A Long Time for Jannah…

Watch this space. ‘A Long Time for Jannah’, the third in the Qur’aanic Odyssey series will soon be previewed here IA.

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Chapter 20: Passing

Immediately following is a chapter from ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan,’ a recently completed story by Umm Muhemmed, which follows from ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma’. ‘Ya Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma, throughout the month of Ramadan.  Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text as well.

Setting: local park, Friday morning, Ramadhan
Characters: Khadija, Ibrahim, Amna, Beatrice

“When do you want to call him?”

“I’m ready now,” responds Ibrahim.

“I call,” offers Amna.

It is mid-morning, but overcast today. We ventured out to the park before the swimming lesson as the children were eager to play and, with the cooler weather, I felt a little more energetic. They also wanted to take Sail for a walk, albeit in his traveling jar. We’ve settled ourselves on a small bench and have been busy making leaf prints.

“What do you think I should say?” asks Ibrahim.

“Well, how about you ask whether we could drop off some samosas and fruit salad,” I suggest. “We could stop by this evening before iftar.”

“Do you really think they eat samosas?” asks Ibrahim.

“I eat samosas,” responds Amna.

“A lot of people eat samosas,” I say, “and don’t you remember that time you gave Uncle Bill and Aunt Beatrice those samosas on Good Friday?”[1]

“Ummm, no, but I’ll trust you on that one,” says Ibrahim, walking over to my purse and rummaging around in it. He finds my phone and starts to look up Uncle Bill’s number.

“It’s not under ‘Uncle’,” says Ibrahim.

“No? Well, maybe check MacIntyre. I may have included his last name,” I say.

Ibrahim scans the names. “I got it,” he finally exclaims. “May I call now?”

“So long as you are sure it’s him. I’d rather not have you call the regional office in Bihar right now.” I say more to myself, then turn back to Amna and our leaf prints.

“Uncle Bill?” I hear Ibrahim say. He has started off in the direction of his favorite tree, perhaps to have more privacy or perhaps simply to explore.

“Ibrahim, not too far,” I call out.

“Not too far,” Amna mimics.

“Ammi, why is Ibrahim calling and not me?” she then asks.

“Because you and I are busy right here, and we have serious work to finish before your swimming lesson.  I also want to see what happens when we put an acorn under your paper.”

“It will blast,” responds Amna.

“Blast?” I say.

“Yes, like what you told Ibrahim, like that ayah, blast.”[2]

“Maybe burst, or break….?” I counter, looking around for a small acorn.

“Ammi, you’ve got to speak to Aunt Beatrice, something happened,” calls out Ibrahim as he runs back in our direction, and thrusts the phone toward me.

“Beatrice? Bill?” I say tentatively, trying to ascertain who is on the other end.

Amna has dropped her crayon and both children are standing close to me. Ibrahim looks very concerned.

“It’s me, Khadija,” I continue, “your old neighbor, I’m really sorry we’ve been so out of touch, it’s just with…what?” I stop talking and try to hear. Beatrice seems very far away.

“When?” I then ask. I can’t focus on Beatrice’s voice and the children’s faces at the same time and so turn away briefly.

“Oh, Beatrice, I am so sorry to hear that. He was such a wonderful, wonderful man. I just wish we knew sooner.”

“Ammi, what happened?” Ibrahim is behind me, pulling at my dupatta.

I try to quiet him, by placing my finger over my mouth.

“Ammi, what happened?” Amna repeats, also coming up to me.

“Beatrice, just one moment, the children are here, could we come by this evening and see you, I’d understand if you don’t want visitors, but we’d really like to see you.”

“Ammi,” Amna says, raising her voice.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim seems to understand. Just as I end the conversation, he runs off. Within seconds he is at the base of his tree, and then in another minute, climbing up. Before long, I am unable even to see his shoes through the branches.  I had no idea that Uncle Bill had left such an impression. We had not seen him since we moved, well before Ramadhan. I had always thought that Ibrahim was a bit apprehensive, particularly given all of Uncle Bill’s bugs, but obviously I had misunderstood. I wonder how he would have reacted if he had known my own father, but then stop myself from thinking in this direction.

“Ammi,” Amna repeats, as I walk over and put the phone back in my purse.

“Yes, baita,” I say, turning around to face her and bending over so we are eye to eye.

“What happened, Ammi?” Amna asks.

I pause for a moment wondering what to say. “Amna, may I draw something for you?” I finally ask.

She nods her head.

I sit back down on the bench and pick up my own leaf print. I start making lines, from the leaves toward the sky.

“Ammi, you can’t take the leaves for a walk,” says Amna, trying to make sense of my drawing.

Baita, I know…do you see these leaves?”

