June 27, 2014

June 5, 2014

Umm 'Abdullah on Step-Parenting

Umm 'Abdullah is a step-mother of one child, currently living in the USA. 

In the Sunnah we are taught that Jannah is at the feet of our mothers:

In an authentic hadith, a man came to the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I intend to go on a (military) expedition, but I have come to ask your advice." He said, "Is your mother alive?" He said, "Yes." He said, "Then stay with her, for the Garden is under her feet." (Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’i)

We are also taught that we should obey and respect our mothers and take care of them as they age. In the Noble Qur’an, Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, says:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say, “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in my childhood.” (17:23-24)

If you are a mother, then you know how much you would give up just to see your child grow to be happy and healthy and to be a loyal servant of Allah subhana wa ta’ala. If you are not a mother, you can surely think of something your mother did to help you, regardless of how close you are to her or the type of relationship you have with her. This mother-child relationship is clearly defined both in our own minds and in the beauty of the Qur’an.

However, what about step parents? How can one define this role? After much thought and internal struggle the only way I can define my personal role as a step parent is: CHALLENGING. Now this isn’t to say that being a biological parent is easy by any means, but the challenges are different. As a step parent the hardest thing to accept is that, no matter how much you love your spouse’s child, they aren’t your own and therefore the rules are different for you whether you like it or not. First let me take the most “ideal” situation for step parents: you’ve married your spouse who has an infant child from a previous marriage and his or her ex-spouse is 100% out of the picture and your spouse views you as his or her child’s mother. The child grows up viewing you as his or her rightful mother with all powers and responsibilities bestowed upon you as a mother and everyone lives happily ever after.

This situation almost never happens. Here’s what really happens: you fall in love with your spouse for the sake of Allah subhanna wa ta’ala, you convince yourself that it can’t be that hard to take care of his or her child since at some point in life you want children of your own (and you’ve taken care of your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins etc.) so how hard can it be? Oh and that ex-spouse? Well he or she will move on and we’ll all be friends and everything will be wonderful. Then, you and your spouse get married and you’ve spent lots of time with the child or children and insha’Allah they have accepted you into their family either because they are too young to understand what’s happening or you’ve spent painstaking hours explaining to them that you could never replace their mother/father, even though very deep down within yourself, that’s exactly what you want to do but you refuse to admit that to yourself. Typically, at least within the western world, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation every other week or so. That means, that as a step parent, one week it’s just you and your spouse living as a couple, and then the next week you’re a mother or father….kind of. And then the next week you’re not. And so on for the next 18 years of your life.

Now while mothers have that 1 relationship with their child, a step mother or step father has 3 relationships to worry about: their relationship with the child, their relationship with their spouse regarding the child, and their relationship with their spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. I’ll start with the relationship with the child, which for me was the easiest. My husband’s child was only 1 year old when we got married (he’s almost 3 now alhamdulilah). This relationship was the easiest because I learned to love him quite quickly and he was too young to really understand why suddenly he has “2 mommies.” The key word here is I “LEARNED” to love him. As much as I wish I could say “and then I looked in his eyes and that unconditional love took over me,” I can’t. I did not create this baby with my husband, I did not carry him for 9 months, I did not give birth to him, and I had not been around to see his first year of life. Furthermore, as much as I hated myself for thinking it, I really did not like having him around at first because he was a constant reminder that my husband had wanted to have him with someone else. These feelings continued for quite some time until the child began calling for me. Suddenly I was the only one who could put him to bed, make his food, or give him a bath. He didn’t want his daddy to do it, he wanted me….his step-mother to do it. That’s when I fell in love. When he needed me like a mother, I felt like a mother and suddenly things weren’t as difficult. I knew my role with him and I could define it to myself and I stopped introducing him to people as “my husbands son” and started introducing him as “my step-son.”

The second relationship you have as a step-parent is the one you have with your spouse regarding the child. This is very different that the relationship you have with your spouse as a husband or a wife. The hardest aspect of this relationship is trying to figure out how your spouse wants you to act toward their child. Alhamdulilah my husband was more than willing to step aside and let me handle bed time, meal time, and bath time and let me take the child out by myself or stay alone in the house with him. In time he even let me discipline his son when he was having a tantrum, as most 2 year olds do. However, this is not the case for many step-mommies or step-daddies. A type of power struggle typically evolves as a result of this complicated relationship. Some parents don’t want their spouse to discipline their child or take over certain roles because they feel they are being pushed out. A normal human response to losing control is to fight back and try to take control of everything. It is not unusual for spouses to fight over their roles in the child’s life and for the biological mother or father to tell the step-parent that it’s “not their job to do that” when it comes to a responsibility they feel is rightfully theirs as the biological parent. In this situation typically the step-parent will withdraw completely and want nothing to do with the child because they don’t want to upset their spouse. In addition, its mentally exhausting and emotionally draining to check yourself at every step and have to wonder “is this my responsibility or my husband’s/wife’s?” There is no outlined way in any psychology book or therapy manual to tell you how to resolve this issue. It normally takes an inordinate amount of patience from both sides and strong communication skills in order to overcome this challenge.

