I start constructing my next blog post. How will it begin? What’s the best way to reflect on my stay here in Kuwait? Should I pull out the orientalized movie stereotype and refer to the adhaan echoing out over the hot desert? Perhaps it’s better to describe the earthy, human smells as throngs of worshipers push their way past me, spilling onto the dusty street after a night of prayer?

This one... not so much. In my defense, I was asked to pose. It was either this or hands raised in prayer.

A sea of men in their white dishdashas and women in their black elabourate, gold-detailed abayas? Or maybe the dueling city neon lights — minarets that shine a path to Allah while garish signs advertise MacDonald’s, H&M, Parisian Fashion Houses, Marks and Spencer, and Starbucks coffee? Palm trees heavy with sweet dates and desert grasses that feel refreshing, bouncy and amazing on bare feet? Hearing the Qur’an being played from the kitchen while we watch the events in Libya unfold on Al-Jazeera? Smelling the salt water as a hot wind blows from the bay across the Cornishe? The joys of sharing the iftar meal with family and friends?

Eventually, the decision is made for me. Just like in the movies, a voice pierces the darkness and calls the faithful to prayer. As the dawn kisses the black sky, another voice joins him in the call to prayer — and then, another. The staggered round of adhaans echo across this part of the city, sounding completely at ease — a natural part of the day, comforting like a warm shawl.

I never grew up with the call to prayer being announced publicly five times a day — and so there’s a part of me that finds it impossible not to be in love with and perhaps exotify, Muslim culture. I get giddy and chills.

I’m a Muslim visiting a Muslim-majority country. But I’m also a tourist. An excited one at that. I’m burning through my camera battery on a daily basis and have already gone over 7 gigs of pictures and video in less than a week. This time my tour of Kuwait is limited to the mosque and exploring the sights of Ramadan. Thus far, it’s been very religion-oriented — making for interesting tourist blunders.

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Ramadan is finally here.

Muslims (and their friends, allies, co-workers, non-Muslim families) all over the world will unite in month-long activities of fasting, praying, performing extra good deeds, reading Qur’an, giving in charity and more. And despite the seriousness behind the month — where many also abstain from “frivolous” activities such as social-media, teh Internetz, television, movies, swearing,  Torchwood, or backbiting — it really is a wonderfully fun and rewarding time.

Now that Eryn is a little older and can understand so much more about the world around her, I wanted to do something really special and start a new family tradition. Growing up, I loved opening up the doors on my Christmas Advent calendar — wondering what special picture or chocolate I’d find behind each one.

Now Eryn can do the same with her Ramadan Advent calendar.

Each night when we break our fast with some dates and water, she’ll get to find and open one of 30 bags filled with trail mix, lollipops, dates, pipe cleaners, crayons and stickers — counting down the days of Ramadan and making each sunset that much more special. As the years go by, I’m hoping to include a few small verses from the Qur’an for her to memorise, or simple charitable tasks for her to fulfill. But for now, I’m really happy that a pipe cleaner keeps her entertained for hours.

I made Eryn’s calendar from simple white and blue ribbon and tulle bags. The bags were stapled to ribbons of different lengths, and I decorated the centre string with jewel, butterfly and star decals. I then painted the decals with a crafty sparkle lacquer to really make them pop. I also made the centre string more festive with some curly silver, green and blue gift ribbons.

My favourite piece of this project was making the numbers. I bought some black scratch-art paper that reveals a really sparkly silver foil when scratched with a stylus. I love how they’re slightly Burtonesque. But they also make this simple calendar look impressive and do a great job of hiding the goodies.

I can’t wait for Eryn to open her first bag!

Happy Ramadan everyone.

Happy Ontario Civic long weekend! We’re off to the beach and Carabana today — and since Ramadan is literally right around the corner, I thought this week’s roundup could be a little festive. So we’ve got happy stories on three things that define Islam: Ramadan, hijab and Yemeni women.

Enjoy!

1) Interested in showing off your Muslim pride this month? Why not go for some Allah bling, Ramadan Kareem cards, a new string of tasbeeh, or buttons to let everyone know what you’re really up to this month?