“Yes,” replies Amna, “there are lots,” she then adds.

“Well, they are all part of the universe, and ultimately they are all Allah’s, like all of us.”

“We’re not Allah’s,” says Amna.

“Yes, baita, we actually belong to Him, and for a very brief period we exist here on this earth, working and playing and growing, and laughing and singing and building, and then at some point Allah calls each of us back to Him, like these leaves,” I say, hoping that my explanation made sense.[3]

“Why are the leaves on the ground?” asks Amna.

“Hmm, good question, they take a little bit of time, but eventually, they cycle back,” I say tentatively, concerned I may have lost her now.

“To Allah….? And the ground?” persists Amna, seemingly bewildered.

“It also belongs to Allah,” I venture. “The point is that there is a time for life and a time when we all pass away, when Allah calls us back, just like he did with Uncle Bill,” I continue.

“But he’s not Muslim,” I hear Ibrahim say behind me, who appears to have descended from his tree and may be looking for more meaning.

“No, he’s wasn’t Ibrahim,” I respond, turning my head back and gesturing for him to come sit with us.

Ibrahim walks around the bench and slouches in my lap. I notice that he has been crying, and there are brown, dusty smudges on his cheeks.

“And so if he wasn’t Muslim then how do we know that he will go back to Allah, and that everything will be alright?” asks Ibrahim.

“We don’t baita. Only Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala knows that, but we do know that he was a good man, a very good man, and that counts for a lot.”

“Being good?” Ibrahim asks.

“Yes, being good, which isn’t always that easy,” I say.

For a minute, we are all silent. I brace for the next series of questions.

Rather than speaking, however, Amna, picks up a green crayon and finishes what I have started with the leaf lines. The activity seems to grab Ibrahim as well, and he picks up his discarded leaf print. I wonder what they are thinking.

Or maybe they are not thinking. Maybe their hearts are simply feeling, and that is why at this moment they draw rather than ask more questions.

“Ammi,” Ibrahim finally says, after nearly five minutes have passed. “I’m going to give my leaf print to Aunt Beatrice tonight, and before that, I need to recite Yā Sīn, because that’s what we do when someone dies, that’s what Papa told me. I think maybe Uncle Bill will hear and maybe Allah will hear it, and everything will be ok,” he concludes.[4]

Inshaa Allah,” I say, for really there is nothing else to say.

[1] See Chapter 33, ‘The Fasts and Holy Friday,’ in A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, p.127.

[2] See footnote 103 (for a description of ayah 29 in Surah Yā Sīn), Chapter 19, ‘School time?’ in Yā Sīn, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan.

[3] See Ecclesiastes 3 (King James Version), verses 1, 2, 5, 7, 11, 20-22 excerpted here: “1 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die…5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…11 He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end…20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? 22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”

[4] The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “There is not a person who dies and Ya Sin is read for him, but that Allah makes it easy upon him.” Al-Hafiz [Ibn Hajar] said, “The author of al-Firdaus attributed this hadith to a chain of transmission from Marwan ibn Salim, from Safwan ibn `Amr, from Shuraih, from Abu Darda’, and from Abu Dharr,” as cited at http://spa.qibla.com/issue_view.asp?HD=1&ID=4370&CATE=168, accessed October 14, 2013. Consider also the following hadith: “It has been reported by Aisha RA that the Prophet SAW said that there is a surah in the Qur’an that intercedes for its reciter and forgives its listener. Know! It is Surah Yasin. It is called ‘Mu’amma’ in the Torah. It was enquired, what is Mu’amma? The Prophet SAW said, ‘it embraces the person with the goodness of this world and removes the dismay of the Hereafter’,” (Hashiya of Tafsir Jalalalayn, p. 368).


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Chapter 15: Mudood in I’tikaf

Immediately following is a chapter from ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan,’ a recently completed story by Umm Muhemmed, which follows from ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma’. ‘Ya Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma, throughout the month of Ramadan.  Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text as well.

Setting: Tuesday morning, home, outside, Ramadhan
Characters: Khadija, Ibrahim, Amna

“So I was thinking I might bring Pinocchio with me,” says Ibrahim.

“What?” I respond, looking up.

“Pinecone…coke…ia,” repeats Amna, assuming I haven’t heard properly.

“Ibrahim, you cannot bring Pinocchio into i’tikaf,” I assert, having heard everything.[1] I am seated outside with the children, who are busy with a small sandbox that Abdurrahman and I assembled over the weekend. Ibrahim is making racing tracks for his small, toy camels, while Amna is enjoying sifting the sand with some of my kitchen utensils that she’s allegedly ‘borrowed’. I have my stack of work papers nearby, but once again am flummoxed with how to make headway, while fasting and taking care of the children.