The third and final relationship you have as a step-parent is your relationship with your spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. This can either be the most frustrating, enraging, and down-right painful relationship you’ll ever have, or it’ll be the easiest. If, on the rare occasion, the divorce was amicable and both parties accepted that the relationship between them did not work and have both moved on and accepted that each will most likely remarry and their child will have two mothers and two fathers, then this relationship for the step-parents is relatively simple. However, more likely than not, the divorce was not pleasant for either party and some hostile feelings remain. Since both parties are normally told by family and friends to ignore each other and just move on with their lives, those hostile feelings need to come down on someone. So why not the person that your ex-spouse marries and is trying to “move in on your child?” It’s easy to understand the logic behind it: they’re resentful of the fact that they will always be tied to the one person they don’t want to remember, they’re angry that their ex has moved on which makes them feel replaced, they don’t have the typical nuclear family and often get uncomfortable or even rude comments from others in the community, and their child is calling someone else mama or dada. I can’t say that I would feel or act any differently if the roles were reversed.

However, that justification gives little solace to step-parents. Typically in our lives if there is someone we don’t particularly care for, we can keep them at a distance and limit communication with them. This doesn’t work in this scenario. The person that is taking their frustrations out on you is the mother or father of your step-child for whom you care very deeply. In turn, you have to accept that the child loves this individual and you cannot let your own personal feelings for their mom or dad show in front of them.  Furthermore, this ex-spouse is a constant, never-ending reminder that the man or woman you married and love did not choose you first. You are second. You might be the “right one” but you will never be the “first one.” You’ll never be his or her first spouse or first mother or father of their child. Never. And their ex-spouse will always be there, either through that 6am angry text message or at pick-ups and drop-offs or when your spouse has to make that direct deposit into their ex’s bank account for child support. They will never go away and you just have to accept it.

Besides these 3 relationships you’ll have as a step-parent, there’s a whole host of other challenges. What do your parents say about you marrying someone who already has children? What does the community think? How do you comfort your spouse when they have to drop-off their child every other week to their ex-wife or ex-husband and they don’t realize that it hurts you just as much? What do you say when someone asks you if you have children? What do you do when you disagree with something that the child’s parents have decided to do? How do you reconcile having absolutely no legal authority over a child that you consider to be your own? How do you define being a step-parent?

I personally grew closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala during my journey so far as a step-parent. When things got difficult I often felt like no one really understood what I was going through. My husband had his own view of things and his own challenges with the situation. My parents were hesitant from the beginning as to whether I would be able to handle it and so I didn’t feel like I could turn to them for support. My friends alhamdulilah were very caring and always willing to provide a shoulder to cry on but I still felt very alone through all of this. That’s when I decided I really needed to turn all of my attention towards Allah subhana wa ta’ala knowing that He would hear me.

On several occasions I broke down in tears during salah and it was difficult to even know what I was praying for. Do I pray that my step-son considers me a mother? Then what about his biological mother? He already had a mom. Do I pray that my husband loves the children he will have with me as much as his son from another woman? I felt a lot of guilt about praying for things I thought weren’t “fair” or “justified.” Sometimes I would even miss salah because I felt like everything I was praying for was selfish and I somehow didn’t deserve to reach out to Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

Over time though, I began just praying that something changed; I was praying to feel better about the situation. I became closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala and I felt myself becoming stronger in my deen because on the hardest of days, prayer was all I had. Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made things a little easier for me each day and I thank Him for the small blessings as well as the big ones. With Allah’s swt help I have learned to be patient and thankful that I can just spend time with my step-son and I am in this position in my life because Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made it so, and therefore there is a reason for it. This has brought solace and comfort to me and has ultimately strengthened my attachment to Allah and all I do now is pray that He continue to guide me through whatever happens.

The hardest part for me about being a step-parent is that no matter how much I love my step-son, no matter how supportive my husband is, and no matter how well I control my feelings towards his ex-wife, I will always have to put “step” before “parent” and that will never get any easier. I make dua for all the step-parents out there that Allah subhana wa ta’ala (spelling?) makes it easier for you and that you achieve Jannah for everything you go through and everything you sacrifice as a step-parent. May Allah subhana wa ta’ala bless all the step-moms and step-dads out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Take solace in pleasing Allah subhana wa ta’ala and turn to Him when it get’s too hard.

“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust.” (Quran, 3:160)

May 27, 2014

5 Tips to Avoid Overspending in Ramadan

Umm Suzana is a Columbian mother of three currently living in New Jersey, USA. She is passionate about natural remedies and ways to save on family spending.

During the blessed month of Ramadan, our usual attention to daily house and family routines get turned towards making the most of our worship, as they should. But whether it’s a start of the month iftar stock-up or a last minute run to the store before suhoor, someone will eventually have to get some groceries. And in case that person is you, here are five tips to help keep your spending in line:

Tip #1: Never Shop When You’re Feeling Hungry
Shopping while hungry increases the chances that you will buy on impulse. Your tummy is growling, your throat is parched, and your brain is thinking: “food, drink, now!” With all of this going on, you will be much more likely to give in to purchasing food items that you don’t really need, blasting your budget right out of the water.

It’s best to eat before you shop. That way the only thing your brain has to focus on is sticking to the list. If you’re fasting, trying doing your grocery shopping early, right after your morning suhoor. Or try it in the evening after you’ve finished your iftar.  

If you have to shop with children in tow, make sure that they have been fed beforehand too!

Tip #2: Make a List
Everyone’s list will be different depending on how and when a person prefers to shop. But in general, make sure your list includes the day-to-day particulars as well as the bulk items that you know you will need throughout the month. Items like plates, napkins, dates and water can be bought early on and in bulk to help save time and money!

To save cooking time for last minute iftars or unexpected guests, stock up on veggies and herbs early on too. Once purchased, they can be chopped and frozen into small, easy-to-cook portions that you can use throughout the month.  

