prayer


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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wudu

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Winners to be announced shortly.

Thank you to everyone for participating.

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Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatulah…

My head turns to my right shoulder, giving peace and blessings to every person across the world, to the women sitting next to me in prayer, and to the angel who records my good deeds. It’s the end of the sunset prayer at the Al-Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali Mosque in Aqaba, and I am struck into absolute stillness.

It’s only a flash. A fleeting moment while giving salaams. But in that half second I taste the sweetness of imaan — a heavy, Divine presence comforting me, reassuring me, embracing me. Time slows, and the post-prayer chaos moves beyond me.

I complete the prayer and instead of raising my hands in du’a, I look down the opening of my nursing cover. Ivy looks back up at me and smiles. The chaos suddenly catches up to me and I register the din of women speaking softly, mobile phones ringing, and children running in and out of the women’s entrance gathering their shoes and dashing off into the dusk.

Reflecting on the prayer, I wonder what triggered this momentary gift. We were walking from the souk, taking a detour along the shore when the call to prayer rang out and greeted the rhythm meted out by the rolling waves. Ivy was nursing in her sling and the quick jog to the mosque sent her straight to sleep. During the commotion to join the line, she awoke and latched back on. I pointed to my nursing cover and deferred to the wisdom of my sister in law, mouthing, “Is this OK?” A shrug and a, “go for it,” was all I needed to hear.

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I wrap my baby
in a large pink shawl
The light fringes brush
against her cheek
as she sighs soundly.

Eyes shut tight
against the darkness of the world.

A new dress
on this eve of ‘Eid
is laid out for her to wear.
Red and blue flowers.
Golden hued slippers.

(she sighs again)

And my throat tightens.
And my fingers grip the crib’s edge.
And a pain clenches my heart,
beating, beating, beating.

Because you are not wrapping your baby tonight.

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I’m with Ivy on a quick jaunt to Montreal this week — so for your reading pleasure (and mine), here’s one more guest post by the amazing Rawiya. A beautiful little poem that struck me on so many levels. Enjoy!

(new posts coming soon!)



Right Upon Left

I was taught to pray with my hands folded on my chest, Though I missed out on the ‘why.’
I got why we bowed, I got why we bent,
A physical display of what submission meant.
But I never gave much thought to my right and my left,
Resting gently on my curves of my breasts.

Sometimes I’d watch brothers in lines and rows,
Hands on their bellies, wrists grasped, or sometimes slack,
Or even sometimes clasped like mine smack dab
In the middle of their chest.
But you’d never see a lady
with her hands across her belly.
And I guess I started to believe, unconsciously,
That this posture must be
A posture based on modesty.

There must be something about my chest,
The undulation of my breasts
That offends, upsets the Greatest.

And so I hid myself.
(Just as much as some brothers did),
Out of sight, out of mind.
Let’s keep my temptations out of everyone’s
line of sight.

But good gracious, I got it wrong.
Those folded hands
Aren’t meant to hide my shame
From The Shaper, Al-Musawwir.

He knows All
about my curves, after All.

That folded right-upon-left,
Resting on my shapely breasts
(I’m pretty sure) is meant
to keep my heart from flying out of my chest
In Ecstasy!
In direct communion with
The Beginningless,
The Endless.

First in our series of guest posts is the ineffable Rawiya. A brilliant on-again, off-again blogger who really should be writing full time, Rawiya spends most of her days as an academic and moonlights as an artist. Please join me in welcoming her as she shares her thoughts on finding faith and recognising serendipity in the most unlikely places.

You can read more by Rawiya here.


And We have created mankind and We know what his soul whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (Qur’an 50:16)

I opened the fridge door, on the hunt for some breakfast. I felt a little bit like an intruder in an unfamiliar apartment, having driven the previous day from the States to Canada, where I was about to start some research. My gracious hosts had gone to work. I had slept in after my ten-hour drive, and was ravenous. I padded my way to the kitchen, pulled on the handle of the fridge, and locked my eyes onto a sight I hadn’t seen in years.

Oh yeah. They have milk in a bag here!” I laughed and said aloud to myself, recalling the six years I had lived in Canada during my university education. But in that moment, my hunger dissipated and I closed the fridge door, my eyes filling with tears.

How silly I felt, to have this familiar foreign thing, this stupid Canadian milk-in-a-bag, provoke me so much. Why was I crying? What the hell was going on?

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The last time I attended Jummah prayers was Easter long weekend. It was a lovely, warm Friday afternoon and an excellent opportunity for us to go to the mosque together as a family. The three of us dressed up and joined the hundreds of people also taking advantage of the holiday to attend the prescribed congregational prayer.

The Islamic bookstore was crowded, volunteers sold hijabs and samosas in the hallways, and the mosque had invited the Red Cross to hold a blood donor clinic before and after the service. The call to prayer rang out over loud speakers and everyone rushed to their spaces. It was our first real Friday sermon in North America.

Obviously because of the overflow of people, women (and men) were being asked to pray in adjoining classrooms. One of the advantages of attending the larger mosques, is that many have established Islamic schools on the premises– which means extra space in large gymnasiums, classrooms and kitchens for unexpected crowds or large events. I sat on the floor with Eryn on my lap, in a bright and colourful grade school classroom and waited for the sermon to begin.

The imam introduced himself and addressed the youth. This khutbah is for you, he said. I want you all to put away your Facebooks, messengers and games and listen up. You are the future and this is an important message. At this point, he started yelling.

At first I thought the PA system was on too loud, and looked to around to see that I was sitting right beneath a speaker. But as the decibels increased, I realised that he was trying to sound excited and inspiring. Looking at all of the bored, blank faces around me, I wasn’t sure the imam was getting through to his intended audience.

