Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ramadan Diaries Day 02: A Hajji's First Ramadan

It is different this time; truly is, because this is my first Ramadan after Hajj. I am not the same person that I used to be, considering how I have detached from a whole lot of worldly pursuits that used to trouble my heart earlier. I am not living the Hakuna Matata philosophy, of course, because “no worries for the rest of your days” is never an option. But my heart has found peace in its affairs and I have fully realized the Qadr of Allah SWT. The sights and sounds that I have experienced on my Hajj journey have left a lasting impression on my mind. Beginning from Masjid e Nabawi in Madina and the ziarah of historic places that boast of great Islamic legends, and concluding with a soul-shaking experience of Arafah, Tawaf and Sa’ee - my game changed!
We worship an unseen God, and we follow a beautiful Prophet (SAW) we have never met. Hajj filled in some crucial sensory requirements for me because it definitely feels now that I have met RasulAllah SAW and I have seen Allah SWT. There is heartfelt accountability this time because it feels like I know who I am fasting for and exactly whose Sunnah I am following.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ramadan Diaries Day 01: A Thirty Day Retreat Begins

"Ramadan is a month of heavy-duty quality control for Muslims. A factory always undergoes some downtime for maintenance, overhauling, and re-stocking. That is exactly how each one of us should think. This month should be the 30 day retreat in which we overhaul our systems, fine tune our nafs, and realign our spiritual compass." [Published: The Ideal Muslimah]
These 30 days need to be different from the rest of the 'business as usual' days of the year. Fasting should extend beyond physical efforts of abstinence and encompass spiritual aspects of our lives. It should be a time of disconnecting from the chaos of the world and feeling the presence of Allah swt in our very homes, our lives, and our hearts.

The National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics in Egypt has announced that the first day of this year’s Ramadan, which is set to take place on Saturday, will witness something unique: the sun will rise perpendicularly over the Kaaba at 12:18 local Mecca time, during the noon prayer.
The institute added on that at 12:18 on Saturday, the shadow of the Kaaba will disappear, and the direction of the sun at any point in the world will be the exact direction of the Qiblah, the direction where Muslims must pray toward the Kaaba. This phenomenon occurs twice a year: the first will be on May 27 and the second on July 15. However, what is special this year is that it coincides with the first noon prayer of Ramadan. [Source: Al-Arabiya English]
The first day's Iftar was super rushed (panic is the word!). This is normal - I plan time out on the first day and then function properly for the following days. I figured that for an Iftar time of 8:23pm I need to get started in the kitchen at 4pm at the very least to get everything spot cleaned, Insha'Allah. Phew! All was done with help from everybody! 
My friend Zoha is posting a daily Ramadan post and has been very kind in letting me share it on my Ramadan Diaries!

Click this video showing 'Counting Ramadan' to play
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Friday, May 19, 2017

Sisterly Yours Jummah Word: Ramadan Right Ahead


Ramadan Right Ahead
Ramadan is almost there, right around the corner, and preparations are underway. I have made countless trips to multiple grocery stores (got my Rooh Afza drink, parathay, and samosay!), the fridges and freezers are stocked to the brim, and bulk cooking is going on. Alhamdulillah for the increase in sustenance. And to be thankful, I have my favorite charity place set to send in gifts of love. More on that later, inshaAllah. The masjids are sending in emails about their activities and Iftar sponsorships. Ramadan, frankly, means food and drink! Community Iftars will be going on daily EVERYWHERE! I have the DC Metro Area Ramadan prayer timings calendar at hand and I'll be setting up my Ramadan Adventure Boards all through next week.
Ramadan Cookie Box Planning
Sara's Baked Creations New Moon Sugar Cookie 2017  
Every year Sara and I put together some gorgeous and delicious cookies and gift Ramadan goody boxes to next door neighbors and friends. The intention is Sadaqah of course. The smile on the faces that we see each year as I ring the doorbell are priceless. So, Sara's Baked Creations is buzzing with excitement as we plan which of our best cookies we'd put forward this year. I was at Staples yesterday to print the greeting labels. Baking would begin soon, InshaAllah.
Ramadan Diaries At The Ready

