Monday, 9 November 2009

A Journey of the Hearts...A Journey of a Lifetime...

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful...

In my last post, I mentioned that there were a few things on my mind. One of the things that has been on my mind since Ramadan is Hajj. Alhumdulillah, Allah(swt) has blessed me with the opportunity to go for Hajj this year.

Since the month of Ramadan ended, Hajj is all I have been thinking about. I have been confused about the ins and outs, the flight details, acquiring a Hajj visa, and just the Hajj rites in itself.

First and foremost, Hajj is one of the 5 pillars of Islam as is mentioned in the following hadith:

The Prophet ﷺ said,

"Islam has been built upon five [pillars]:

1. Testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah;

2. Performing the prayers;

3. Paying the zakat;

4. Making the pilgrimage to the House [i.e. the Ka'ba]

5. And fasting in Ramadan"

(Bukhari and Muslim)

With Hajj being one of the five pillars of Islam, it is incredibly important that it is fulfilled within a person's lifetime if they have the financial and physical capability. As a youngster, I always believed that my first Umrah at the age of 10 years constituted as me having had completed that one pillar of Islam...the childish dreams I used to have!

As life progressed, I was disappointed when I grew to realise that I had not, in fact, fulfilled pilgrimage to the House of Allah, but funnily enough, I didn't feel the need to dwell on it as I always thought that I would perform Hajj after I got married, when I hit 40-50 years. But after attending a Hajj seminar a few weeks ago that I feel has thoroughly prepared me for the basics of Hajj, I feel tired just thinking about it all!!

With new Saudi legislations coming out nearly every year, it is now compulsory that one must travel with a Hajj group. You cannot even obtain a Hajj visa unless you go with a group. It is only when you have booked and paid for your Hajj that you realise the complexities of organising it all in the first place. Before I proceed, I must tell you that choosing your Hajj group is one of the biggest decisions that you can ever make. In fact, it could possibly be the difference between an accepted Hajj or a Hajj that is not accepted!
Whilst many Muslims look at whether they are staying in the Intercontinental or the Hilton, whether they will be flying with British Airways or Turkish Airlines or whether they will be staying in the VIP tents close to Jamaraat, one of the MOST important things to look at is the credentials of the religious scholar going with the group, for they will be giving the religious guidance on the intricacies of Umrah and Hajj. Their job is incredibly important, because if a certain aspect of Hajj is not fulfilled, then it can result in the pilgrim having committed a sin, as well as having to fork out money to pay to sacrifice a goat. For example, some Hajj groups tell their pilgrims that it is not necessary for them to spend the night in Muzdalifah, that only passing through it will suffice. However, it is compulsory to spend the night in Muzdalifah and those that don't will accrue sin and will have to pay a sacrifice. The biggest sin is on the religious guide for leading people incorrectly. Sadly, not enough importance is given to such a fundamental aspect of choosing a Hajj company and few people realise that their thousands of precious pounds (or dollars) have just been flushed down the toilet.

The organisation behind Operation Hajj is so complex that it must be a real headache for the organisers of Hajj companies. Booking hotels, flights, being flexible with new Saudi rules, booking the provision of food, tents in Mina and Arafat; it requires hundreds of people to work incredibly hard to ensure things work like clockwork. The reality is incredibly different from clockwork.
With an average of 2-3 million people from all over the world in one place, all performing the same rites and trying to get from A to B within a specific amount of time, one can imagine that things are destined to go wrong! It's a year round project for the Saudi government, as it is for the Hajj companies around the world. Credit should be given to those who can get their pilgrims on the plane back to their destinations on time!

With so much going on, it is imperative that everyone keeps their patience, because nothing ever runs to time and neither is it as one might expect. One of the most disappointing things that happens during Hajj is when people lose their patience with each other, either during the days of Hajj or immediately after. Keeping your cool is the biggest test during Hajj, literally and not-so-literally. The weather can cause tempers to get a little heated (pun intended!) and that is when it is really important that everyone stays calm and collected.

During the seminar with my Hajj group, we were told that the biggest lesson we will learn is that
Hajj = Patience. Why? Because you are out of your comfort zone sharing a room or tent with 20-30 other people all of whom have different toilet hygiene (I shudder at strands of hair in the sink!), not to mention the difference between Western and Eastern toilets (of the squatting variety) and then having to sleep on the floor and walking a lot. And the most testing aspect of Hajj? Waiting. For hours and hours. From the moment a person touches down in Saudi Arabia, they must be mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to wait wherever they go for whatever it is they want. Whether it is just to use the bathroom or they want to buy an ice cream from Bin Dawood, they will be tested.