Don’t be ashamed of yourselves!! Who is this Mo? Your name is Mohammed! Who is this Joe? Your name is Yusuf! Why are we Muslims ashamed of ourselves? You hold the legacy of the Prophets! BE PROUD! No doubt an important message — but he was unfortunately yelling so loudly and so angrily, that I actually felt threatened and had to leave the classroom. It wasn’t enjoyable or spiritually uplifting. Eryn and I ended up listening to the remainder of the sermon from the more peaceful hallway, and rejoined the group when it was time to pray.

While I really want to, I don’t often go to Friday prayers. And it’s not because my workplace isn’t accommodating. In fact, on Fridays, people can take extra lunch time to attend religious services, there’s a “quiet room” on the second floor for anyone what wants to engage in “silent prayer or meditation,” and staff can take two days off a year for extra-religious holidays. I am really quite lucky that my workplace is so accommodating. Lucky and privileged.

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I’m going to be a total wet blanket. I’m tired, cranky and sick (AGAIN). So I was not in the best of moods when the following video made it’s way to me without introduction or context:

When I first saw the title, I immediately thought, “Ooooh good! I hope it’s a cute video on volunteering or political activism.” But as it went on, I started thinking just how much fail was in this video.

And before you jump down my throat, believe me, I KNOW. I know the video’s origin comes from a site that promotes a whole slew of impressive productivity tools for personal growth — be it for spirituality, education or health. And yes, there are other videos that discuss volunteerism and other lovely tidbit reminders that can inspire someone into spiritual or mundane action. Yes, the videos may very well be targeted toward the high school or university population. Yes prayer is very important and the video uses my favourite reciter (not the best translation though). And I know the author has good intentions. BUT… I just couldn’t relate.

We learn that a productive muslim:

  • is male
  • is single
  • has an impressive and flexible office job
  • rides a bike to and from work, home and the mosque
  • starts his day at 4am to pray and stays up working, prioritizing his day, and making cute flash videos on how to be a productive muslim
  • gets 2 hours off from lunch — an hour to pray, an hour to eat
  • gets off work early to pray
  • has time to exercise
  • spends 5 hours at the mosque each day
  • doesn’t shower

Erasure much? Or am I being to hard?

I’ve written several times about women and our lack of positive accommodation at the mosque. Where we are shunted into basements, balconies, behind barriers or simply told that there is no space for women at the mosque. These posts have generated positive comments, interesting dialogue and in some places, downright hostility. And while dialogue is important in influencing hearts and minds, or at the very least helping people find a community of support, there’s not much effectual change that a few obscure posts can bring about.

Enter the fantastic and brilliant Ify Okoye.

Her new(ish) photo blog has just been made known to me. Muslim Women’s Prayer Spaces is a visual exploration into the kinds of accommodations women are experiencing when they attend the mosque, and advocates for positive change.

And it’s working insha’allah!

Her latest post lamenting the gradual exclusion of women from the Prince George’s Muslim Association’s main prayer hall grabbed the attention of a board member, who took the time to explain how the board has started taking steps to change the situation. It may take a while to see the impact of these changes and how effectual they are — but it impresses me that someone within a mosque administration took the opportunity to rectify a perceived wrong within the community.

Natch, it happened after Iffy posted pictures and highlighted inequities and indignities within the mosque, and the board member is an apologist, excusing barring women by way of logistics  — but it’s a perfect example of the power that pictures and words can have.

I’d love for her site to go viral and for mosques to realize that what goes on behind the curtain cannot be hidden.

This post received an Honourable Mention from the Eighth Annual Brass Crescent Awards.


Like every other, regular day, Eryn went through her morning ritual of slapping my face, poking my nose ring, and pulling down my shirt to stealth nurse her stuffed animals. I saw her shining inquisitive face through half slits, and she laughed delightedly at my groggy voice telling her that mama would start breakfast after I had gone pee-pee.

Falling out of bed to more delighted laughter, I stumbled my way to the bathroom. When I pulled down my pants I could barely believe what was rudely greeting me so early in the morning and I shouted in surprise. Calling from his refuge under the pillow, the Hubby asked if everything was okay. I poked my head out from the bathroom and said, “I got my period.”

For many, this is no big deal — but for me, it was the first time in two years, and a very unexpected surprise. I’ve been amenorrhoeic due to lactation, and not counting post-partum, this was my first official period post pregnancy. Now I understood why nursing Eryn felt like she replaced her teeth with knives, and why my head was foggy and pounding. When I mentioned that it was disturbing and shocking, just like getting it for the first time, my sister-in-law said cheerfully, “wow, you’ve had quite the prayer stretch, enjoy your little break.”

Prayer is central to the faith and is an obligatory act of worship that’s performed at certain times of the day. You could even say that prayer helps define what it means to be Muslim. The media loves the stereotypical image of a robed and bearded man, or rows of women in prayer shawls, kneeling and prostrating on a prayer mat — and especially, the particularly spectacular sight of millions bowing down in unison toward the Kaabah in Mecca.

Men and women stand shoulder to shoulder (in their respective, segregated sections) and perform the same motions and say the same Arabic words the world over. With a few variations here and there, the framework of the Islamic prayer is so uniform, that you could join a group praying on another continent and not feel out of place. It binds us together as a global community, provides solace, and expresses love for the divine.

Despite being the spiritual equals of men, women are forbidden to pray during menstruation — and a woman who decides to pray is told she is sinning and committing sacrilege. The way in which this religious law is dealt with by many scholars, online literature, pamphlet Islam, multimedia lecture series, discussion forums and conferences, directly affects how women understand and relate to their bodies and is also used by men to help remove women from active worship and participation in the community.

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