I am absolutely vibrating in my seat over Ramadan Diaries this year. MashaAllah, the graphics look so adorable and I am adding comics as a new feature. I am enjoying the humor and making it all up using my Bitmoji avatar. And, I do hope InshaAllah that I am able to stir up some laughs during Ramadan..
In Print
2 of my pieces made it to The Ideal Muslimah, Alhamdulillah. There's one on avoiding food wastage in Ramadan and I have shared our kitchen pro tips mine and Sara's) that we have successfully pulled off in the past 7 years of kitchen training. A second article is about Ramadan cleaning and it covers the psychological, physical, and social cleanse you should focus on to make the best of the Ajr (reward) that Ramadan brings. With these 2 pieces, Ramadan Diaries have taken off an early start I believe. 
 Next Jummah InshaAllah is the moon sighting! See you then! It'll be the launch day of Ramadan Diaries too!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Avoiding Wastage Of Food In Ramadan

Published on The Ideal Muslimah
At a community Iftar cum dinner I was walking the buffet line when I stepped into a pool of gravy and salad mix on the floor. Instant double heartbreak! First, because my shoe would forever smell of beef, and second because it was perfectly good food being fed to the floor. Then, when I discarded my plate into the bin after finishing I saw the ton of food thrown away. Sometimes you can always tell by looking at the miniature hill of extra food in someone’s plate that he or she will not be able to put all of it into their bellies because it is near to impossible! It ends up in the garbage when it could have fed someone. Similarly, lots of overstocked food is wasted in our homes too. Extra fruits and dairy go bad in particular. The aftermath of Ramadan pantry hoarding and iftar cum dinner parties/events is serious food wastage.
Each morsel of food and every drop of water is from Allah, the Most Gracious, and we are accountable for its wastage. A beautiful way to earn His merits in Ramadan is to ensure that food wastes are minimal, and the excessive is distributed among the needy in a hygienic way.
Just-In-Time Pantry Management
People are fond of hoarding in Ramadan and shopping sprees are as urgent as the pre-apocalypse scenes in sci-fi movies - hoard before the nuke hits and retreat to underground bunkers! Flour, rice, pulses, frozen foods, and baked goods are purchased until the fridges and freezers won't close shut, and pantries spill over. Just-In-Time pantry management avoids overstocking and consequent wastage.
For instance, I calculate the number of Parathas (flatbread) we would need for suhoor each morning, and the load of fruit and frozen snacks required for Iftar. Then, we buy exact numbers. I follow a 2-week shopping plan for perishable goods such as dairy and bread. And a weekly trip for fruits. Midway Ramadan, we shop again. This way nothing is overstocked.
Proper Food Storage
Ideally, you should invest in good quality food storage products and study effective storage techniques to properly store food. Get airtight canisters (food grade plastic) for rice, pulses, and flours, ziploc (airtight zipper bags) for freezing foods such as chopped fruits, airtight canning jars for sauces and chutneys, Brown households (Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/etc.) consume rotis and parathas which can be wrapped separately piece by piece in polyethene wraps and stocked in the freezer. I have had the nasty experience of ripping open a packet of rotis and finding green fungus growing on it because we stocked them up for 30 days in our room temperature pantry once! Breads, cakes, cheese, and cooking pastes can be frozen too!
My sister Sara introduced the idea of cooking the daily meat curries a week before Ramadan and stocking them up in the freezer - the full 30 day supply sealed safely in Ziploc bags. Fruits go into the coldest compartment of the fridge, and ideally they should be purchased weekly throughout Ramadan as needed. Unpeeled hard boiled eggs can be refrigerated for 7 days for safe eating past their boil date. Eat By Date ( is a brilliant tool that aids pantry decision making. Expiration and Best Before dates are often not reflective of the real going bad date of the food item. For example, milk does not go bad for at least 7 days beyond its Best By date if stored ideally below 40 F. Such knowledge is precious because it stops you from throwing things out the instant the label says ‘expired’.
Self Control
Trust me, food is not going anywhere! So when you fill your plates at a buffet or take out stuff from your freezer to eat try to exercise self control so you don’t end up taking a trip to dump the leftovers. At Iftar time in particular we function like vampires waking up from a hundred year sleep and miscalculate how much we can eat when the Adhan goes and fast ends. Prophet Muhammad SAW said ‘A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air.’” Ibn Majah Book 29, Hadith 3474.
Hygienic Distribution Of Leftovers
Organizers of Iftar cum dinner events must add hygienic distribution of leftovers to their event planning agenda. They can always be packed and given to guests to take home for Suhoor and Iftar of the following day or dispatched to homeless shelters where the needy would consume.
We tend to take food and water for granted whilst the heartbreaking images from hunger-struck regions of the world flash before our eyes everyday! There are babies dying of starvation, mothers who cannot produce enough milk for their young because they are starved, and people with disfigured bodies because of nutritional deficiencies. It is obligatory upon all Muslims not to waste food because it comes as a favor from Allah SWT. Let’s try eliminating food waste from our homes and social circles this Ramadan InshaAllah.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ramadan Cleaning: Getting The Act Together

