Ramadan Log Day 25: The Luxuries

My week off from school was the breath of fresh air I needed during what felt like a month of being pushed and pushed and pushed.

It finally felt like Ramadan. Without the demands of class work, I took the week to get back to projects I had postponed for months.

One of them is actually something I started last Ramadan. During my time of the month last year, I switched from reading Qur’an to going through a dua book my mom lent me for the week. I found so many prayers, for every moment of life you could think of, and decided to write some choice duas on paper decorated with henna-inspired borders and then hang them on my wall. The goal was to fill a whole wall with these dua notes, but I only managed to finish two last year. There are 28 duas in total that I wanted to include. I got eight done last year, and transcribed seven more this week.

It was nice to get something done that served both as a decoration for my room and a way for me to keep prayer more present in my life. I even had a crazy subhanallah moment. I was just getting started on the page dedicated to duas for when it rains and just at that moment, it started thunderstorming for the first time all day.

.سبحان الله

As much as I really wanted to fill the air with music as I worked, I opted for peaceful silence as I carved each Arabic letter into the paper. I’ll admit, while it was nice to have a chill week, I really missed my music and entertainment. For those who are new – in addition to fasting from food, I also take the month to fast from listening to music and watching TV/youtube. I have a couple of exceptions, like Sid and Dina or Trevor Noah, but in general the fast from music-related content is a significant struggle for me. In the past week, the season finale of one of my Korean shows aired and it killed me to see people online talking about it and knowing that I would have to wait a few more weeks to watch it.

.الحمد لله

Alas, my time off is coming to an end with Summer classes picking up this week.  While I am excited to be starting the next stage of my learning, I wish it could have waited just one more week so that I could fully soak up the last five days of Ramadan. I’ve only  gotten to Surah Nisaa’ in the Qur’an (page 77 out of 600), and I probably won’t have time to get much further with class starting.

Sometimes that resentment creeps in towards having to be in school or work and not be able to just stay home and be one with my past Ramadan habits, but then I remember those moms who chase around kids 24/7 or those people who work 12 hours a day just to be able to afford iftar for their families. I had the luxury the past couple years to have basically the entire fasting day to do as I pleased. Most people don’t have that.

I frequently need to remind myself that I am not abandoning remembrance of Allah when I leave the house. I have the ability to bring Him into my work. It’s all just a matter of mindset, and learning to see my work as another way of loving and praising God.

.الله أكبر

Ramadan Log Day 2: Striving to be a Servant

Thank God for Tuesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my easy days. I only work a couple of hours, and I don’t start until the afternoon. That means I had all morning to sleep in until my heart’s content. ❤

I realized today that it was around this time last year that I was applying for this very job. Last Ramadan, I had spent the month searching and applying to various places for an internship for the coming fall. I remember writing to you all how frustrated I was and how worried I was that no one would hire me. Low and behold, nearly a year later I not only got the internship I was so stressed out about getting, but I am now a formal employee at the same place. Alhamdulillah, things really do work out.

I discovered something today. On my way home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I happen to pass right by a masjid. Since reading Qur’an is proving to be difficult on Mondays and Wednesdays, I figured I would try making up for it on Tuesdays and Thursdays by stopping by the masjid on my way home from work and spend time reading Qur’an there. I tried it today, and worked out really well.

To my surprise, I had pretty much the entire prayer area to myself. I prayed Dhuhr, and then had the peace and quiet only solitude can provide to read my Qur’an. It was so beautiful and serene. There really is nothing comparable to sitting in the masjid itself and reading Qur’an. The peace that falls upon you is just indescribable.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that one of my goals was to choose an English book to read, and I think I found one! My mom lent me her copy of The Most Beautiful Names by Sheikh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti. It is a compilation of God’s 99 names, as mentioned in the Qur’an. Along with each name is about a page of meaning and commentary. Mentors of mine have often encouraged reciting and contemplating Allah’s 99 names, but I admittedly have done little to incorporate them into my life. Right now, I would only be able to translate maybe four off the top of my head. I am hoping that this book can give me some understanding and appreciation for the importance of the 99 names.