When you get to the store, strive to not buy anything that’s not already on your list. Buying off the list is a quick and almost sure way to overspend and come home with unnecessary items. Think of this way: If it wasn’t on the list in the first place, you more than likely don’t need it!

If you have trouble making a list on the spot, try keeping a piece of paper or a white board on the fridge where you can jot down the items you run out of, especially the items you want to stock up on before Ramadan begins. This not only helps save time in making your grocery list but also helps keep you from forgetting important items for your home.  

Tip #3 Set Your Budget
Setting a budget beforehand helps keep you in line when your impulses lean towards unnecessary purchases.

Before Ramadan begins, try to make a bi-weekly budget so you don’t have to spend time shopping every week or even every day. Our goal this month should be to spend as much of our time as possible in worship, not waiting in lines at the grocery store. Make sure to include enough money in your budget to cover any possible tax costs.

Once you have your list set, check the grocery store circulars and newspapers for current deals and coupons. Every state differs but in New Jersey, the circulars are usually released on Fridays and the store coupons on Sundays.

Mark down the sale items that match the items on your list so you know to go straight for the deals when you get to the store. If you find coupons matching your list items, clip them and use them at the register to save even more, inshaAllah!

For even more savings, check with your local stores for a free customer rewards card that you can swipe to get gifts cards, cash back, or extra discounts on the items you need.

Tip# 4: Pay Attention to the Shelves!

Oftentimes, stores place their most expensive items at eyelevel, within easy reach, while the clearance items are placed towards the bottom or back of the shelves. So if you want to save, be prepared to bend down and dig a little to find the deals.

Tip #5: Make Duaa
As with everything else we do in the deen, we should always ask Allah to accept our efforts and bless them for us.

The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said that the dua of the fasting person will not be rejected!

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “Three supplications will not be rejected (by Allah, subahana wa ta ala) the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler. (al-Bayhaqi, at-Tirmidhi – Sahih)

MashaAllah, what a wonderful blessing! So definitely take time in Ramadan to make lots and lots of dua, even when it comes to the shopping.  

If you struggle to sticking to a budget, ask Allah to make it easy for you. Ask Him to make it easy for you to get in and out with everything you need. If you know your particular grocer isn’t coupon friendly, make duaa that Allah gives you safe travels to and from the store and gives you the patience to deal with whatever obstacles the day may bring. 

May 9, 2014

Daily Deeds: Cleansing Power of Wudu

This post was excerpted from Healing Body and Soul by Amira Ayad

Allah, subahana wa ta ala, says in the Qur'an: "O you who believe! When you intend to offer the prayer, wash your face and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and wash your feet up to the ankles..." --Surah Al-Maidah, 5: 6

"Ablution is not a mere physical act; it is a sign of the purification of the soul, driving away evil thoughts, clearing the mind and preparing one to concentrate only on the glorification and worship of Allah. Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, taught us that ablution washes away sins, purifying and cleansing the soul."

In a Sahih hadith narrated in Muslim and Tirmidhi, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was reported to have said: "If the Muslim performs ablution and washes his face, any offense he overlooked with his eyes will come out with the water; and when he washes his hands, any assault he commited with his hands will come out with the water; and when he washes his feet any misdeed to which he walked with his feet will come out with the water, till he concludes (the ablution) free from sins." 

April 24, 2014

Exceptional Umms: Asma' Bint Abu Bakr

This post was compiled from multiple hadith found in Sahih Bukhari and the book Great Women of Islam, written by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar.

Qualities That Made Her Great
Courage, Piety, Patience, Sacrifice

Her Family
She was the sister of ‘Aishah bint Abu Bakr, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. Her father Abu Bakr, her husband Az-Zubayr, and her son, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr were all famous companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. After her parents accepted Islam, Asma’ and her siblings were raised in an atmosphere of Islamic faith and practice.

The Woman of Two Waist Belts
When the time came for the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, to migrate from Mecca to Medina, a plan was devised for him to migrate in secret with his great and loyal companion Abu Bakr as-Siddique. Though she was just a young girl at the time, it was the courageous Asma’ who gathered food and water for the great journey her father and The Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, were about to make. 

In Sahih Bukhari, Asma’ related:I prepared the journey food for the Prophet and Abu Bakr when they wanted to migrate to Medina. I said to my father (Abu Bakr), "I do not have anything to tie the container of the journey food with except my waist belt." He said, "Divide it lengthwise into two." I did so, and for this reason I was named 'Dhat-un-Nitaqain' (i.e. the owner of two belts)”

In another narration, Aisha said about this time: “…One day, while we were sitting in Abu Bakr's house, someone said to Abu Bakr, "This is Allah's Apostle with his head covered coming at a time at which he never used to visit us before." Abu Bakr said, "May my parents be sacrificed for him. By Allah, he has not come at this hour except for a great necessity." So Allah's Apostle came and asked permission to enter, and he was allowed to enter. When he entered, he said to Abu Bakr. "Tell everyone who is present with you to go away." Abu Bakr replied, "There are none but your family. May my father be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle!" The Prophet said, "I have been given permission to migrate." Abu Bakr said, "Shall I accompany you? May my father be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle!" Allah's Apostle said, "Yes." Abu Bakr said, "O Allah's Apostle! May my father be sacrificed for you, take one of these two she-camels of mine." Allah's Apostle replied, "I will accept it with payment." So we prepared the baggage quickly and put some journey food in a leather bag for them. Asma’, Abu Bakr's daughter, cut a piece from her waist belt and tied the mouth of the leather bag with it, and for that reason she was named Dhat-un-Nitaqain (i.e. the owner of two belts)…

Her Patience in Poverty
It’s related in the Sahih of Bukhari that when Asma’ was married to Zubayr bin ‘Awam, he was a very pious but poor man.