Etsy is always filled with fun, creative and crafty products. I’m not surprised that it’s flooded with Ramadan-inspired frivolities and keepsakes!

And if you want creative and snarky cards to gift your friendly neighbourhood Muslim, check out some of these choice ecards:

Hat tip to the amazing Asiah Kelley.

2) Speaking of Ramadan, two prolific and brilliant ladies from Altmuslimah, Asma Uddin and Shazia Kamal, write about proper etiquette during this holy month of fasting:

The Greeting. The next time you find yourself in line for the copier with your Muslim colleague, feel free to wish him or her “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem” or simply “Happy Ramadan.” We absolutely love it when people acknowledge Ramadan and are happy about it.

Halitosis. While God may tell us that the breath of the one fasting is like “fragrant musk” to Him, we know that you’re not God – and aren’t enjoying it. Understand why we’re standing a good foot away from you when speaking or simply using sign language to communicate.

Ramadan is a time for community and charity. There are iftar dinners held at mosques every night (you are welcome to join the fun – even if you’re not fasting!) and night time prayer vigils throughout the month. We give charity in abundance and make an extra effort to partake in community service.

What can I say? Funny, informative and fresh. You can read the whole thing at the Washington Post. While you’re at it, check out Asma’s The Role of Men in Religious Terrorism at Altmuslimah.

3) And just in time for Ramadan, it’s finally been announced that South African cricket bowler Wayne Parnell has converted to Islam. Reports say that he converted back in January and is unofficially changing his name to Waleed, meaning ‘newly born.’

(though, there’s nothing wrong with Wayne. It means ‘wagon-maker’ or ‘driver.’ That’s cool too)

The Tribune manages to report that Waleed’s Muslim team manager and team mates had no influence on his conversion, and that he’ll continue to respect the team’s endorsement of alcoholic beverages. Classy. I’m sure he’ll also be the focus of special attention when he plays Sussex while fasting insha’Allah.

Hey, mabrook bro! Welcome to the family.

4) Hijabs, hijabs and no more hijabs.

The Edmonton Journal has a cute new feature. ‘Welcome to my Wardrobe’ is a bi-monthly peek into the closets of Edmontonians known for their style savvy. This week they’re profiling Mona Ismaeil, a  Grade 5 teacher at the Edmonton Islamic Academy with a weakness for animal prints and high heels:

Ismaeil sees her hijab as a giant “Ask Me” sign for Islam, which she says is much more diverse than most people think it is.

“I wear it as an outward expression of my faith,” she says. “I want people to ask me about it — about the hijab, about Islam, about fasting, about everything about our religion.”

Girlfriend has a massive collection of Abayas. Which she totally rocks, by the way.

The very beautiful HAUTE HIJAB has an awesome post on 5 great ideas for organising your hijab collection. My vast collection of scarves are spilling out of my sock drawer and into the baby’s (unused) crib. I can barely open it without having at least 10 scarves fly out at me. The cramped space also promotes wrinkling and odors — and no one wants to smell like moth balls. So this post is particularly revolutionary for simply suggesting hangers and an over the door shoe rack. Simple. Clean. Pretty. There’s pictures too!

And eHow has a new instructional article on how to take off hijab once you’ve worn it. This is something women sometimes agonise and struggle over — fearing rejection and reprisals from their friends, family and community and possibly dealing with personal, religious guilt.

eHow gives taking off hijab a “Moderate” difficulty rating. It’s unfortunately, not as simple as just following a 5-step plan.

5) Finally, Yemeni women kicking ass.

We’ve got Zahra al-Harazi (a distant cousin on my husband’s side twice removed.. or the cousin of his cousin’s in-law… Whatever! Same region of origin in Yemen), who is a finalist in Chatelaine’s 2011 Woman of the Year! Go check out why she’s extraordinary.

And NPR has a fascinating piece on the photography of Amira Al-Sharif, who is working on a project documenting the lives of American women and comparing them with the lives of Yemeni women. Check it out.

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