fasting


eid

Happy Eid everyone! Wishing you all a blessed and joyous holiday. May all of our good deeds and actions be accepted and here’s hoping for a bright and happy future insha’Allah.

eid

Yesterday we prayed at my favourite Mississauga mosque, the Sayeda Khadija Centre — where Imam Slimi gave the BEST ‘Edi khutbah I have ever heard.

He spent a brief 20 minutes not focusing on the importance of keeping the Qur’an in our daily lives, or vaguely mentioning that we should continue coming to the mosque in record numbers, or <insert stock Eid khutbah topic here> — but instead gave practical advice and reflections. Like the importance of civic engagement and improving our condition by focusing on positive stories. To not always dwell on images of war or become disheartened at clear media biases toward Muslims. But instead to focus on promoting the Muslim Champions who work and succeed in society. To raise our children to know that they can become Prime Minister if they want to and that they can make a difference.

He also focused on the issue of mental health and strongly encouraged people who were struggling with illness to obtain the help they need — whether it’s counseling or medication. In all of my years, I have never heard a community leader say so many encouraging things about mental heath. Normally, we’re told that depression is a sign of a diseased heart and that one should read more Qur’an, perform more dhikr, or self medicate with rituals to expel Jinn-causing-illnesses to “get over it.” So it was incredibly refreshing to hear someone acknowledge problems within the Muslim community and validate the experience of those who deal with mental illness.

It was an impressive talk and it has been an extremely long time since a khutbah made me smile with pride for my community.

locked

After lunch, a gift exchange for the girls, afternoon tea, and a trip to the ice cream shop, Eryn got dressed in her mermaid outfit and we went to the local musallah for ‘Asr. Unfortunately, the women’s section was locked — hopefully just an oversight *cough* — and I had to wait for the Hubby to break down the barrier on the men’s side and unlock the door.

Overall, it was a lovely ‘Eid and I’m actually looking forward to making up my missed fasts over the next month insha’Allah. Hope your ‘Eid was also filled with warmth, fun, family, and mermaids.

Well it’s been a somewhat interesting Ramadan.

Insha’Allah I’ll be sharing a post I wrote for Muslimah Media Watch soon that talks a little about how I’ve been feeling this month, and echoes many of the sentiments I shared with you in my last major post. I had intended to write more about the reasons I converted, but the month literally flew by and here we are with just about a week left.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write about it. I have some serious issues it seems and I want to tackle them the best way I know how. Through over-sharing with all of you!

Just a little light reading before bed.

Just a little light “pretend” reading before bed.

We spent much of Ramadan just being normal. Which means going about our day without much fuss if we decided to have a random dance party or going to baby birthday parties instead of the mosque.

The Hubby and I signed up for a pre-iftar halaqa through Seeker’s Guidance and live-streamed Sheikh Faraz Rabbani who spoke about how to become closer to God. I’ve known Sheikh Faraz for years. He’s one of the more accessible teachers of sacred knowledge, and has owned up to some issues that I’ve called him out on in the past. Plus singing and dhikr! What’s not to love?

Some of his more memorable thoughts included not showing up to a religious lesson “just because” — make sure you have focus, and that the subject or action speaks to your heart. Or when there is a difference of opinion, don’t argue over the differences — but be considerate. There is special dispensation when there is a difference of opinion. So if you believe that eating shellfish is haraam, and you’re with someone who serves it to you with good intentions, you’re permitted to eat the fried calamari — so pass the lemon sauce instead of refusing to eat and turning into a monster mullah (my words, not his).

Sneaking.

Ivy sneaking some of our iftar while we finished up prayer.

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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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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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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.

Today we beat the heat by doing some crafts for Ramadan.

I have a closet full of pipe cleaners, sparkles, foam sheets, empty egg cartons, and other random, random things for Eryn to paste, stick and paint to her heart’s content.

I’m not sure what’s more fun, Ivy sucking in her sleep or the stickers that currently grace my kitchen cupboards.

Eryn is incredibly excited for the start of Ramadan — though I think her bright smiles and wide eyes are more for the anticipation of opening up her Ramadan advent calender. She knows daily treats are coming her way once we sight the moon — and she’s pulled out her favourite holiday book, Under the Ramadan Moon. Which thankfully isn’t so annoying to be read about 500 times a day.

Organic lollypops, mints, cranberries and more!

But now that iftaar is way past 9pm, how do you make sunset exciting for someone who is usually in bed when it’s time for all the food and fun family parties?

Decorate the house with homemade lanterns of course!

I gave her 10 minutes before she started batting them around like a cat. It took five.