It looks like I will have to read three to four names a day to finish by the end of the month, so each day I will pick one of those to share on this blog. Today, I want to talk about the first: Allah. It isn’t one of the 99 descriptors of God, but it was what the book opened with and it had a very beautiful description. The writer talks about the perfection of this name, and then goes on to mention the value of the name “Abd-Allah” or “Abdullah.” As a kid, I remember being told that Abdullah was the best possible name a person can have, and I could never understand why. It translates to “Servant of God.” Why would someone want to be called a servant or slave? Wouldn’t that be the lowest place a person could be?

A lecture given by Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans changed that perception for me. He agreed that “servant” and “slave” have very negative connotations in our rhetoric, but that is because it is most commonly referred to a human serving another human. In the case of “Abd-Allah,” the human is serving God. That form of servitude is an honor rather than a burden. To make this point even clearer, he gave us this example: Take an intern. Interns are the ones who classically do the boring work and make coffee runs. Not something most are proud of. Now imagine being an intern in the White House. Those with that job would be proud to brag to others that they intern for the president himself. Now if we think of God, the Creator and most powerful being in existence, working for Him would be the honor to knock out all honors. That is the meaning behind the name Abd-Allah. It is a title that Muslims strive for and should be proud of having.

Ramadan Log DAY 10: An Introvert’s Joy

A third of our month is over and alhamdulillah I am ending today with nothing but smiles on my face. I had a long morning, full of errands and driving, but an exciting and productive evening.

In the evening and into the night, I volunteered at an Interfaith Iftar at my mosque, helping them set up, distribute dinner, and then clean up afterwards.

I was happy at finally being able to spend an iftar in my own mosque. As I have said in the past, I have a love-hate relationship with my mosque, as I’m sure many young adults do, but in the end my mosque is my mosque. Whatever issues I have with how it is run is at times forgotten when I enter the prayer area and am reminded of the countless prayers and janazas and weddings that were observed on that carpet. Nostalgia always gets to me.

After setting up the event room, I spent a good hour sitting in the prayer area and reading my Qur’an. Interestingly, my attention has much more endurance when reading Qur’an in the masjid versus my room where I am surrounded by distractions.

Being able to help as well as spend time in the masjid was nice, but what really made this such a positive experience were the people I met and the interactions I had. I am an introvert; always have been, probably always will be. I am very talkative with people I am comfortable with, but once I am in an unfamiliar situation, I close up, and the thought of any kind of new social interaction really intimidates me. Because of this, I struggle with making new friends, and even more with keeping them.

So, the reason for my happiness is none other than friendly interaction. I was surprised to be reunited with a couple of old friends as well as a group of kids whom I hold very close to my heart tonight. That alone made my night, but what put a perfect cherry on top was at the end of the night.

By a miracle of God, lo and behold, one of the people at this event worked at one of the places I have been considering for my internship. When I first heard about this place from a family member, I was hesitant about applying. However, the woman today described what they do at this place, and it subhanAllah fit almost exactly what I had been looking for as a location to begin this journey to a career. The moment the program was over, I all but ran up to her and introduced myself. Now I have an email address to contact and hopefully a good impression made. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. Praise the Lord.

“Networking” has become one of those buzzwords that literally makes me cringe, so thank God that this opportunity presented itself.

Additionally, there were quite a few people at this event who I have seen around the community, but never formally met. In some miraculous spurt of bravery and friendliness, I approached these people and greeted them, in some cases even making a bit of conversation.

I realize this might not seem that impressive to others. So I talked to a few people, so what? However I just can’t help but feel so happy that I was able to do this. It isn’t so much that I am proud of myself or feel accomplished; I am just relieved and thankful that these opportunities arose and I was finally able to take advantage of them instead of watch yet another opportunity go by. Maybe I’m finally growing up.

