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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Sorry I’ve been a little absent from the blog. Eiding with a huge family means lots of obligations and we’re now gearing up to travel back home. TONIGHT.

But I was able to share some of my ‘Eid reflections over at Muslimah Media Watch in a small (and awesome) roundtable looking at ‘Eid celebrations and gender in four countries. I’m cross-posting my exert here as well.

Prayers for everyone as we fly over the Atlantic and things will be back on a regular posting schedule once we’re over the jet lag.

Enjoy and a belated very Merry Eid Mubarak!


Praying evening prayers in the mosque just before the 'Eid announcement was made. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Evening prayers in the mosque just before the ‘Eid announcement. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Eid for our small family usually means dressing in our finest, rushing to pray with thousands at an exhibition hall, patiently listening to elected officials remark on the amazing diversity of Canada’s mosaic, and delighting the children with bouncy castles for a few hours before returning home or going back to work.

This year, we celebrated ‘Eid in our pyjamas.

Many mosques in Kuwait start ‘Eid prayers at about 5:15am in the morning. So most of the household just didn’t bother going to bed — we stayed up all night chatting with extended family members, applying henna, praying Fajr and listening to several of the neighbourhood mosques chanting the takbirat, broadcast high above the city from minaret speakers. Then, bleary-eyed, we threw abayas over our pyjamas and carried the still sleeping children outside to pray in a rocky parking lot.

Carpets softened the makeshift musalla and a caterer distributed cold dates and water while the men sat in the open-air and women took their place in a special section behind them. To ensure “maximum privacy,” the women’s section was enclosed on three sides by a large beige tarp — which doesn’t provide much of a view, but beats staring at a paved road.

Admiring the henna.

Admiring the henna.

This year our speaker system unfortunately cut out just as the khateeb brought up the topic of women. A few people took the silence that followed as a cue to wish everyone a happy ‘Eid Mubarak, many waited patiently, and I peeked over the tarp to see what the men were up to. Later, the Hubby told me the sermon was very positive — telling everyone that women should be an essential part of the community, working and volunteering publicly. That women should be elevated, empowered and proud. A lovely sentiment, but pretty ironic without a game plan to change societal perceptions and when we’re peeking from behind the tarp.

The view beyond the tarp.

Peeka-boo!

An irony I largely ignored in favour of experiencing a fun and privileged ‘Eid day with friends and family in a city where the overwhelming majority celebrated as well. In Canada, the prayer itself seems to be the main event and I’ve always felt slighted at being told how empowered I am on ‘Eid, while mosque officials put me in a basement every other day of the year.

We later breakfasted with family at an aunt’s house — enjoying creamy and strong cooked tea, eating a sweet pasta dish called atriya and home made Yemeni bread, all lovingly cooked by the grandmothers in the family. Then we retuned home to sleep before finally dressing in new ‘Eid clothes and spending the rest of the day party hopping, gift exchanging with the family and wandering the hallways of a flashy and trendy mall with thousands of other families enjoying the same.

Eid Mubarak!

Eid Mubarak!

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.

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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Well I survived the weekend (kind of).

We started the ‘Eid celebration by eating our first daylight breakfast in a month. I made a huge pot of sweet seviyan — vermicelli cooked with butter, sugar, milk, condensed milk and cardamon. After getting dressed in our finest, we went to the CNE and prayed with about 10,000 people. Needless to say, it was pandemonium. We then met up with a few friends and went for second breakfast!  Lebanese shawarma (roasted meat), cheese fatayer (a lovely, salty cheese that tastes like butter — melted over a thick pita), and kunafa (er, how do I describe it? a toasty top, melty cheese bottom, soaked in a sugar syrup. SO GOOD).

Next up was the regular Friday congregational prayers at the Turkish mosque (where I had an altercation with a gentleman who thought it best that the women prayed in a separate room — coming soon to a post near you), a well deserved nap at home, then another party for dinner, pizza for second dinner and waffles for dessert.

You might begin to wonder at the amount of food Muslims eat during the ‘Eid celebration, considering we just spent a month fasting to remind us of God and the less fortunate. You’re not supposed to lose weight during Ramadan, just like you’re not supposed to pig out once it’s over. Suffice it to say that I find it difficult to eat a lot after fasting. Not only does it feel strange to be be eating during the day, but the stomach shrinks, your metabolism is slowed, and really, there are too many people to meet and party with to do so with a full mouth. For the next three days, we are also reminded to spend time after the 5 daily prayers to remember God, by chanting God’s name and other remembrances (heard in the video link above). ‘Eid is also a time for charity and we are all encouraged to give, and then to give some more.

Finally, Eryn is sleeping better now that I’m not fasting. She’s back on her regular schedule, thank God.

Some pics after the cut.

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It’s 1:24am.  It’s the 27th night of Ramadan.

Normally I would have spent this evening at the mosque performing special evening prayers as the congregation listened to the 30th and final part of the Qur’an.  Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed, and tradition holds that this miracle happened on one of the odd nights during the last ten days. The 27th is an arbitrary odd night celebrated by a majority of people.  Because of the auspicious nature of performing worship during (potentially) the very same night the Qur’an was revealed, many believe that additional acts of worship are raised in their worth, that prayers will be answered, and that the doors of heaven are open for those who are sincere in asking for forgiveness.

During my University days, I’d have a small break fast, grab my Qur’an and a chocolate bar, and head to the local mosque for a long night of worship. I’d chant, read, pray and sing — sitting with others in a dim room, enjoying the ambiance of the final days of Ramadan, the incense, the sugar rush, the tears rolling down my face.

Last year I missed the 27th. Eryn was 3 weeks old, I wasn’t fasting and the entire month flew by. I only realized that I had missed this night of power after the ‘Eid celebration was complete. I don’t think anyone bothered (or remembered) to tell me the date.  This year we spent the evening with family in Niagara Falls.  After a Timmie’s run and half way through the drive home, my heart sank as I realized the date.

So the second we got Eryn into her crib I went through my little ritual of purification, threw on my favourite abaya and prayer shawl and prayed in the still dark of our bedroom. I didn’t have chocolate, I didn’t have incense, music or the energy to chant.

All that kept me company was Eryn’s soft rhythmic snoring. Eryn, who was named after a gate in heaven.  The gate that opens especially for those who fast.

So what happens when God leaves a woman’s manner of worship up to her own interpretation? Someone else invariably interprets it for her.

Two very interesting articles recently made their way to me.

First, from the HuffPo on the challenges of Ramadan for both pregnant and fasting women.

Last year during Ramadan, a pregnant Kamelia Basir-Rodriguez tried to join other Muslims in fasting from food and drink from dawn to sunset but was told by her doctor to stop when she experienced contractions and blackouts.

This year, as Ramadan starts anew on Wednesday (Aug. 11) the 34-year-old former soldier is breast-feeding her healthy nine-month-old daughter and is again wrestling with whether she should risk dehydration and drying up her milk supply by fasting, or skip it altogether.

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