“Well, then what about The Little Prince? He’s not as mis…chie…vous as Pinocchio,” says Ibrahim slowly. If memory serves me correctly, I taught Ibrahim that word after the third chapter, when we read how the little marionette had started laughing and making fun of Geppetto.[2]

“Ibrahim, not in i’tikaf, baita,” I reassert.

Stuart Little? Peter Rabbit? Charlotte’s Web? The Jungle Book,” he says, reeling off the titles of recent books we’ve either read or planned to read.

“Ibrahim, not in i’tikaf,” I maintain.

“Our pet snail?” says Amna, pointing to the snail they trapped yesterday in the garden, after they found it eating the tomatoes. Presently, ‘Sail’ the snail inhabits a shoebox, replete with lots of tomato leaves, and some mint that the children insisted he would like. I wonder about the diet and the longevity but have succumbed to their desire to keep a pet, particularly if it keeps larger, more complex pets like cats and rabbits, about which they also have been asking, at bay.

Baita, I suppose you could bring Sail, but it’s sort of missing the point,” I explain.

“Ammi, you said we’re supposed to ‘reflect on God’s creation’; those were your words. Sail is part of God’s creation,” says Ibrahim, standing up and walking over to check on the shoebox pet, near the back door, which the children insist gives the snail a view of us when we are indoors and helps it not feel lonely.

“Yes, he is, but if you bring Sail into your thirty minutes of i’tikaf you might start to play with him,” I respond, not quite knowing how to make sense of this last question.

“So what’s wrong with playing with him? He would enjoy it,” says Ibrahim.

“He is a girl,” says Amna with emphasis. “And he is all mine,” Amna also gets up and walks over to join her brother at the backdoor.

I anticipate a fight and so get up from where I am seated. As expected, in the seconds that it takes me to reach the children they have already begun pushing each other.

“Mine,” insists Ibrahim, reaching for the shoebox.

“Mine,” responds Amna, pulling the box back.

Within another second, the box is torn in half. The children had made it a moist environment, softening the cardboard considerably; and so whatever force they both just applied was enough to break the box. Sail, affixed to Amna’s side, appears to remain intact.

“See, mine,” says Amna triumphantly, after recognizing that she has the snail side.

“Ammi, we’re going to lose the snail, and, if we do, the black lizards will eat him,” says Ibrahim, as though his fictitious characters are coming alive, and apparently deeply concerned about the fate of his newfound pet.

“It’s ok, baita, we’ll find another shoebox inshaa Allah, remember we still have your Eid shoes packed away in a box, and then of course, I’m sure there will always be more snails,” I try to reassure.

“Sail is different. I don’t want another snail,” says Ibrahim, more attached than I expected. It would appear that some of the lessons of the recently completed Little Prince actually did reach him.[3]

“Well then, let’s hurry up and make another habitat,” I say, trying to be as responsive as possible. “And in the meantime, why don’t we transfer Sail into a glass jar and put some tin foil on top and…”

“He’ll suffocate,” exclaims Ibrahim.

Baita, let me finish. We’ll poke holes in the foil and that will buy us a little time.”

“Then, will you promise to let me take him into i’tikaf?” persists Ibrahim.

“No, not necessarily. I will, however, try to ensure that nothing happens to him, or her,” I say looking at Amna, “while you are in i’tikaf.” Amna responds by handing me her side of the box, along with Sail. I then open the back door and enter inside, with both children trailing me. I rummage around in our recycling box, in the kitchen closet, and finally find an old achar jar, which I think will work as a temporary home. I give the glass jar to Ibrahim, then, while still holding Amna’s box side, find a small piece of tinfoil that was also discarded in the recycling box.

“Can we transfer him here?” asks Ibrahim, eagerly, holding up the glass jar.

“No, all transfers must happen outside,” I say, wanting to limit the indoor science experiments. “Chalyae,” I then add, turning around and heading outdoors again. Amna opens the door for us, intent to help as well.

“So if I can’t bring anything, then what am I supposed to do?” says Ibrahim, following closely by my side and beginning to resign himself to an i’tikaf without Pinocchio or Sail.

“Ibrahim, give me one minute,” I say as I start to pry the snail off the cardboard wall and slide him into the jar that Ibrahim is still holding, “I actually need to concentrate on just one thing at a time, for a minute, and then I may have an answer for you. Meanwhile, I suggest you pick up that tomato leaf on the ground as your friend may be hungry again,” I point to one of the discarded leaves that fell out after the box broke.

Amna is faster than her brother and reaches down for the leaf. “Here baita,” she says pushing the leaf into the jar and talking to the snail. “Now finish your dinner, all of it.”