Asma’ narrated: When Az-Zubayr married me, he had neither land, nor wealth, nor slave, nor anything else like it, except a camel to get water and his horse. I used to graze his horse, provide fodder for it, look after it and ground dates for his camel. Besides this, I grazed the camel, made arrangements for providing it with water and patching up his leather bucket and kneading the flour. I was not very good at baking the bread, so my female neighbors used to bake bread for me and they were sincere women. And I used to carry on my head, the date-stones from the land of az-Zubayr which the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam had endowed him and it was a distance of two miles from Madinah.

One day, as I was carrying the date-stones upon my head, I happened to meet Allah's Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, along with a group of his Companions. He called me and told the camel to sit down so that he could make me ride behind him. I felt shy to go with men and I remembered Az-Zubayr and his ghirah (ghirah is the sense of pride that a man has which causes him to dislike his wives, daughters or sisters from being seen or heard by strangers - it is this ghirah which makes a man protective about his women) and he was a man having the most ghirah. The Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam understood my shyness and left.

I came to Az-Zubayr and said, 'The Messenger of Allah met me as I was carrying date-stones upon my head and there was with him a group of his Companions. He told the camel to kneel so that I could mount it but I felt shy from him and I remembered your ghirah.' Upon this Az-Zubayr said, 'By Allah, the thought of you carrying date-stones upon your head is more severe a burden to me than you riding with him.'

I led this life of hardship until Abu Bakr sent me a female servant who took upon herself the responsibility of looking after the horse and I felt as if she had emancipated me."

Her Generosity
Asma’ bint Abi Bakr was a woman known to give a lot in charity mashaAllah, even if she had nothing left to keep for herself.

Asma’ narrated:Once I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have no property except what has been given to me by Az-Zubayr (i.e. her husband). May I give it in charity?" The Prophet said, "Give in charity and do not withhold it; otherwise Allah will withhold it back from you." –Sahih Bukhari

The Birth of Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr
Asma’ and her husband conceived in Mecca and when it came time for them to migrate across the desert to Medina, Asma’s pregnancy was already full term. It was during her travels that she went into labor as they reached the valley of Quba and it was there that she gave birth to her son, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr, the first Muslim child to be born amongst the muhajireen, mashaAllah.

Asma’ relates her story in Sahih Bukhari:I migrated to Medina while I was at full term of pregnancy and alighted at Quba where I gave birth to him. Then I brought him to the Prophet and put him in his lap. The Prophet asked for a date, chewed it, and put some of its juice in the child's mouth. So, the first thing that entered the child's stomach was the saliva of Allah's Apostle. Then the Prophet rubbed the child's palate with a date and invoked for Allah's Blessings on him, and he was the first child born amongst the Emigrants in the Islamic Land (i.e. Medina).”

The Great Advice to Her Son
Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr grew to become a great man and a noble companion, known for his fortitude and accomplishments on the battlefield. Towards the end of his life, the Muslims were split over who should take khalifa. Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr refused to accept the caliphate of Bani Umayyah and rose his own army in Mecca to fight against Hajjaj. But the army of Hajjaj surrounded Mecca, refused to allow food to enter, and laid siege to the city with catapults, greatly weakening and eventually defeating ibn Az-Zubayr’s army.
As Hajjaj’s forces entered into Mecca, they gave Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr three choices: (1) be taken into custody and delivered to the khalifa in Damascus; (2) leave Mecca and surrender all the lands that he had overcome such as Egypt, Iraq and Yemen; and (3) try to continue fighting.

At this critical time, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr decided to seek advice from none other than his mother, Asma’ bint Abu Bakr, who at this time was over 100 years old mashaAllah.

Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr said to his mother: So the people have left me by myself, even my own son. No one is with me except a handful of people, all I have is an hour of patience and then death and if I were to do what the people want me to do then I will be free.”

And Asma’ replied to her son: You know better in your own self that if you are upon the truth and you are calling towards the truth, then go forth for people more honorable than you were killed and have been killed. And if you are not upon the truth, then what an evil son you are, you have destroyed yourself and those who are with you. If you say what you say, that you are upon the truth and you will be killed at the hands of others then you will not truly be free, for this is not the statement of someone who is free. How long will you live in this world? Death is more beloved to me than this state you are in, this state of weakness.”

Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr replied to his mother’s honest words: “I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of Sham, I am afraid they will cut up my body after they have killed me.” And Asma’ replied: “After someone has died, it won’t make any difference what they do to you if you have been killed.”

Ibn Az-Zubayr continued: “I did not come to you except to increase myself in knowledge. Look and pay attention to this day for verily I am a dead man, your son never drank wine, nor was he a fornicator, nor did he wrong any Muslim or Kaafir, nor was he unjust, I am not saying this to you to show off or show how pure I am but rather as an honor to you.”

After their final conversation, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr rode out and was killed by the army of Hajjaj.

Courage in the Face of Injustice
After her son was killed, Al-Hajjaj refused him a proper burial and left his body for public display instead. He refused anyone permission to remove the body and informed Asma’ that if she wanted to have the body taken down, she would have to come in person and request his permission first. Asma’ refused to succumb to such a request.

After some time passed and Asma’ would not come, Hajjaj went to visit her himself and asked: “What do you say about this matter?” 

Asma’ replied: “Verily you have destroyed him, you have ruined his life and with that you have ruined your hereafter.”