One of the signs of an accepted Hajj or a Hajj Mabroor is that the Muslim comes back a better person, a better Muslim. For myself, I feel that being more patient with myself, with those around me, with decision-making and with the occurrence of adverse events, I need to be more patient and say "Alhumdulillah" for those that do will be rewarded as promised by Allah(swt):

"Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full, without reckoning." [Surah Az-Zumar; v.10]

Insha'Allah, I hope to be of those mentioned above.

So as the days of Hajj approach and I begin my packing after weeks of preparation, I would like to say a few things...

If I have ever offended anyone, be it knowingly or unknowingly, then please forgive me. I would like you to keep me in your du'as and pray that we come back safe and sound as better people and better Muslims, insha'Allah.

I will be making du'a for you all on the Day of Arafat. Insha'Allah, upon my return, the next post will be on my lessons learnt during Hajj.

May Allah(swt) keep us guided on Islam, give us good health, safety, security, protection from the Hellfire and a place in Jannatul-Firdaus...Ameen.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Post-Ramadan Blues - Part 2

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful...

Before I begin, I must apologise for the large gap between this post and my last post. I could make the excuse of being incredibly busy, but I don't believe in making lame excuses, and this is one of them. I guess I was just a little bit lazy about it. Perhaps I was also biding my time before I wrote this post. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I had writer's block!

With the month of Shawwaal now over, most people, myself included, may have lost sight of all they had done and all they had worked for during the month of Ramadan. The first couple of weeks after Ramadan leaves a Muslim on a high and eager to continue fulfilling the duties they had formed a habit of doing during the past month. However, when 'normality' kicks in and time goes on, it's very easy to lose sight of the goals that you had been working towards during Ramadan. This is due to many factors, the main one being that the Shayateen have been let loose, hence the struggle being more difficult and this is where our test lies.

I, myself, have had trouble keeping up with Qur'an, dhikr and many other habits I had formed and it has left me feeling quite down. But then I came across a book in my favourite Islamic bookshop in London called Ameena's Ramadan Diary, published by Ta-Ha Publishers. The book in itself is so useful and handy that I felt the need to mention it here. It was just ironic that I bought this book AFTER Ramadan instead of before, but despite all that, I still felt that I could gain a lot from it as there are many things in the book that I felt didn't apply to just Ramadan, but also to your average day. There are hints and tips on the etiquette for reading Qur'an, measures to help observe tahajjud prayers, what to do on Jumuah (Friday) and even something as basic as staying away from sin. From reading this book, I felt the inspiration that I CAN keep up with my good habits and that it's not all that difficult.

If you are feeling the same way, then how do you bring back that 'Ramadan feeling'? For myself, I felt that the best thing to do is make a list of all I wanted to do in a week to please Allah(swt), and try to fulfil 5 of those things. I found that to be very helpful. Get your friends and family involved and work towards keeping up with your good deeds. Aim to perform one act of charity a day. It doesn't even have to be in monetary form, but even giving up your seat on the train or bus to someone who needs is an act of charity. For those who take the tube in London at rush hour, only you know how grateful you would be to a person who offered you a seat. I know I would! It's also good form of da'wah. Another way to perform a good act would be to read the tafseer of an ayah from the Qur'an everyday. Or even better, text your friends an Islamic reminder, such as a hadith or an ayah from the Qur'an, ideally with the tafseer. How's that for sadaqah-e-jariyah?

When I was at university, I used to commute one hour each way on the London Underground with nothing to do but read the Metro newspaper, which was generally full of news, but not always the best way to spend my time. One of the things I used to do was carry a book of knowledge, such as a book on performing salaah. A book from which I could gain some knowledge. I used to spend a good hour reading it and it was an hour well spent. If I didn't feel like reading, then I used to download Islamic lectures from the Internet onto my phone and listen to those whilst travelling from stop to stop on the Northern Line. I gained so much on that journey listening to Yasir Qadhi about the benefits of imaan that I felt my own imaan increase tenfold and it encouraged me to soldier on and continue fighting that impertinent nafs of mine.

Although Ramadan is now over, there is so much we can do everyday to continue increasing our good deeds and working towards the next Ramadan. In fact, it is probably a good idea to start preparing for next Ramadan now. By that, I don't mean start making your samosas and spring rolls! But begin the road to improvement so that when next Ramadan comes around, you are well prepared to take on the month of mercy and grasp it with both hands.