I can’t help but smile. I hear in Amna my voice, and Abdurrahman’s, her grandmother’s, and amidst the inaneness of keeping a pet snail, this comment touches my heart.

“Now the tinfoil Ammi, with holes,” cautions Ibrahim, who seems still to be concerned with suffocation.

“It’s coming baita,” I reach for one of my pens that I had on the small table where I was trying to work and make a couple of holes in the tinfoil, and affix it to the top. I then put the snail back down in its previous spot.

“So what’s your answer?” asks Ibrahim, not letting another minute go by.

I sit down slowly, trying to refocus. Intuitively, Amna senses a mini lecture and goes back to her sand play.

“Remember the mudood in Surah Yā Sīn?” I say.[4]

“Yes, I do remember,” says Ibrahim with a sigh of exasperation, “you made me find them yesterday, there are fifteen on page two that I have to hold for four to five counts.”[5]

“Well, what did I tell you about them?” I ask. Meanwhile, I observe Amna starting to sieve the camel tracks her brother made and wonder whether this might be the next conflict.

“If we don’t say them, we could change the meaning of the words, and they are also resting spots for us to think and prepare for what’s coming,” says Ibrahim, demonstrating that the lesson did sink in.

“Exactly,” I say.

“So what does that have to do with me not bringing Sail into i’tikaf?” asks Ibrahim.

“Would you consider sitting in the shade for a minute and thinking about the answer to that question,” I propose.

“Is this a punishment?” inquires Ibrahim.

“No, it’s an opportunity, baita, to find the answer on your own; if there’s one thing I want to teach you, it’s how to look for…”

“Ammi, you are trying to teach us a zillion things, not just one thing,” responds Ibrahim. “If it was one thing, it would be easy, but you’re trying to teach us i’tikaf, and how to cut grapes and all those synonym things, and parables,” Ibrahim races through the list. I am stunned that he has remembered the word for ‘synonym’ and ‘parable’, although we are definitely still working on the concepts.

Ibrahim then gets up and starts walking toward a small piece of shade in our backyard, near his tree-climbing tree. I wonder when the tree will also get a name of its own.

“Ammi, is bhai jaan in trouble?” asks Amna, seeing her brother walk away.

“No, he’s thinking,” I respond.

“What’s thinking?” she asks, though I sense she meant ‘what’s he thinking about.’

“I think he is thinking about how he can use his last 10 days of Ramadhan and those extra quiet times I was explaining to you on Sunday called ‘i’tikaf’,” I say.

“I’m not doing more quiet time,” responds Amna defiantly.

“No, baita, you don’t have to. And it’s not like nap time. You don’t need to lie down and sleep. It’s just time to pray and think and remember Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala,” I say, trying to make some sense of i’tikaf for Amna.  

“It’s not dhuhr,” she says.

“No baita, not now, it’s not dhuhr salah now, and i’tikaf is not exactly salah, but it is like that, quiet time to thank Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala and think how we might improve.”

“Improve what?” says Amna, following more than I expected.

“You, not grabbing,” says Ibrahim, who’s back from his thinking moment in the shade. “Ammi, you know, I got it, but next time, don’t send me away like that. It did feel a little like a punishment.”

“It wasn’t intended to be one, baita,” I say, putting my arm around him.  “So I’m all ears, what did you come up with?”

“You’re not all ears,” says Amna, looking at me, and pointing at my nose.

“It’s an expression, Amna,” says Ibrahim, playing the older and wiser brother. “Ok, so the reason why you don’t want me to take Sail into i’tikaf is because you want me to stop and think and wait like we do with those mudood.”

“And?” I say, pressing for more than just Arabic grammar.

“And if I have Sail I will probably get distracted and forget some of my 15 four to five count mudood,” he adds, taking the point more literally but also showing that he’s got some of it. “I do still think it would be fun to have Pinocchio, not the book, but the actual puppet in i’tikaf. I mean I know he’s naughty and all, but sometimes naughty can be fun.”

“I hear you, baita, although I don’t always agree with you. Now, you do realize that I was trying to work here, before we had this extended interruption with your pet, and I am really trying to send off some documents before my own i’tikaf starts,” I say.
“I think you might want to call Nani, she might be able to help with us,” offers Ibrahim.

“I do too,” I say, finally realizing the limits to my concentration and work. “I know she was going to try to study this week, and she may be helping your Abdullah Mamoo out, but I think I’m going to call her.”

“Does that mean Yaseen is coming over?” asks Ibrahim eagerly.

“It may mean that,” I say, looking down at my watch and also realizing that we have another swimming lesson in forty five minutes. “Ok you two, it’s time to start cleaning up,” I say.