*Quote of the Day*

Today I read about Abu Hurayrah. His name I have heard countless times before, because he is one of the most well-known transmitters of Hadith (sayings of Muhammad (S)). An interesting tidbit of knowledge: One of the reasons why he had so much to report about the Messenger (S) was because he had a brilliant memory, which he specifically prayed for once when in the company of the Messenger (S).

My book describes one of the practices of Abu Hurayrah, which I think is really beautiful:

Qiyam Ul-Layl – staying up for the night in prayer and devotion – was a regular practice of his family…He would stay up for a third of the night, his wife for another third and his daughter for a third. In this way, in the house of Abu Hurayrah no hour of the night would pass without ibadah, dhikr, and Salat” (Hamid 84).

Ramadan Log DAY 9: HIS Words

I made it to the masjid today 🙂 I actually was not planning to go to the masjid at all today, but I was spending time at my aunt’s house and she wanted to take me. Alhamdulillah, thanks to her I was able to make a Jummah prayer during Ramadan!

The picture above is just part of the mess it was getting out of the parking lot. Every little space you can imagine in this parking lot was filled with a car. It was literally an obstacle course trying to leave.

After my aunt’s, my sister and I went to a sisters youth iftar. I was again looking forward to breaking my fast with my friends, as well as the lecture that was to take place right before iftar. The lecture was great. The speaker talked about how in all of life’s craziness and unexpectedness, the one thing that will always remain constant is God. No matter what happens, our Creator is the only being and concept that will always be.

This reminded me of an activity we did in one of my classes last semester involving certainty of the future. We were asked to imagine ourselves 10 minutes from that moment in class. I was able to do that pretty easily. We were then asked to imagine ourselves in 5 years, and then in 10 years. 5 years was near impossible for me, and 10 was a little bit easier, but still incredibly difficult. However, there was one aspect of my future self that I was able to picture with quite a bit of certainty. Who knows where my education, career, and family life will take me in the next 5 to 10 years, but the one thing I am near certain will be a part of me if God allows me to live that long is that I will still be Muslim and I will still pray to God, inshaAllah. He will always be my constant, and in facing impending graduation and the beginning of real adulthood, that thought is extremely comforting.

She also mentioned the importance of the Qur’an in Ramadan, which is also called the “Month of the Qur’an.” She put the life of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (S) into a whole new perspective for me today. When Prophet Muhammad (S) received revelation, his companions were so incredibly eager to hear each new piece of knowledge. When the Messenger (S) passed away, she mentioned one Sahaba who was crying in grief, not just for losing the beloved Messenger (S), but because the period of receiving words from God was over.

Just imagine it. In a world where existential crises are on everyone’s mind, where the big question in life is “Why are we here?” Here was a man who was literally talking to the Creator of the entire universe and receiving messages from him. The Creator. The companions would ask Muhammad (S) questions about life, and on certain occasions, God Himself would answer those questions through the Messenger (S). Imagine living with that around you. Imagine how amazing and life-changing that would be if it happened today.

When looking at the Qur’an from that perspective, I feel like people, myself most definitely included, take what the Qur’an is for granted. We always raise our hands to the sky asking “Why? What’s the point?! What am I supposed to do?” when God’s own answer is literally in the palm of our hand in the form of a book. As Muslims, we believe that the Qur’an is the literal word of God, conveyed to us through Muhammad ibn Abdallah (S). I think that is really profound.

*Quote of the Day*

My quote for today comes not from my Companions book. I had such a long day, so I didn’t have time to read my chapter. Instead I want to share something interesting, and chillingly true, that the speaker said today. In a discussion about not shying away from the concept of death:

“When we think about death, we feel alive, but when we forget death, we becomes lifeless.”

Ramadan Log DAY 5: Longing for the Qur’an

I don’t think I have ever experienced this in my life before, and it is a strange, new feeling.