After a few days, Hajjaj took down the body of her son and Asma’ retrieved it, washed it, and gathered the people to perform the congregational prayer at his burial.

Her Death

When Asma’ bint Abu Bakr died, she was over 100 years old, and still had a full set of teeth, mashaAllah. May Allah reward her and have mercy on her. 

April 14, 2014

Beautiful Reminders: Keeping Bedroom Secrets

In an authentic hadith, the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: 

"Verily, among the worst people before Allah on the day of Qiyama is a man who approaches his wife sexually and she responds and the he spreads her secrets." --related by Muslim. 

In another strong hadith, Asma bint Yazid narrates that she was once in the presence of the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, with both men and women the sitting and the Prophet said: 

"Perhaps a man might discuss what he does with his wife, or perhaps a woman might inform someone what she did with her husband?" The people were silent. Then Asma said: "O, Yes! O Messenger of Allah, verily both the women and men do that." Then the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Do not do that. It is like a male Shaitaan who meets a female Shaitaan along the way, and has sex with her while the people look on!"--related by Ahmad

March 27, 2014

Muslimah Musings: Best Friends Forever

When I was three, I had a best friend, Becky.  We started at the same preschool and were both fairly shy and quiet.  She would follow me around aimlessly while I walked around aimlessly until we eventually learned that playing together was more fun.  When we started the same local school, Becky’s mum requested that she be put in the same class as me as she hadn’t made many other friends yet.  We were joined at the hips. Wherever there was Becky, there was me and vice versa. This continued for the next 6-7 years until at the age of 12, we started attending different high schools.

We were still in touch at this point, occasionally hung out after school, chatted on the phone but a couple more years down the line and we started to drift apart.  Her circle of friends were all about hanging out with guys, parties, drinking and the usual teenage stuff.  I attended an all girls school, wore hijab, didn’t drink and didn’t even see the point of boys.  By the time I turned 17 and started university, I didn’t even have her number and had no idea what she was doing in life.  

We went from playing in the woods together, birthday parties, slumber parties, bike rides, shopping trips, break ups and make ups and all the rest of it.  We even had one of those fake silver ‘best friend’ broken love heart necklaces, you all know the ones!  And now, we barely even existed to one another.  It seemed a little sad to say the least.

However, day one at university, having just been dropped off in my dorms by my parents, waiting to find out who my roommate would be and trying to create a mental map in my head of how on earth to get to my first sign up meeting, I bumped into a sister in the hallway.  She wore hijab and abaya like me and we both gave salaams to one another, chatted a bit about where we were from and what we studying and made a plan to hang out later that evening.  I felt immediate comfort in having found a muslim when I was far from home and knew no one.

We soon realised that we had loads in common, from the food we ate (probably the only students that ate rice cakes with peanut butter), the way we dressed, our favourite tv shows, our sense of humour… practically everything.  It was like the grown up, muslim version of having a childhood Becky!  

As the weeks and months went on, our conversations moved away from studies and day to day stuff and almost exclusively became about deen.  Whether we talked about hijab, family or marriage, we spoke about what Islam had to say on the topic.  This became the basis of our interactions and the basis of our friendship.  I hadn’t until that point, realised what it was to have a ‘friend.’  We sat next to each other on our wedding days, had children around the same time and even today, its unusual for us to not talk at least once a week, mashaAllah.

I don’t mean to belittle other friendships and acquaintances I’ve built over the years.  Nor do I mean to make this about non muslim vs muslim or hijab vs no hijab.  I am still in touch with girls who are atheist, Christian and agnostic and hang out with them whenever I can.  Many of my muslim sisters are learning the deen for the first time so perhaps don’t pray or wear hijab but I still enjoy their company and would never distance myself from them.

My realisation was more to do with how I had defined that idea of ‘friend.’  Becky had been a childhood playmate, which is completely natural for children to seek out but as we grow older, we have to consider the purpose behind the relationship.  With Becky, it had been about mutual benefit.  Not in a malicious way at all but it suddenly made sense why we drifted apart.  Hanging out, playing, shopping etc benefitted us both and we enjoyed it but as soon as the activity was no longer mutually beneficial, we spent less and less time together.  If I hung out with her at parties with boys, it would have damaged my deen.  If she hung out with me instead of going to the parties and meeting boys, it would have damaged her goals.  And so we parted ways.

Now I’m describing a childhood friendship that ended naturally, without bad feelings or any drama.  Had I added those all too common ingredients of jealousy, loyalty, backbiting, gossip, betrayal etc, I can’t imagine the collateral damage and emotional upset!

Islam saves us from having to navigate confusing, unpredictable and damaging friendship minefields and moreover, protects us from the painful blow-ups.  Islam defines a friend for us, what it is to be a brother or sister in the deen, ‘awliyah’ to one another.

As much as we are permitted to have common interests and hang out doing whatever we enjoy doing as leisure, be it shopping, rock climbing or movies, we are not permitted to make that the be all and end all of a friendship, which is sadly all too common today, even amongst muslims.

A friend is the one whom you love for the sake of Allah, who you need in your journey to seek jannah, who you aid in doing the same, who you make secret dua for, who you trust - not only with your secrets, but with your deen - who you will support and aid even when it would be easier to part ways, who you want as a companion for an eternity in jannah, inshaAllah.  A true friend is an amanah upon us and a relationship which will account us or vouch for us on yawm al Qiyamah.