“I’m not done,” responds Amna.

Baita, you can come back to this, later, inshaa Allah,” I respond. Then add, “Ibrahim, do you think we can do the morning suwar in the car on the way?”

“I’m really good at reciting on the go,” he says, smiling.

“A little too good, I’d actually like to see you do a little more sitting,” I respond.

“Bo…ring,” Ibrahim sounds out slowly.

“That’s not true. You remember the flying carpet. We were all sitting, with our imaginations, and it was hardly bo…ring, and remember how you had me sit down at the Museum; I don’t think you’d call that boring.[6] I actually challenge you to remember all our exciting sitting recitation activities, later, though. For now, let’s get the camels back in and then….”

“Hey, who destroyed my tracks?” says Ibrahim, finally seeing Amna’s impact.

“Sail,” says Amna, pointing at the glass container.

“No, you, don’t lie,” responds Ibrahim pointing at his sister, then changing his stance, “but it’s ok, because I’m going to make Sail his new home now. I don’t really care about those baby camels anymore.”

“I do,” says Amna, holding up the camels tenderly.

“So do I,” I say, patting Amna gently on the back and opening up the back door. “And I care about you, and getting to your swimming class, now let’s go get changed.”

“What about Sail?” asks Ibrahim.

“I think he and the camels, and Pinocchio, and The Little Prince, and Stuart Little, and even Charlotte’s Web, will do just fine without us for a couple hours; remember Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala is watching them all,” I say, trying to put an end to this discussion.

“You forgot The Jungle Book,” says Ibrahim, following closely, and getting in the last word. He smiles broadly at me and races inside the house, presumably to look for the other shoebox, before we leave.

[1] The reader may wish to refer to Chapter 14, ‘For Swimming,’ (footnote 73) for a description of i’tikaf, including partial i’tikaf that may be undertaken, especially by children.

[2] Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was first published as a complete novel in Italian, in 1882, with individual chapters published prior to that date in a Rome-based newspaper in the children’s section. The reference above is to the Penguin Classics edition (1996, p.13). See also The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery, first published in 1943, in French (1995).

[3] After sighting five thousand roses in a garden on earth, the Little Prince reflects on his lone rose on his planet and says the following, “You are beautiful, but you are empty…one could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen…because she is my rose,” (Saint Exupery, p.82).

[4] As explained in A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, footnote 4, Chapter 34, ‘The Moths’, mudood (plural of madd) is the Arabic grammar terminology referring to the elongation of a letter. The term was first introduced in Chapter 15, ‘From Milk Bottles to Vases, at Asr,’ which also highlighted recycled objects being reused by the family. It should be noted that A Qur’aanic Odyssey, while referencing several grammar exercises and texts (including Towards Reading the Qur’an, Part One and Two), does not provide comprehensive grammar lessons and that the science of tajweed, including the complexity of mudood, should be undertaken with a qualified instructor.

[5] See footnote 1, Chapter 1, ‘The End’ in Yā Sīn, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan which refers to the fact that the family is primarily using a 15 line Uthmani script mushaf for its hifdh work.

[6] Chapter 22, ‘A Carpet,’ of A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma describes a scene where the children, accompanied by Khadija and Nani prepare to ‘fly’ to Doha and back, while seated on their prayer mats, aka flying carpets, and recite Surah Al Qadr (pp.76-79). Chapter 34, ‘Moths’, concludes with Ibrahim and Khadija sitting on a bench at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and reciting (Ibid, p.131-133).

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Chapter 13: School at Sehri

Immediately following is a chapter from ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan,’ a recently completed story by Umm Muhemmed, which follows from ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma’. ‘Ya Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma, throughout the month of Ramadan.  Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text as well.

Setting: early Sunday morning, home
Characters: Khadija, Abdurrahman, Ibrahim

“Do you really think we should wake him?” I whisper to Abdurrahman, who is standing with me in the doorway of the children’s room. The back hall light is on, but, other than a couple of night lights, the house is completely dark. “He slept so late last night, after all those questions….”

“Khadija, you promised your son you would wake him up,” reminds Abdurrahman.

“I know Janu, but his first full day fast was difficult,” I respond.

“From what I remember, his first full day fast was fun, for him, and us, and inshaa Allah his next one will be even more fun,” says Abdurrahman.

“Just remember, if he only makes it half way, that’s ok,” I say looking at Abdurrahman for his buy-in. “And you do realize that your mother called twice yesterday to check up on him and see if he had recovered from Friday.”