During Ramadan, in an attempt to not listen to music, I have been having Qur’an playing as I drive or write my blog posts. I’m still in that mode where I need something to listen to when I do things. I miss my music like crazy, but the whole point in giving it up is so that I can try to replace the time I listen to music with time devoted to worship, in this case listening to the words of God.

This month however, as I listen to my Qur’an CDs, I get this feeling in my heart, and the only way I can describe it is a longing to hold a Qur’an in front of me and recite the words with my own tongue. These past three years studying Arabic has made me completely fall in love with the language, and as I have said before on a Ramadan Log from a few years ago, I love the sound and feeling of speaking Qur’anic Arabic with my own voice. I usually don’t like how my voice sounds – I think most of us have this trait in common – but somehow, reciting Qur’an makes my voice sounds so much prettier.

I have always had an appreciation for poetry, and the Qur’an is the epitome of poetic. Saying the words in that rhythm and flow and rhyme is…. “fun” doesn’t seem appropriate, but I’m not sure what other word to use. I enjoy reading the Qur’an.

And I am so thankful that I have gotten to this point, because He knows that I wasn’t always like this. I pray that this bond I have with the words of God is not temporary and continues to grow stronger.

*Quote of the Day*

Today’s reading was about ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn ‘Awf. I recognize his name from my Muhammad book last year. He grew to be one of the wealthiest Sahaba, but was also known for his generosity. My quote for today isn’t specifically related to him, but I like it because it shows how good of a leader the Messenger (S) was.

“Soon after arriving in Madinah, the Prophet in his unique manner began pairing off the Muhajirin and the Ansar.* This established a firm bond of brotherhood and was meant to strengthen social cohesion and ease the destitution of the Muhajirin” (Hamid 50).

(*Muhajirin are the people who emigrated from Mecca to Medina. Ansar are the natives of Medina who took in the Meccans. It literally means “The helpers.”)

No wonder the Muslim population grew so strong in Medina. Right from the beginning, the Messenger (S) made sure that those from Medina and those coming to Medina established that bond of brotherhood and sisterhood. Back then, Islam was all about establishing a faith-based community with bonds stronger than any familial or national bond. This was a great way to establish that community. MashaAllah.

Ramadan Log DAY 3: The Goals

I think I did this last year too; I kept talking about my goals without actually laying out what those goals are. This post is more to give context to the rest of my posts than anything else.

The reading goals:

1. Complete reading the entire Arabic Qur’an by the end of the month. I am still a little bit unsure about this one, but as I said a couple of days ago, I did it last year so why not do it again this year? It is the month of the Qur’an after all.

2. Complete the entire Companions of the Prophet book. I’m not too worried about this. 30 days. 30 chapters, and each chapter is only about 15 pages and reads pretty quickly. So far I am really happy with this one. It’s pretty interesting and I am learning a lot.

3. This one is new. Re-memorize the 30th juz of the Qur’an. Back when I was 11, I had the entire 30th chapter of the Qur’an memorized. Since then, unfortunately I forgot a lot of it. Right now I probably only have a little less than half of that retained. Following Eid last year, every night I would read half of the 30th juz; the first half one night, the second half the next. That lasted probably only for a couple of months. Since then I have been reading the second half pretty regularly(thought not every day like I had intended) and have re-memorized a couple more surahs.

This month I really want to try to get the rest of it back. Reading the entire juz a day in addition to all of my other reading goals is a bit much, so I’ve decided that every night, I will read half of the 30th juz, alternating each night between first half and second half. I am hoping that the repetition will help bring the words back to me. Hey, if I can memorize entire Korean songs by listening and singing them over and over again, I can definitely do it with Arabic surahs inshaAllah.

The “fasting” goals: In addition to the food and drink, abstain from listening to music of any kind and watching TV, movies, and online videos. Of course if the song or videos is Islamic or instructional, that’s an exception. I have been doing this for the past two years, and it is a struggle every year, but I am committed to these goals. These are things that, as one speaker very appropriately put it, “can be outwardly permissible but are distractions from our inward journey.” I love music, but I need to put it all on hold to try to really take advantage of my time this month that I can dedicate to worship and good deeds.