After realising all of the above over the years, I now have very few friends, let alone a ‘best friend forever,’ because ‘best’ implies the one who best fulfils that beautiful, sincere role of islamic friendship and ‘forever’ implies the one who does it so well, that it gets you jannah, subhanAllah.  Those rare gems are to be cherished and protected and before we cast off everyone that remains, we should work on forging true friendships with them by embodying the idea ourselves.  

The following hadith should serve as inspiration to us all.  Al-Haakim reported the following on authority of Ibn ‘Umar in a sound narration:

“Allah has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs, yet the martyrs and Prophets acknowledge their ranks and their nearness to Allah on the day of Judgment. Then a Bedouin bent on his knees and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them and explain them for us.” He said: “They are of different peoples that do not belong to their tribes. They befriended each other and loved each other for the sake of Allah. On the Day of Judgment, Allah will make for them platforms of Light on which they will sit. People will fear, but they will not fear. They are Allah’s friends (awliyaa’) azza wa jall, on whom there is no fear, nor shall they grieve”

March 17, 2014

Maria Islam on the Ramadan Battle Plan

Maria Islam is an El Salvadorian mother of three, currently living in New Jersey, USA. She designs personal planners for busy Muslims on Halalify.com.

What were your Ramadans like before you had a battle plan?
I converted in April 2006 and I created a planner to keep me from burning out. I like to do the best I can and I was enthusiastically trying to do everything about Islam at once and I always had this nagging feeling I was missing something. It helped me pace myself and solidify good habits.  I was also concerned about my first Ramadan so I fasted sporadically through that summer to builds stamina.

When Ramadan came it was a breeze, Alhamdulillah.  I’ve always done a loose map of what I wanted to achieve each Ramadan or even what needs to get done on a day to day basis but no rigid structure. My worship is tied to my other tasks in my life as Islam is my core. For example my toddlers have been “praying” with me for quiet a while, they see me praying and they come.

I have a minimum that I feel comfortable doing each day that if that is the ONLY thing I do that day, it was a day well spent. My aim is always to do more but if I dip below that minimum it’s a warning that I need to shape up.

What was your inspiration for creating the Ramadan Battle Plan and for how long have you been making them?
I’ve been making planners since high school as it helps me visualize the steps I need to take to achieve my goals. In 2011, I had miscarriage of twins and it was a very rough time for me. Although I no longer needed my planner to remind me of the 5 prayers and sunnan, I did feel that I was drowning and needed to re-focus on something other than my sadness.

I took my old trusty planner and revamped it with a focus on Ramadan. The idea was to get me in the mental state of Ramadan and make the most of it. Ramadan has always felt like a refuge to me and I look forward to it every year. Alhamdulillah. I released it to some friends and they shared it with their friends and it spread by word of mouth. The first batch was hand bound and I made digital copy free to download for anyone who wants it.

I want to help as many people make the most of their Ramadan. I also want to maximize how many good deeds I can get and there are only so many hours of the day. I figured if I help others improve their Ramadan then I would be getting some my way too Insha’Allah. 

What does the plan contain?
I have a monthly view of Sha’ban, Ramadan and Shawwal. Each day of Ramadan has two full pages dedicated to it so people could plan out their night and day worship. It has a 30 and 20 day Qur’an Reading schedule and hadith and ayat relevant to Ramadan to keep you motivated and focused insha’Allah.

How is the Ramadan Battle Plan different from other Islamic productivity tools out there?
It’s not meant to be a productivity tool although it may be for some.  I really dislike the term because in my experience it’s just an excuse to cram days with things that aren’t important but give the appearance of productivity and make us feel less guilty about what we should be doing.  

This planner is meant to be a hard copy record of your progress each Ramadan.  It’s the main reason I chose the name Battle Plan because it invokes action.  Not a wishing my Ramadan was better but a here are the steps I'm going to take to make it better insha'Allah. I provide a structure and you customize to fit your needs.

In your own personal experience as a wife and mother, how has using the Battle Plan helped to improve your worship before, during, and after Ramadan?
I see improvements before I even use it because I spend most of the year incessantly working on it which means I’m constantly listening to lectures about Ramadan, looking for ahadith dealing with it and being constantly surrounded by the awesomeness that I love so much about Ramadan which helps keep my iman up. 

This year I included mind mapping and a more in-depth section on achieving goals. I was stuck on those for a long time so I took two classes dealing with each topic and it helped tremendously. Usually once Ramadan does come the planner helps me stay consistent and serves as a keepsake of my progress but by this point it’s like seeing an old friend.

I also LOVE data and I want to see progress even if it is slow. This is the 4th year I do it and some of my users tell me they keep their planners year to year to monitor their progress.  Right before the Ramadan they take it out and review what they could do better this Ramadan.

Tell us about this year’s Battle Plan.
This year’s the largest I’ve ever done topping at over 120+ pages. Every year I survey my users and if I see a pattern of similar requests, I take those and try to incorporate them in the planner. Some work and some don’t but every year is a trial and error with my community being as much engaged in the creative process as I am. 

For example, many requested more space to plan out their day so I increased it to two pages per day. Another request was to expand the hours to accommodate night worship and those who work at night. Something I didn’t think of adding was a 20 day Qur’an reading schedule.  Even colors! I want to keep the planner neutral in colors but there was quite a few requests for a purple planner this year and its currently being offered as a limited edition only available during the Kickstarter campaign.  