Inshaa Allah he will be fine, and yes, if he wants to break his fast at noon, he and you have my blessings, but let’s keep our word and wake him…quickly now, the clock really is ticking,” says Abdurrahman, looking down at his watch and then turning around. He heads downstairs, as he promised Ibrahim he would make him eggs and toast.

Meanwhile, I tiptoe into the children’s room, in an effort not to wake Amna up. I approach Ibrahim’s bed, which is less than three feet from Amna’s, bend over and whisper in his ear. “Assalaamu’alaykum baita, it’s time to wake for sehri; quickly now, we don’t have much time.” Then quietly, I add, “Alhumdulillah-hillathee ah-yana ba’da maa amaa tanaa wa ilayhni nushoor.”[1]

“Ammi,” says Ibrahim, “did I miss anything?”

“No, alhumdulilah, you’re ahead of the game. You even have time to make wudu and pray tahajjud if you wish,” I say, “but quick…” then I stop myself, before saying anything more, not wanting to rush him too much.

“Ammi, will you help me do my wudu?” asks Ibrahim–a question I don’t think I’ve ever heard him ask before. When Abdurrahman and I showed him the steps, he asked for clarification, and since then we’ve both offered further correction, but I can’t recall him asking me to help him per se.

Bilcul baita,” I respond, “Neend aa rahi hae kiya?”[2]

Jee haan,” says Ibrahim, standing up slowly and leaning against me. I take his hand and walk him to the restroom where I assist him with all the requisite steps. Slowly, after washing his face, he becomes more alert.

Tahajjud?” I then ask.

“Yes, but can I use baby suwar?” responds Ibrahim.

Baita, there are no ‘baby suwar’ in the Qur’aan; short ones, yes, but no babies, and remember the short ones are significant too.”

“Well, I sometimes feel with hifdh that when I use the short ones I’m cheating,” says Ibrahim.

“I know what you mean, but not ‘cheating,’ just taking the easier route,” I say. “Maybe give yourself an easy pass now, and then when you’re all energized after eating the breakfast your father is making for you, you can use Yā Sīn in your fajr?” I suggest.

“It’s a deal,” says Ibrahim, walking over to the small prayer mat that we generally leave out in the children’s room. “So I’m using Surah Al Asr and Ikhlaas,” says Ibrahim, looking to me for approval.[3]

I nod, and pause briefly, watching Ibrahim, then realize I also need to offer my tahajjud. Rather than going back to the prayer mat in our room, I decide to stand next to Ibrahim and offer my salah with him. These are rare moments, very rare moments, and the heart tells me to savor all of them.

As I am starting, Ibrahim appears to be finishing. He pauses at the end and sits down, then, as if remembering his father, and the sehri routine, stands up and makes his way downstairs. I hear him on the stairwell and then try to block out all the noises and smells, including what may be burnt toast.

“Papa,” says Ibrahim in between the banisters on the stairwell. “Did you make my eggs?”

“Yes sir, but I thought you only wanted half of one?” responds Abdurrahman.

“Papa, you’re not serious. We’re fasting all day. Nonna doesn’t want me to go hungry,” says Ibrahim, approaching his father, with a look of concern.

“Don’t worry bambino, I was just teasing you. Inshaa Allah as long as I live you will never go hungry. Look here, one egg, two egg, three egg, four…” says Abdurrahman, holding out two frying pans, to reassure his son.

“Papa, you sound like a tired Dr Seuss,” says Ibrahim.

“These are not green eggs, and I only serve halal sausage, no ham,” says Abdurrahman, not missing a beat.[4]

Ibrahim smiles at his father.

“Papa, why are you still in your pajamas?” asks Ibrahim, looking at the blue and white striped pajamas that he rarely sees his father wear.

“Why are you still in your pajamas?” says Abdurrahman, returning the question.

“I just woke up,” says Ibrahim.

“Well so did I, bambino, and after praying and encouraging your mother to wake you up, do you know what the next thing I did was?”

“You recited Yā Sīn?” asks Ibrahim.

“No, that’s after fajr, inshaa Allah…so your doting father came down here to make you breakfast, just like you asked. I did not change my clothes…nor do I intend to, since it’s Sunday, and I get a…”

“Break,” I say, from the stairwell, where I have been watching father and son, unobserved, for the last minute.

“Thank you, yes, a break, alhumdulilah. No running to office early this morning,” says Abdurrahman. “And no office clothes, today.”

I let my mind wander momentarily and think about going to ‘the office’ and how it might be a welcome respite from home-based work.

“Ok, so who’s ready for sehri?” asks Abdurrahman.

“Papa, I’m not exactly hungry,” responds Ibrahim.

“It’s ok baita, just try to put something in your stomach, and drink some water,” I say, walking over to the sink and filling a pitcher. “You know, the best thing would be if you could eat a date.”

