Monday, July 26, 2010

"Perfect Balance" and Perfect Headlines

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu and Greetings of Peace:

When was the last time you passed by a newspaper kiosk and saw Islam portrayed in the headlines like this?!

Our local newspaper, The Daily Item, did this piece on our masjid.  That's me, praying behind our masjid president, Sobhi Ammar.

I feel truly blessed to live in a small rural community where the neighbors and the community are so lovely and so tolerant.  Especially after six young Christian missionaries from our area were hurt in the recent Uganda bombings.  I wrote about that here.

Today is a good day, Subhan'Allah!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aging, Friends ... And Other Thoughts

                                                                    (Daddy and me)

It seems like only yesterday that I was a little girl, playing, laughing, spending a lot of time with my Daddy ... that was before the divorce, before the sexual abuse began ...

Now it seems like the years have flown by, and all of a sudden, I have become an old woman.


But one of two things can happen, I think, once we age.  One is that some of us say anything we want, with little reserve and tact, and few people hold us accountable to the extent they did when we were younger.  After all, some people think that we older folks lose a few marbles when we get "up there," so they cut us a break.  The other thing that can happen is that we get older and wiser, and we learn how to keep our mouths shut. 

A few weeks back in our spiritual care class, we were discussing free speech.  Someone asked whether or not it is always necessary to respond to ignorant people.  Does every moment have to be a teachable one?  Are some people even willing to learn, to become a student?  Is there ever a time to just let stupidity fly?

I think so, and I am working hard at it.  It's something I should have probably done a loooong time ago in my life.  But, better late than ever (see? you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!).  I like to think it is part of improving my Islaamic character.

You see, I can have a very sharp tongue, Astagfirullah.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I am also very direct, which bothers a lot of people.  I think it comes from years of working in prisons where, at times, you have to let everyone know what time it is up front. 

I try REAL hard to be nice to people, but it seems that some people, even outside of the prison enivronment, mistake this for a weakness.  And some Muslims don't have good adab to start with, so they try me.  And then when they get what they asked for, they are offended. 

I'm trying very hard to improve in this area, keeping in mind the advice of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the one with the best character:

Ibn 'Abbas reported that the prophet of Allah, upon him be peace said, "...If you become angry, remain silent." (Bukhari)

I was thinking a lot about this, mostly because of visiting Facebook, and some other blogs/sites of Muslims.  Some of the nonsense I read is just mind-blowing.  I used to be real quick in clicking "leave a comment," but I've stopped doing this, Alhamdulillah.  If I can't say something nice, I don't say anything at all (like my mother taught me). 

Here's an example:  some Muslims on Facebook were ranting about the 5,000-friend limit policy of Facebook.  5,000 friends?  Subhan'Allah!  I know I've never had close to 5,000 friends over my entire lifetime. 

And are people really our friends?  Or merely aquaintances?  I have learned this the hard way, even as a Muslim.

I have made close friends with Muslim sisters only to have it not work out well.  So, now, I take the advice in this hadith:

... 'Ubyd al Kindi said, "I heard 'Ali say to Ibn al Kawwa, 'Do you know what the first one said?  He said, 'Be a little reserved in your love for your friend, for some day he may become your enemy.  And be a little reserved in your hatred for your enemy, for some day he may become your friend.'"  (Bukhari, Taabarai, Tirmidhi)



... Aslam reported that 'Umar ibn al Khattab said, "Do not let your love become dependency, nor allow your anger to become desctructive."  Aslam said,, "And how is that?"  'Umar replied, "When you love so much that you become as attached as a child is to its mother.  And when you hate so much that you wish destruction for the one you hate."  (Bukhari)

I'm not saying that some of us have that kind of love or hate for our cyber-friends, I'm just saying that it perhaps would be wise to be reserved both online and in real life.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Getting rid of Spot

I saw this picture on the web and also watched a piece on CNN about all of the pets that have been turned in to the shelters in the Gulf as collateral damage of the BP oil spill.

They said that people down there have been forced with the "hard" decision to get rid of their pets because they cannot afford to feed them due to job loss, etc.

Now people: maybe it's just me, but I don't get this.  I really don't.  As an animal lover and owner of four cats myself, I just don't get it.

Taking a pet into your home implies a heavy responsibility.  It involves committing to keeping and caring for that animal for life - no matter what.

After all, I don't think there's a mad rush in the Gulf to turn children into the authorities because people can't feed them.