Last year I also picked up quite a few recent converts and their #1 request was a glossary of the Arabic terms I used in the planner. That request made its way into 2014’s version. It also explains why this planner is so large. At the end of Ramadan 2014 I will be surveying them again seeing what they liked and didn’t like and I’ll start molding the next year’s planner insha’Allah. I suspect I will be trimming it down but will wait to hear their feedback. ;)

To order your Ramadan Battle Plan, visit http://kck.st/1fEedg7  to back Maria Islam's project and place your pre-order. Pre-order sales will be accepted until March 18th, 2014. After that, the planners will be available for $30 inshaAllah. May Allah make it a success and grant everyone a blessed Ramadan, ameen. 

March 9, 2014

Beautiful Reminders: The Deeds That Last

It's related in the Sahih of Bukhari that the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was reported to have said: 

"When a man dies, his deeds come to an end but three: a recurring charity, a beneficial knowledge, and a pious child who supplicates to Allah for him." 

February 17, 2014

Umm 'Eesa on Having an Unplanned Cesarean

Umm 'Eesa is a British-Pakistani mother of two, currently living in the USA. 

What was your original birth plan and expectation heading into labor?
I had the inevitable and unavoidable nervousness approaching my first ever labor but I had had a healthy pregnancy mashaAllah, had done some reading and attended classes so I felt calm and ready for D-Day.  My birth plan was pretty straightforward as the general consensus in the UK advocates for natural, patient lead birthing.  I had specified that I wanted minimal interventions and only when absolutely necessary and that my husband and I be consulted in advance so we could be part of the decision making process.

Tell me about the labor.
My labor started spontaneously at home and progressed well at a steady pace.  I was over half way when I arrived at the hospital and the first midwife I met, read over my birth plan with me.  I had stated that I was willing to take gas and air for pain if I felt I needed it, but wanted to avoid any other medicated pain relief.  

This midwife however explained that having a small frame, the gas and air would likely make me feel nauseous and suggested that I try some breathing techniques to work through the contractions instead.  I HATE vomiting and the thought of it happening during labor was enough to convince me of her strategy!  After a bit of coaching, I was comfortably breathing through contractions (even nodding off in between!) and labor was still progressing well.

It was only once I was fully dilated that things got a little complicated.  I had been pushing for a while and as much as the midwives present were encouraging me (the shift had changed so my original midwife savior had left), they weren’t able to tell me why it didn’t ‘feel’ any different.  I was expecting to feel more pain or change or progression.  Anything to indicate that baby was coming out!  But nothing.  At this point, the midwives monitored me and baby and found baby to be a little stressed so decided to call the consultant to check on me.

At what point did your care givers begin advising that you have a c-section and what were their reasons for advocating it?
The consultant performed a manual examination and found that baby’s head was turned to the side.  She tried manual rotation but that failed so she advised trying a ventouse and/or forceps.  She explained that given some time had passed without any progression and that there was no guarantee other procedures would work, they needed to prep me for a c-section ‘just in case.’   

How did it make you feel to have your caregivers advocating for procedures you didn’t want and were not prepared for?
I knew myself that things didn’t feel quite right and that I needed some sort of help.  Given it was my first labor, I didn’t know what other options I could try, or even existed so the consultant’s plan seemed reasonable.  It definitely wasn’t planned by either party and seeing as all the monitoring, examination and discussion happened in quick succession, within an hour, it immediately felt like an emergency and put me in slight panic mode.

What finally swayed you into accepting the c-section?
I didn’t feel I had any choice.  Nothing else was being offered as an option, baby’s heart rate was abnormal and he had passed meconium. Nothing on my part was changing either and the labor just felt a bit ‘stuck’ so I accepted the c-section assuming it was best for my health and the health of the baby.

What risks did your caregivers disclose to be related to the procedure?
I was aware of the risks from my pre-labor reading, which is why I wanted to avoid it in the first place.  At the time, I was presented with a consent form highlighting the risks and what the procedure involved.  I was talked through it but I only vaguely remember this part.  I was in pain, feeling panicked and had probably abandoned my breathing altogether so I just wanted the next necessary thing to happen without delay.  My husband signed on my behalf.

What sort of thoughts and feelings were going through your mind as you were being prepped for surgery?
I was definitely scared and worried for my baby.  My husband is a very cool cucumber mashaAllah but I could see the concern on his face too.  There was a point where I was wheeled into theater and my husband was sent to change into scrubs so he could be present in the room with me.  Those few minutes were terrifying.  The doctors were prepping me with the spinal, a drip, antibiotics etc. and my husband was nowhere in sight.  That loneliness and having to leave my well-being in the hands of strangers was really uncomfortable but it was my opportunity for dua and there was comfort in placing my dependency in the right place, with Allah.

Tell me about the procedure. 
I was awake during the whole procedure.  Slowly losing sensation in my lower body was a very odd feeling.  I was asked to try wriggling my toes and I remember my husband laughing at me because he said on my face, I was reeeally trying, but obviously to no avail.  I for some unknown reason, asked the doctors to lower the screen so I would be able to see the whole procedure.  They lowered it by an inch, which made no difference at all so I didn’t see a thing but in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.  The whole thing ended up being emotionally unsettling as it was so I don’t think adding blood and guts would have done me any favors.  I felt physically comfortable as there was no pain at all but I was still worried and anxious to know how the baby was.  That was the worst part.  I was aware of my own health, could see the monitors beeping, was fully aware of my surroundings etc but didn’t have a clue about that little soul we had been waiting to meet.

My husband was present the whole time, standing by my side.  He could see over the screen and likes to remind me that he’s seen every layer of fat and muscle in me haha.  MashaAllah, he was calm and minimally described the procedure.  He told me after the event that it was stressful to watch and that it looked brutal for both my body, and baby’s but Alhamdulillah, I’m glad he had the sense to not show it at that point. 