Before Ramadan, I attended a one-day seminar on making the most of the month and I picked up many post-Ramadan tips that I would like to share with you:

1. Repentance - making tawbah for your sins everyday

2. Make du'a that you will live to see the next Ramadan - it is amazing that we tend to forget something so simple. But, in fact, the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ used to make du'a for six months (yes, SIX months!!) that they would live to see the next Ramadan, and then they used to make du'a for five months after Ramadan that Allah(swt) accepts their good deeds done during the month.

3. Set yourself a timetable with a resolution for the end of the week and try to fulfil that timetable.

4. Get a friend involved to help you.

5. Purify your intentions. Why are you doing this? Who are you doing it for? By all means, do it for yourself to attain Jannah, but doing it purely for the sake of Allah(swt) is even better, because it is selfless. Before you perform any act, purifying your intention should be the first thing you do.

I feel that some of these tips would apply during Ramadan, but I believe that improvement at any time of the year is a big step towards being closer to Allah(swt).

I would like to add one other thing...

This post is not my strongest post and I hope you can forgive me for this as I have several things on my mind. I will elaborate further on this in my next post, insha'Allah.

In the meantime, may Allah forgive me for my shortcomings and if I have offended anyone.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Post-Ramadan Blues - Part 1

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful...

(Disclaimer: I'm not an Islamic scholar, neither am I a personal trainer or a medical professional or a dietitian. Anything written below is something I have tried and tested out of my own experiences.)

It is now 10 days since Eid-ul-Fitr and a feeling is creeping up on me...the feeling that is known as post-Ramadan blues. For many of us, it's a combination of loss of spirituality as well as the revelation that one has put on 5lbs or more in weight, most of that weight, unfortunately, being fat.

It is very easy to deal with the latter problem, as a strict regime of balanced and healthy foods, combined with exercise will get one back in shape. Perhaps following the advice of Prophet ﷺ on the matter of eating or, should we say, overeating would be a good idea:

"There is no worse vessel for the son of Adam to fill than his stomach, but if he must fill it, then let him allow one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air."
(Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2380), classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.)

This is probably the best advice I've ever heard, mainly because, sometimes when we eat, we just keep eating till we can't eat anymore rather than stop when we feel like we've had just enough food. If only some of us could follow that advice instead of gorging on chocolate and ice cream (or chocolate ice cream) the moment we feel slightly peckish. I, for one, have a sweet tooth and am always looking for something sweet to fulfil my cravings. My recent addiction has been Chewits in the strawberry variety, a childhood favourite chewy sweet of mine, which is not only bad for my waistline but, horror of horrors for the dentists in my family, bad for my teeth!

During Ramadan, however, I find that people like to make up for the lost hours of eating during iftar, where they will have everything ranging from double chocolate chip muffins to sweet and savoury pastry and even biryani! And when they devour even more food on Eid and step on the weighing scales on the 2nd of Shawwaal, they wonder how and why, when they were fasting and not eating during the daytime, they managed to gain so much weight. Lack of control, perhaps?

So how should we try to shed this weight? First things first, I would suggest following the abovementioned hadith. Control your eating now. Keep a food diary if you can't control yourself and keep your food portions small. If possible, try to eat in a smaller plate so that you'll subconsciously feel like you've eaten a full plate. Another trick is to drink water before a main meal. It'll fill you up. And since we're on the topic of water, I believe that it's not just the quantity of water that is important. Yes, by all means, drink 6-8 glasses of water, but the best times to drink it are when you feel like you MUST have that biscuit or that chocolate. The human body is, subhanAllah, quite amazing. Your brain gets confused between the hunger and thirst signs your body is giving and therefore, it is better to quench your thirst before you reach for the goodies cupboard.

It's not just about food though. Exercise is something which I feel is so important and incredibly neglected by the Muslims that I know. It just seems that, particularly for women, when children are born health and wellbeing just takes a backseat, exercise being a part of all that. It is really important to fit exercise into your day, no matter how you do it, for it will make you feel invigorated and energised. Even just 15 minutes a day will keep a centimetre of fat off the hips.

And for those who say exercise is not possible due to the fast pace of life we lead or the vast religious duties incumbent upon us, didn't the Prophet ﷺ fit exercise into his day? Sure, it wasn't in the form of tennis and football, but if you read through the Seerah of the Prophet ﷺ, you will find many examples in his daily life in which he engaged in some sort of physical activity to keep himself fit.