“Wait a minute,” interjects Abdurrahman, “a minute ago you were whining because you thought I only made you half an egg, so which is it? Now, before you spend too much time thinking, just roll the clock forward five hours and then imagine that appetite of yours,” he says.

“Ok, I’m hungry five hours from now,” says Ibrahim.

“Then, per favore, sit down and dine with me,” says Abdurrahman, pulling out a chair with a grand gesture.

Abdurrahman and Ibrahim sit as I ready cereal and dried fruits and nuts behind the counter. Eggs and toast don’t work that well for me, at least not as I’ve grown older.

“Papa, the thing I still don’t understand,” says Ibrahim between mouthfuls, “is what happens when the imam skips a line in taraweeh.”

“And the thing I don’t understand is how you never run out of questions and how you always remember almost everything except exactly what your mother needs you to do at that particular moment,” says Abdurrahman, looking up and smiling at me.

“That’s not fair, I always do what Ammi asks, almost always,” says Ibrahim, starting to pout.

“Ok, so…the imam, right?” I say, returning us to Ibrahim’s question that he first asked several days ago. “From what I know, skipping an ayah is fairly common, and there is always at least one person following along with a mushaf who may prompt him,” I explain.

“Last night he skipped another ayah,” says Ibrahim.

“Well, it was a different imam. This could have been his first. And what about us? Don’t we do the same?” says Abdurrahman, also stopping between mouthfuls.

“But we’re not the imam,” responds Ibrahim.

“No, but we are all human,” I say. “Remember how much difficulty we had with all the different mursaleens and mursaloons yesterday,” recalling the second page of Surah Yā Sīn on which we were working. “Even after we talked through the parable, listened to Sheikh Husri, and wrote down the words.”[5]

“But we’re not the imam,” Ibrahim repeats.

“Point taken, bambino, but your mother’s point is valid too. In essence, we are all students of the deen, and true students never stop learning.”

“And making mistakes,” says Ibrahim.

“And learning,” Abdurrahman repeats.

“Humility,” I add.

“Hafidha Rabia wouldn’t have made a mistake,” counters Ibrahim.

“Perhaps, baita, but we don’t know. The goal is to strive for excellence, always, but not judge another on his or her mistake, and if we do observe or make a mistake, to correct it in the most ahsan way possible. Remember last night at the masgid?” I say looking at Ibrahim and not needing to say anything more.

“Yes,” says Ibrahim, nodding his head, clearly remembering everything. “So you won’t judge me on confusing  the mursaloons?”

“Judge you, no, absolutely not, but I will try to teach you, and, after Ramadhan, I am sure Hafidha Rabia will help to educate us all, and give us tips for keeping the terms straight,” I say.

“Khadija, you do realize sehri time is almost over, and you really need to put a pause on your sehri school this morning,” says Abdurrahman, looking down at his watch in his customary way and providing a reality check.[6]

“Oh goodness, baita, time to stop the questions for now, please, I need to finish my cereal. Maybe, you and your father could keep the discussion going after fajr,” I propose.

“Ammi, we’re reciting Surah Yā Sīn after fajr. How could you forget, and you have to hold the mushaf this time,” insists Ibrahim.

“Those are tall orders, but ‘roger that’,” I say, saluting Ibrahim in a playful way. “Abdurrahman, can you take him up, and I’ll finish down here,” I suggest.

“We’re on it Lieutenant, and, by the way, let’s not worry about the clean-up now, ok? We’re striving for excellence, but let’s clean up after fajr,” says Abdurrahman.

“After Yā Sīn,” Ibrahim says, taking his father’s hand and leading him upstairs.

[1] Translated as, “Many thanks to Allah who gave us life after having given us death and (our) final return (on the Day of Qiyaamah) is to Him,” (as excerpted from Allamah Muhammad Al-Jazri’s Al-Hisnul Hasin, and  translated by Muhammad Rafeeq Ibne Moulana Ahmed Hathurani, p.76).

[2]Neend aa rahi hae kiya” may be translated as ‘You feel sleepy?’; the text incorporates words from Urdu, Arabic, Italian, and Spanish, among other languages. Single foreign words may be found in the glossary, although in many cases their meaning may be deduced from the context; the author has, however, attempted to provide translations of any longer expressions in the footnotes to facilitate comprehension and reading.