What was the recovery period like physically, mentally and emotionally?
Recovery was tough.  Alhamdulillah, I have a decent pain threshold but had never had any kind of surgery before, never broken a bone, never needed stitches so I wasn’t prepared for that kind of physical weakness.  Aside from the regular c-section incision, I ended up needing an additional one as my son’s big ol’ head was well and truly stuck.   That incision caused me some pain for a while afterwards but worse than all of that was some muscle damage in my hip, which I believe was caused by my legs being put in stirrups.  All in all, I didn’t feel physically normal again until 9 months later.  I definitely hadn’t expected that and realized just how much I had taken a healthy body for granted.

The mental and emotional recovery was also difficult.  I had gone into pregnancy and labor, hoping for the best outcome and had no indications to suggest anything but the best.  I was looking forward to labor and can still say that I genuinely enjoyed it Alhamdulillah but when it ended in a c-section, I felt somewhat cheated, like I had lost out.  I remember apologizing to my husband for it afterwards, to which he obviously rolled his eyes but I felt like I’d failed at something that my body was designed to just do.

That feeling stuck with me for a long time afterwards and whilst it didn’t impact my general well-being or my ability to be a mother Alhamdulillah, it did take a while to shake it off.  Its only when I realized that major surgery IS major, that I became more comfortable with it.  If you’re going for a drive somewhere special and are unexpectedly involved in an accident, seriously injured and wheeled into theater to save your life (and an additional life inside of you) you would expect that it might plague you for a while afterwards.  That you might feel nervous, sick, anxious getting into a car again, that you might struggle with the physical consequences of your injuries.  An unplanned c-section is no different and I had to realize that by abandoning my own self imposed expectations of how things ‘should’ have gone and accepting the outcome that Allah had written for me before I had even given motherhood a thought.

My midwife crystallized this for me when she said ‘You don’t get pregnant so you can go through labor.  You get pregnant because you want to be a mother to a healthy child.’  Alhamdulillah, that is exactly what Allah gave me.

How was it trying to bond with your newborn while in recovery?
I loved him instantly, cried for him, worried for him and felt an overwhelming desire to protect him.  I had a difficult start because of the surgery, difficulty with breastfeeding and him being jaundiced at birth and needing treatment for it.  It was stressful and exhausting but that little ruh and amanah from Allah trumped everything.  My husband was with me for all the hospital trips and helped with everything from the get go.  We were staying with my parents at the time so my family was also at hand for anything we needed.  Having all the additional support took away all the external pressures and stressors which meant we could just focus on our new baby.

What sort of criticisms, if any, did you receive from people for accepting a c-section and how did you respond to them?
I didn’t receive criticism per se and I didn’t really talk about the labor unless somebody asked.  People knew it wasn’t planned and mostly focused on my recovery.  The thing that did get to me was that when I talked about enjoying labor (up until the c-section part), some sisters told me that I could only say that because I hadn’t actually labored all the way and that the worst part was dealt with for me.  I didn’t have much of a response for that at the time as it just gave me the sinking feeling of failure again but looking back, I should have put people in their place!  I now know for a fact that natural birth is waayyy less painful than a c-section and that they had no right to judge one outcome to be superior to another when Allah is the decision maker.

Looking back on your experience and knowing what you know now, do you think your caregivers choice to perform a c-section was out of a real medical necessity? Why or why not?
Initially, I had no idea.  Then I went through a phase of thinking they had made an unnecessary decision which affected my physical strength for some time afterwards.  Eventually I came to realize that rightly or wrongly, they made the decision they did, when they thought appropriate and there wasn’t much I could do to change it.  I know my baby and I came out of it alive and healthy and in another time, place and under different circumstances, it could have been a lot worse.  I have since focused on better educating myself about best birthing practices and doing everything I can in terms of exercise and  diet and to prevent the same outcome inshaAllah.  I think it is important to aim for best health but in doing so, not lose sight of the fact that whatever you do, however labor ends up, Allah is in control of that so ultimately, it IS best for you.

How did this experience affect your relationship with Allah?
It definitely strengthened it Alhamdulillah.  I have never been that afraid for my health and never felt so in need of His assistance.  It taught me the meaning of tawakkul.  Even after the surgery, providing for, feeding and nourishing my new baby in the physical and spiritual sense, gave me new perspective on what it is to worship Allah and how hard you have to fight to do it right subhanAllah.  Childbirth and motherhood aren’t just blessed experiences, they’re lessons that never end and a huge test which inshaAllah, bring us closer to Him and His jannah.

What advice do you have for mothers facing unplanned cesareans?
You can’t advise much for the unplanned :p  And to be honest, for all the planning you do, it can still turn out to be the opposite.  I would of course advise doing everything you can to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and labor, not just to avoid a c-section but because our bodies and unborn children have a right over us and we’re accountable for both regardless.  

After that, I would advise to make peace with Allah’s decree.  This has to be done in advance, not after the fact.  My feelings of failure and upset at having a c-section for so long after were due to my not understanding this point.  I thought the alternative was ‘better’ and that I’d fallen short of it whereas in reality, I couldn’t have done better than what Allah had already planned.  We all want health and ease but we should be willing to accept that Allah may test us with both and that our response to that should be the outcome we’re truly concerned about.

February 13, 2014

Beautiful Reminders: Five Before Five

In a sahih hadith recorded by Al-Hakim, the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was reported to have said: 

Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your leisure before your work, and your life before your death.