When Eryn was born we were a few days away from celebrating the start of Ramadan. In-between plugged ducts, sleepless days and nights, surviving the witching hour (that lasted 3 months!), and recovery, I remember feeling that the month just flew by without the joys and sweetness of Ramadan actually registering in my mind.

I find fasting a very humbling and spiritual experience. My mind is sharper and I’m more in tune with my emotions and thoughts. I always feel so much closer to God when I fast — and when I converted Ramadan was right around the corner. I don’t think I would have joined the faith so completely if it hadn’t been for all of the nights at the mosque and experiencing such a wonderful reception from my community. I love Ramadan so much that even Eryn’s real life name is inspired by a key symbol from this holy month. Ramadan has always been important to me.

And that makes not fasting even more difficult.

You’ll find some of my thoughts on this over at iVilliage, where I share tips and reflections for pregnant and nursing fasters.

I’m trying to do too many things this Ramadan.  But there’s so much fog that I can’t even pull a decent post together, let alone clean, laundry, cook dinner, (fail) playgroups, shop, make samosas, and sleep (what’s that?).

Normally one might feel hungry or thirsty during a no food/no liquid, 16-hour fast. Occasionally one may feel headachy, dizzy, or lightheaded. Rarely one may need to lay down on the floor and simply try to sleep the last few hours of the fast away. I’m falling somewhere between the last two.

The point of this fast is not to only feel hunger or thirst. It’s intended to be a training ground — a time of evaluation, where in the absence of human desire (desire for food, desire for sex, desire to veg out in front of the TV — our basic animal instincts put on hold) you can help foster a clarity of mind or a stillness of the heart where you can see what is truly important. Caring for the less fortunate. Action to stop injustice. Leading a good life and benefiting others.  Replacing “animal desire” for a spiritual desire to be resurrected in the hereafter. Nurturing the positive in all you do.

But let me tell you, I can not think of any of these things during the fast. My thoughts are constantly on Eryn and what needs to happen next in my long, laundry list of daily baby chores.  This has been my hardest fast. I haven’t felt hungry or thirsty. I think it’s beyond that. By 3pm, I’m walking around like a zombie — my stomach has digested my spine, leaving me with a headache and backache. I feel so weak in my mid-section that one walk to the park leaves me feeling like I’m about to break in half.

I know for sure my milk has changed. I usually have two (or more) let-downs during a nursing session. The past few days it’s only been one. Eyrn has gone back to her 6-week old behaviour of hitting the breast, as if to say, “I know there’s more in there! Maybe if I hit it enough times or jiggle it around, I can get the last few drops.” And her sleep is all messed up.  Her consistent naps are out the window. I was lucky to get her down for an hour today. This means that her night sleep is disrupted. She’s been waking on the hour, playing from 1am-3am, and is just a miserable, falling-down mess when she wakes up (thankfully, the 7am face-planting into the bed leads to more sleep, where she wakes 2 hours later happy and raring to go. Meaning I’m the falling-down mess from lack of sleep).

Since her sleep is off, my sleep is off, and I’ve been almost missing the pre-dawn 4:30am meal. Waking up with 2 minutes to spare. Just enough time to guzzle some water and eat a date. And then finally, when it’s sunset and we break the fast, I’m so tired mentally and physically, that I can’t even muster up the strength to read the Qur’an.

So I’m in a fog. All I can think about is the fast and when it’s going to end.

A shopkeeper puts up decorations for RamadanThe Huffington Post has some great pictures on the start of Ramadan.

So today was my first day of fasting since 2008. I got pregnant a few months after my Ramadan trip to Kuwait, and had Eryn just before last Ramadan, so I’ve been excited to get back to fasting.

I was a little worried that fasting and breastfeeding would make my day a little more rough, but alhamdulillah, today was pretty good. I wasn’t too thirsty and my let-down was actually faster than normal.

Last night we prepared for the first day of fasting by burning incense, reading the Qur’an, cleaning, and…er…. watching two episodes of Dr. Who.

Which in hindsight was stoopid, because I went to bed at 2am, just to get up at 4am to make oatmeal for the pre-dawn meal and guzzle two litres of water. Eryn also was up every two hours last night…as if she sensed a need to “tank up” before dawn.

The day itself was pretty normal. We got up, fed Eryn her breakfast, took a nap, had lunch, went to the library to play and sign her up for an 8-week play and reading program, ran through the splashpad, took another nap, went for a walk in the wrap and fed the ducks, Eryn played with Baba while I made dinner (daal, Moroccan chick pea stew, butter chicken), read some more Qur’an and then broke my fast while nursing Eryn to sleep. Now I’m writing while cooking the meat for a samosa-making-extravaganza tomorrow.

Whew.

Oh. And Eryn is up again.

Ramadan Mubarak – Happy Ramadan

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