You may say that it's not the same thing, and you may not agree with me.  That's okay.  But, for me, it is.  You just don't "get rid of" family members.  And pets are part of the household, and family.

Americans value the family pet.  I've been told it's not such a big deal in some other places, but here it is.

I saw one dog that was the family pet for nine years.  Nine years!  How could that family do that?

I could NEVER get rid of one of my cats!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thoughts About the Uganda Bombings and a Sense of Community

(AP Photo)
With the exceptions of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state of Pennsylvania is mostly peppered with small rural communities.  And the majority of people here are Christians.

Many of them have never met a Muslim in real life unless they are members of the US Military and have been stationed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

So when terrorism, from which most of us here in Pennsylvania like to feel we are directly immune, hits our small communities, people feel shocked, angry, and fearful.  Like most people everywhere touched by terrorism, right?  After all, isn't that one of the objectives of terror?

The first time terrorism hit us in a big way was on 9/11, when one of the three hijacked planes, United Airlines Flight 93, dropped out of the sky into a farmer's field in Shanksville, PA.  With all of the news coverage of New York City and Washington, DC, Shanksville, and the people of Pennsylvania were mostly forgotten.  And when that particular flight did receive attention, it was mostly about Todd Beamer and his famous last words, "Let's roll!"

While on a business trip to the area, I visited the Shanksville site.  At that time, there was a temporary memorial set up.  You have to drive up small roads and twisting turns to get to the site.  The last leg of the journey involves driving uphill on a small makeshift road, and then at last, a HUGE field under a HUGE sky appears before you.  I have never seen such a big sky!  It is eerily quiet up there except for the sounds of mobiles and other mementos clinking and tinking against the memorial.  One is only left to look at the scene and use the imagination as to the horror of that day.  I wrote about it and took some pictures which are here

A few days ago, terrorism in a faraway land hit us personally in Pennsylvania again.  This time, less than a few miles away from my house.  Six members of a local Christian missionary team were injured in the Uganda bombings.  You can read about it here.

I went to the prayer service at the United Methodist Church of Christ last night.  I was the only Muslim there that I was aware of (no one there looked like me, lol).  I thought it was important for them to see Muslims there.  For them to know that we, as their neighbors and members of the community, are there with them and for them.  To let them know that we, too, are shocked and angry.

As a Jew, I remember stories told of the numerous people, Christians and Muslims, who helped us during the Holocaust.  Christians and Muslims who hid Jews in their homes.  Christians and Muslims who helped us at the cost and threat of their own lives and the welfare of their own families.  As people of faith, they knew it was the right thing to do.

And participating in Interfaith activities is the right thing to do in my opinion.

I was supposed to go to the service with our local rabbi, but at the last moment she had an emergency at her synagogue.  I met Rev. Kind from the United Methodist Church of Christ and extended the thoughts and prayers of both the Jewish and Muslim communities.

In her prayer service, Rev. Kind told the people that despite all of the feelings of fear, sorrow, and anger, she also knows there are feelings of hope, and she encouraged the people to turn their hearts with love toward God.  She reminded the people to never diminish the power of prayer, and asked them to let go of bitterness and hatred, and replace it instead with forgiveness.  In the midst of hope and possibility, she celebrated the fact that "the love of God is so great that nothing can overcome it."

Please keep all victims of terrorism in the world in your dua.  And do not be afraid to be "present" in the face of fear and confusion.  The terrorists are counting on the fact that Muslims everywhere will isolate.

After all, what they did is not jihad ... it is murder.   

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Do We Get Our Kids to Love Their Lord and the Masjid?

(Muslim school children in the masjid performing "Allaah Nay Banaya Hum Sub Ko" (Allaah Made Us All) - What Happens to our Precious Children When They Become Teenagers?)

As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu and Greetings of Peace:

I am co-teaching a a course at the Geisinger Medical Center, Division of Spiritual Care, called "Islam: Religion, History and Culture."  The course runs four Tuesday evenings during the month of July.  We are using Seyyed Hossein Nasr's book, "Islam: Religion, History and Civilization" as a required text.

There are no Muslims or Jews in the class, but there is a wonderful group of Christians who have a sincere desire to understand Islam and Muslims, Alhamdulillah.  My colleague is a Buddhist, and there is one other Buddhist woman in the class.