One of the examples most commonly used in marriage talks and lectures is that of Aa'ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) racing with the Prophet ﷺ:

Aa'ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) reported that when she went on a journey with the Prophet ﷺ, she challenged him to a race and won. Later, when she had gained weight, she raced him again, but this time he won, and he told her, "This is for that". (narrated by Ahmed and Abu Dawud)

The above example shows that exercise was, in fact, a part of the Prophet's ﷺ lifestyle. Exercising with your spouse is also a fun way to keep fit. I occasionally play badminton with my husband while I'm in full hijaab, but only in the garden. It's a casual way for us to have a bit of friendly competition and get some fresh air and fun out of an activity that can seem incredibly mundane, and lose some weight, if possible.

It's not necessary to play with your husband or wife; one can also get siblings and parents involved and turn it into a bi-weekly family team-building activity. Not only will it get your father off the couch, your mum out of the kitchen (or off the phone) and your brother off his laptop, but you will feel so much better having had that little bit of exercise.
Even a frisbee in the house is good fun, but I would not recommend doing that while your mum's fine and expensive ornaments are in the living room!

Weight gain will always be an issue, no matter where you are in the world, but weight loss is an amazing feat, even if it's half a pound, because it means that you have done something right.

So while I might feel down and depressed at having put on some weight after Ramadan, perhaps I should take my own advice and move around a little. But the real reason for me feeling a little blue is not due to weight gain...the real reason will be discussed in part 2 of this topic!

Allah knows best and may He forgive me for any mistakes made and if I have offended anyone in this post.


Sunday, 27 September 2009

In the Name of Allah do we begin...

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful...

Having read several blogs and mulled over creating one over a couple of years, I felt it was time for me to start projecting my mundane and not-so-mundane thoughts on all sorts of topics, mainly related to my way of life. That is, Islam.

Most people who know me would not believe that I think so deeply that I feel the need to tell the world my thoughts, primarily due to the fact that I have not done this before. Or maybe I have, though not so much in an obvious way.

In the past couple of years, since my increased understanding towards my religion, one that I already practiced, I felt that there were many issues within the Muslim community that needed to be addressed. They are not your average, typical, fundamental issues that are found in the newspapers, but ones that need further investigation before these issues can be acknowledged. And so began my thought process prior to projection.

However, as with many deep thinkers and people in general, life got in the way and so, in the midst of completing my final year at university, working and getting married, I held off for a year or two before contributing to the world of blogging, so that things could settle down a little.

One may ask why now? The reason is probably due to laziness, until I began reading SISTERS magazine and a blog called Muslim Matters and felt the desire to write. It seems, however, that I have always wanted to write and that the abovementioned elements, combined with my husband's new blog as well as my father's musings on several online Arab newspapers, inspired me to create this blog.

So where to begin? A good place to begin may be Islam and my choice of title for this blog.

In case you haven't noticed, the title is 'There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah'. What does that mean, you might ask? For Muslims, the essence of Islam lies within that statement itself, which comes from the Arabic 'La ilaha il Allah', a statement which is so profound and yet so easily ignored, and occasionally belittled.

What it means is that there is no-one, no-one at all, no person, no being, no object be it animate or inanimate, that is worthy of any kind of worship or even receiving any sort of veneration, except God. To Muslims, God is known as Allah.
No partners can be ascribed and none of the abovementioned can receive the same level of devotion or names that are attributed to Allah. In short, it is not enough to just believe, it is imperative for Muslims to practice their faith beginning with that statement.

Surah al-Ikhlaas (Chapter 112) from the Qur'an would explain this statement well:

Say: He is Allah the One and Only; (1) Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; (2) He begetteth, not nor is He begotten; (3) And there is none like unto Him. (4)

And the command to worship is in several places:

O mankind! Worship your Lord (Allâh), Who created you and those who were before you so that you may become Al-Muttaqûn (the pious)
(Al-Baqarah: 21)

And I (Allâh) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone).
(Adh-Dhariyat: 56)

And so, I believe that it is important to strengthen the understanding of 'La ilaha il Allah' before proceeding to understand anything else for it is the fundamental aspect of a Muslim's way of life, and therefore my reason for choosing it as a title, as it represents everything I believe and practice.

As the day turns into night, I hope that I have not offended anyone with my first post or even bored them! And insha'Allah (God-willing), Allah will forgive me for my mistakes and shortcomings.