Published on The Ideal Muslimah [Poster subject to change]

Have you planned your Ramadan? It is about to take off in a couple of weeks, InshaAllah, which means it is high time to begin planning for the big month of great merits! It is a month of heavy-duty quality control for Muslims. A factory always undergoes some downtime for maintenance, overhauling, and re-stocking. That is exactly how each one of us should think. This month should be the 30 day retreat in which we overhaul our systems, fine tune our nafs, and realign our spiritual compass. 
Ramadan cleaning (inspired from Spring cleaning) has a lot more to it than restocking the kitchen pantry and bulk meal planning. Apart from the literal meaning of cleaning, I feel that a psychological, spiritual, and social cleanse is also required before you start fasting. It would be useless to fast and worship without getting some serious garbage out from your modus operandi. We're human after all, we tend to err. 
Psychological Cleanse
Garbage in, garbage out is a simple rule of quality control. Unless you flush away the junk in your mind, you will not be able to feel the blessings of Ramadan. The junk is usually stress, anxiety, depression, negativity, panic, and fears. They automatically contribute to health issues like insomnia (sleeplessness), somnolence (sleeping too much), stomach acid, blood pressure spikes or lows, irregular heartbeat, fibromyalgia (muscular distress), and the list goes on and on. They make fasting a major challenge, and painful too. 
Try to let go and ease up on your over thinking of things. Leave your affairs to Allah SWT and try planning your Ramadan routine. Avoid people and events that trigger emotional chaos. Start meditating if you cannot calm yourself down with will power. Go out for walks, give yourself some alone time, sleep well and eat well. Training your mind and body are the first steps.
Spiritual Cleanse
If you're fasting wholeheartedly it means you are most definitely looking out for Allah's forgiveness, inshaAllah. Unless you cleanse your soul of the obvious evil of your nafs (psyche), you cannot attain His Mercy. Personally speaking, a spiritual cleanse begins with Taqwa (fear of Allah) and the realization that you have wronged. The next step is to make an intention of seeking His Mercy and taking a divine oath of not repeating the mistakes. So, recognize your faults and flaws instead of neglecting them and engage in a battle with your inner demons. Aim at correcting your behavior, your attitude, and the strength of spiritual connection with Allah SWT. 
Social Cleanse
Gossipy phone calls, texts, and; of course, the ‘Fitnahbook’ (destructive part of social media channels) are immediate potential pollutants in our sociosphere online. The useless gossips, nonsense discussions about people and events, and the politics of social/academic/professional life function like poisonous vortexes that pull us into wrongdoing. Non-productive friend circles and senseless parties aimed at only the eating and drinking part of Ramadan are breeding grounds for Satanic forces. Since he is locked up in chains he makes sure he engages his human accomplices to do his job. 
You need to tighten controls and switch on partial-hibernation mode for Ramadan where you hit the snooze on unnecessary social activities. Instead, your prime focus should be observing the fasts with full dedication, Qur’an recitation, and persistent Salah infused with the right Khushu and Khuzu (fear of Allah and undivided attention).
The basic purpose of Ramadan cleaning; therefore, is to get your act together to make the most of the prestigious 30 days ahead of you. It puts you into active gear to take control of your life once again and make productive, meaningful changes to please Allah SWT. The month flies by fast once it starts which is why a proactive approach is much needed. 
May Allah SWT accept our intentions to fast and help us make the most of this month so we are able to make our way to Paradise through its merits.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Coping With Stress and Depression In The Modern Day World