I need to get back to my deen, my religion, and become less attached to this world. I had a little scary moment yesterday thinking about how quick and unpredictable this life could be and realized that I am way too attached to this world. InshaAllah, with the help of God and without my distractions, I can re-center myself.

*Quote of the Day*

Today I read about someone I had never heard of before, and that is Suhayb Ar-Rumi. He was born in an Arab family, but was raised as a slave in the Byzantine Empire. Eventually, he escaped and moved to Mecca and became one of the first Muslims. Even though his chapter was short, I am glad his story was included in this book. Even if his ethnicity was Arab, he was raised by the Byzantines. He adds diversity to the stories.

My quote today isn’t exactly as profound as other quotes I’ve shared, but I found a personal connection to this one. During the Hijrah, when all of the Muslims fled the persecution in Mecca and sought refuge in Medina, Suhayb found motivation to keep pushing forward through the Prophet (S).

“On his way to Madinah, whenever he felt tired, the thought of meeting the Prophet sustained him and he proceeded with increased determination” (Hamid 36).

I read that and was immediately filled with a longing to have lived in the time of the Prophet (S). Of course, life was incredibly difficult back then, but just imagine going on a journey with Prophet Muhammad (S) himself waiting for you at the end.

I realized after reading this that in a way, we can all think of our journeys like that. If we push through this life and persevere while maintaining La ilaha illallah Muhammad ar-rasulallah and live by the Qur’an, inshaAllah we can be united with the Prophet (S) in Jannah. May God allow us to meet Rasulallah (S) in Jannah. Ameen.

Blogging from A to Z Day 12: Learning Arabic

L is for Learning Arabic

LQuite appropriately, I am typing this just up having just finished an Arabic quiz that I was not at all prepared for. I think I did alright though. Since it’s the end of the semester, most of it was review anyway.

I am just about finished with my Arabic Language and Culture minor at my university, and I am loving it! My journey to learning Arabic has been quite long, but I am very happy with the place that I am at right now.

Before I even started kindergarten I knew a little bit of Arabic. As a toddler I had a Qur’an teacher come to my house and help me memorize the ending chapters of the Qur’an, in Arabic. Then in elementary school, Arabic was one of our daily subjects from kindergarten to fifth grade. Following that, I went to Sunday school for three years and learned Arabic there too – well, at least they tried teaching it to me though I wasn’t very receptive.

I learned how to read Arabic at about the same time and pace that I learned how to read English. Reading Arabic phonetically and pronouncing all of the sounds is second nature to me. However it is these past two years at my university that I made an active effort in learning how to speak and understand the language of the Qur’an.

People ask me all the time why I started learning Arabic, and every time I think I give a different answer. Even now I can’t produce one specific reason. I love languages in general. I got English down, I am pretty functional in Spanish, and for the past four years I have been tackling both Arabic and Korean. When I was first looking into colleges, I had even toyed with the idea of majoring in linguistics. I plan on continuing picking up as many languages as I can for my entire life, inshaAllah.

I guess in my natural love of languages, the religious utility of learning Arabic made that language a priority for me. I mentioned this in one of my Ramadan posts before, that I really want to be able to read the Qur’an and understand it without using a translator. I realize that that takes a lifetime of studying, but even with the phrases I pick up here and there, I feel so close to the Qur’an.

Since beginning my serious effort in learning the language, I have had the immense joy of reading Arabic passages in the Qur’an and actually being able to understand some of it. Probably the most amazing moment for me was a few months ago when I was reading Surah 106, Al-Quraysh. I recognized a few words here and there, and then when I got to the end, I realized that I understood almost the entire thing.

I am a little nervous about finishing my university’s Arabic program, because I am still not at the level of proficiency I would like to be. I know for sure my journey with the Arabic language isn’t even close to finished, inshaAllah.