At the very beginning of the class, we were talking about the general dis-interest of our youth and even some adults, in coming to the masjids, churches, and synagogues.  We were putting our heads together and trying to come up with why this is so.

My colleague suggested that perhaps one reason may be that people have the perception of "what's in it for me," or put another way, some people lack a personal relationship with "God" separate from the rituals involved with religions and houses of worship.

I notice this trend with the Muslim youth in my area.  Not necessarily the young children, but the pre-teens and teenagers.

At my masjid, we have a general musala upstairs, and of course, a women's section downstairs.  On the ground floor, you can find the general entry way where people come in, hang up their coats, put their shoes on the shoe rack (wishful thinking, lol), and there are also some long benches in that area.  Usually, the benches are used by people waiting for rides, waiting to collect the entire family to go home, or by people putting on or taking of their shoes.

A curious phenomenon happens though once the Family Nights or Eid parties get going in full swing.

The teenagers can be seen on the ground floor standing around or sitting on the benches, chatting to each other, usually both boys and girls together.

If their parents do ask them to sit with them, they are usually bored out of their minds, and many of them can be seen with their eyes glued to their Blackberrys and iPhones.

It seems that they really don't want to be at the masjid.

I see similar things with our Islaamic weekend school.  The little children LOVE coming and participating.  As a matter of fact, they cry when the school season is done.  In our masjid, there is no summer Islaamic school because most of the families are traveling.

The teenagers on the other hand, do not like to come to the Islaamic school.  Their parents make them come.  The majority of the teenage students are actually children of our teachers.  Given a choice, the teenagers wouldn't come at all.  This is especially reflected in the fact that they do not come to class prepared.  They have been studying the same surahs for the few years I have been there, and the teacher tells me they were studying the same ones before I got there.  In reality, when most of them are 14 or 15 or so, they stop coming at all.  After all, their parents claim, they are "busy" with school and other activities, and "we really can't force them, now can we?" they say.

Who's the parent and who's the child?  When I was a kid, I did what my parents said.  If my mom said, "get in the car," we got in the car, lol. 

The big question is:  why should the young people (and even some older ones) WANT to come to the masjid?  What's in it for them?

Like my collegue implied, most people adhere to a religious life because of the perception that it means something to them.  They have a personal relationship with "God."  Religion to them is worth sacrificing for, worth dying for, and worth loving for.  Didn't Allaah t'ala say in the Qur'an:

"I only created jinn and man to worship Me." (adh-Dhariyat, 56)
So, does it matter whether or not we have a personal relationship with "God."  Do we have a choice?  If we were created only to worship Allaah t'ala, that's that ... right?

Well, on the other hand, we are told that there is no compulsion in religion.

Why aren't our Muslim children getting this message?  Do we raise them to understand that the only reason they are in this dunya is to worship Him?  Or do we give them the message, directly or indirectly, that they have a choice in the matter?  By allowing our children to give preference to a soccer game instead of Qur'an class, what kind of message do we convey?  Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with activities and sports.  But, where is the priority? 

When I go to the masjid, I see sisters and their children dressed beautifully in the clothing of their countries, etc., but when these same children go to school, they are dressed like the other non Muslim children.  Do we give the message that a hijab or jilbab is only for the masjid, and not for the rest of our activities?  Why do parents allow their kids to wear skinny jeans and shirts/blouses that outline their blossoming figure?

In case you think I am overly strict, or a fuddy duddy, I am going somewhere with this.

My point is that if we don't insist that our children value an Islaamic lifestyle, we cannot expect them to "enjoy" being a Muslim.  The result is that they don't have a personal relationship with Allaah t'ala. 

Let's face it.  As much as some of us like to think that our kids are Palestinian children or Egyptian children, or whatever ... the truth is that they are American children.  Born and raised in America and in an American lifestyle.  They don't even think like some of us from the "old country" do.

Do we insist that they identify as Pakistani, Palestinian, Egyptian, etc., as opposed to Pakistani-American, Palestinian-American, Egyptian-American?  Do many of our kids suffer from identity issues?

In my little town, there may be only two or three Muslim children in the entire high school.  I acknowledge that it must be hard for them, espcially if they are darker than most of the American white children.  Children are cruel sometimes.  But I think it may be a little easier perhaps if they are secure in their identity as Muslims, and if they know who their Lord is, and LOVE Him.

How do we get our children to love Allaah t'ala and the masjid?  How do we ensure that they grow up developing a personal relationship with their Lord?  What do you think?