Published: ICNA Noor Magazine

Membership to the stress-free, all-benefits club is not what a Muslim’s life is like. Allah SWT had informed the Ummah beforehand about this: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits,” (Surah Al-Baqarah, ayah 155). There will be storms and dark clouds and they will test the moral fiber and tawakkal (belief in Allah) with which we handle adversity. Depression, whether emotional or an onset of medically diagnosed major depressive disorder, is a test from Allah SWT. Modern day Muslims are stressed due to social and political pressures and there is a fair chance of spiraling downwards into a state of depression. Hormonal imbalance, metabolic disorders, medicinal side effects, and trauma contribute to clinical depression which requires prescription drugs and professional counseling for treatment. In both circumstances, however, nearness to Allah SWT and a Sunnah compliant lifestyle are miracle coping mechanisms.
Sabr (Patience) and Tawakkal (Trust in Allah)
Allah SWT aids those who are patient. In Surah Al-Baqarah 155-157 He says, “Give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” Sabr and Tawakkal led the early Muslims to victory after they were expelled from their Makkah homeland by the murderous and malicious Kuffar. Prophet Ibrahim AS’s wife Hajar’s trust in Allah SWT won her His Help and angel Jibr’il AS struck his wing and sprouted up the stream of Zam Zam for her thirsty infant . “Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” Surah Al-Baqarah, 153.
Instead of questioning Allah SWT’s will in troubled circumstances and breaking apart, understand that good and bad comes from Him and He knows best the wisdom behind it.
Shukr (Gratitude) - Say Alhamdulillah!
Allah SWT knew that Man would take His Favors for granted and so He says in Surah Ar-Rahman, verse 13: “So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?” And it is this denial, or taking for granted the Bounties of Allah SWT, that leads to feelings of dissatisfaction from life - and hence, depression. Individuals who do not express daily gratitude to Allah SWT, the Supreme Benefactor, lead high stress lives of continuous struggle to achieve the impossible. Feelings of greed sneak in and a person persistently tries to compare his blessings with those of another.
Shaytan’s whisperings of ingratitude blind us and we miss out from seeing our silver lining. “Why is Allah SWT doing this to me?”, “Why can’t He give me more (or better)?” The demands of a dissatisfied person can never really be met because the heart becomes a bottomless pit. And when it cannot be filled it creates a sink - that is the root of depression. Shukr (gratitude) is the best remedy. Count your blessings; write them down if you have to in a gratitude journal, and compare your state of being with that of the less privileged. Think of the war-inflicted or underdeveloped regions where populations are deprived of all joys of life. Saying Alhamdulillah is the first step to self-help.
Clinically depressed individuals suffer a brain fog that limits their abilities of having a perspective. While a psychiatrist can counsel them to think positive, the family and friends can encourage them and help them realize the Favors of Allah SWT. 
 Arm Yourself with Dua’a – The Weapon of the Believer
Allah SWT needs us to turn to Him in need and plead our case. Dua’a is a weapon that disarms despair. The Qur’an and Hadith deliver dua’as for every scenario from the lives of Allah’s prophets through the ages. Prophet Ibrahim AS was saved from the fire and Allah SWT cooled it when he recited “Hasbun Allahu Wa Ni’mal Wakeel” ("Sufficient for us is Allah , and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs."). Surah Ali’ Imran, verse 3. At the time of the Battle of Badr 313 Muslims were outnumbered by an army three times larger. Clad in his armor, Prophet Muhammad SAW called for Allah SWT’s help: “"O Allah! I ask you the fulfillment of Your Covenant and Promise. O Allah! If You wish (to destroy the believers) You will never be worshipped after today." [Sahih Bukhari, 2915]. Allah SWT granted them victory and similarly He will respond to us if we call Him. Istikhara dua’a helps a believer make the best and Islamically correct decision. Fortress Of The Muslim is an ideal dua’as book that every individual must have for all sorts of tough and grieving times.
 Seeking Repentance
As human beings it is natural to err and Shaytan’s whispers are always attacking our nafs. The guilt of minor or major wrongdoings contributes to serious guilt, and consequently depression. You may be unable to forgive yourself but Allah SWT forgives and seeking repentance has healing powers. Half the problem disappears when you rest your case with your Creator. Prophet Yunus AS (Jonah) had been angry and impatient and did not wait for Allah’s Commandment and acted out of rage when he left the land. He was swallowed by a giant fish sent by Allah SWT, and through the darkness of its stomach he pleaded, “La Ilaha Illa Anta Subhanaka Inni Kunto Minaz Zalimeen” (There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.) Al-Ambiya, verse 87. And Allah SWT delivered him safe and sound from the fish’s stomach.
Emotional Management
There is global harassment and bigotry happening due to the negative press on Islam. And there are personal challenges of social acceptance as well that Muslims face. But “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” Surah Al-Baqarah verse 286 . And so a great deal of emotional management is required to shield one’s self-esteem, confidence, and stamina from collapsing. We belong to an Ummah gifted with the promise of intercession by Prophet Muhammad SAW on the Day of Judgment. We should rejoice in this and the last thing that should come from us is a victim mentality which is the perception that everything wrong will happen to me. Toxic relationships such as those that disrespect your values, beliefs, and Halal lifestyle should be avoided to ensure psychological well being. For instance, women lose heart and discontinue Hijab after marriage because their in laws or the husband find it unappealing. And often people succumb to social pressure and compromise their Halal lifestyle. It is best to socialize and establish relationships in religiously inclined social circles to avoid being alienated and depressed.
Make a Sunnah Personal Management Plan
Stress, anxiety, and depression also stems from an unplanned life and lack of accomplishment. The daily To-Do List should be scheduled around prayer times. The balanced intervals can be ideal breaks to prevent being worn out. Following the Sunnah, sleep and wake up times should be early, and short naps should be allowed after lunch. Physical exercise should be included. And finally, to include an anxiety-free decision making remedy, keep the Istikhara dua’a at hand. When you hand your dilemmas to Allah SWT they get sorted in the best possible way and in your favor. Work on your relationship with Quran and Sunnah because they are the complete code of life. The daily Sunnah routine; therefore, should be used as a medical prescription. 
Seek Counseling and Self-Help
A local Imam, a knowledgeable friend or relative, or a psychological counselor are all good options to talk your troubles out and; perhaps, find some solutions. Ideal remedies to our life’s troubles are those that are Islamically correct; therefore, a religiously learned counselor is highly recommended whether you are a medically diagnosed depression patient or not. The ultimate Guide; however, is Allah SWT and the closer you are to Him the less stressed, anxious, or depressed you will be. There are good self help books written by both Muslim and non-Muslim authors that you can benefit from. The works of eminent Muslim scholars, teachers, and authors have revolutionized the genre of self-help and personal management by infusing basic principles with the wisdom of Sunnah. Islam in itself is an ideal self-help theology because its very foundations have been laid on patience, sacrifice, gratitude, and belief in Allah SWT as the One and Only Saviour.
To sum it up, if we take a look at Prophet Muhammad SAW’s life, he was one of the happiest people. In his sad moments he relied on Allah SWT and none other, he spent his days in service to Allah SWT and His Creation, his nights were spent in sleep or prayer, and he was a blessing for all. If we emulate him with full dedication, we would be happy with our lives and seek to make others better too, insha’Allah. Life is Allah SWT’s gift and each moment should be cherished.