[3] Length is not an indicator of the significance of suwar. All are revelation and carry lessons. Many of the shorter suwar, including Surah Al Ikhlaas, were actively used in prayer by Prophet Muhemmed SAW, who said the following, “Is any of you incapable of reciting a third of the Qur’an in a night?…Recite al Ikhlas, ‘for [by the One in whose hands is my life], it is equivalent to [reading] a third of the Qur’an,” as narrated by Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (Bukhari, Muslim Hadith Collections). It is not, however, simply, a question of including the surah in salah, but also our relationship with it. As reported by Anas, ‘Your love for it will admit you into Paradise,’ [Prophet Muhemmed SAW] said to a man who loved Ikhlas (Tirmidhi and Bukhari Hadith Collections).

[4] Green Eggs and Ham (Dr Seuss 1960).   As excerpted from this classic children’s poem: “Sam I am, I am Sam, I am Sam, Sam I am. I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am…”

[5] As excerpted from footnote 3 of Chapter 19, ‘Why is My Name?’, from A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, “Sheikh Mahmoud Khalil Husri (also spelled Husary and Husari), b.1917, d.1980, was a world renowned qari, and his recordings continue to be in wide circulation, especially amongst aspiring huffadh,” (p.66). He is known for his impeccable tarteel and tajweed. The ayaat of Yā Sīn to which Khadija is referring are 13, 14, 16 and 20, which refer to ‘messengers’, ‘two messengers,’ ‘a mission’ and ‘the messengers’—all with the same Arabic root (ل,س,ر) but differing slightly in meaning.

[6] Although not fard, during Ramadhan (nor other nafl fasts), eating sehri (i.e. the taking of food just before dawn) was the sunnah of Prophet Muhemmed SAW. A range of different foods are recommended, among them dried dates, which are high fiber complex carbohydrates, as highlighted in the discussion above. Fried eggs and toast (or, paratas, or any of Dr Seuss’ concoctions) are less recommended, due to the way that the food is digested during the fast, but are still widely enjoyed.


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We are neighbors, one perspective of an American Muslim

We are neighbors, one perspective of an American Muslim
submitted to the NYTimes op-ed page on Monday, April 29, 2013 (unpublished)
by Umm Muhemmed

A month ago, on the cusp of Easter, I was reflecting on ‘Good Friday’ and how American Muslims, living in a largely Christian country, may further incorporate such notion of goodness and awareness of Christ into their congregational sermon and practice—a position I have maintained consistently since converting to Islam a decade ago, and one shared by many others, converts and born-Muslims alike.

Two weeks ago, it was another story altogether. Friday was frightening, with the pursuit of the second Boston Marathon bomber. I stayed home from the mosque that Friday, out of fear—scared of further terror, and of backlash. With my two young children, I made a small camp in a back closet, which we all agreed felt like the safest place in our home.

And now, this past Friday, I embarked on what should have been a simple visit to honor a dear friend, who I have known for twenty years, at her wedding.  But it wasn’t simple. Unlike many other domestic travelers, I was unaffected by ‘sequester’, but I felt the stares. There were deep penetrating stares as I walked, alone, through the airport, and down the aisle, unaccompanied by the children and spouse that for many normalize my wearing of hijab and appearance of religiosity.

Are you more scared of me or me of you? Fear seemed to engulf both sides. I am a student of Qur’aan, but I was reluctant to take out a Qur’aan next to my seatmate on the plane. Before starting any journey, I ask for safety, from God. There is a short prayer that I normally utter quietly in Arabic, but even that felt suspicious, not to mention the offering of mid-afternoon and sunset prayers, which I do, when on a plane, by simply bending over in a make-shift prostration, while still sitting. In the past ten years, when I perceived any unfamiliarity with Islam, I generally explained before I offered prayers, but on Friday, there was too much fear. I didn’t want to broach the topic, and so tried to do and say everything almost invisibly.

‘Why aren’t more Muslims speaking out, against terrorism?’ I was asked recently. ‘We are, I am,’ I replied. It feels as though it is all we do, at times, and yet the voices of peace, tolerance, and love are never the loudest in the room. Most of us are also scared, equally if not more scared. We fear the terror and the backlash. The violence in our midst is one which we strongly condemn. It is a sickness, a disease, of horribly misinterpreted and misdirected motives which has no place in any religion. It is akin to finding the definition for ‘murder’ in the dictionary and using the dictionary as a justification for killing. Nothing Prophet Muhemmed did, nor any of the Prophets who preceded him, who are role models for Muslims, and for all of humanity, ever pointed to terror. Nothing.

And so we are all engulfed in fear, but it need not be so. There is hope, faith, and always a new day. To my fellow Muslims, continue striving. And as you strive, please remember to meet your neighbors, all of them, be they your seatmates, your colleagues, your classmates, or the women, men and children next door. This is a fundamental act, and one, I must remind myself of as well, especially when fear-stricken. Though possibly not as heroic as working in a food pantry or donating blood, acts which many of us are already engaged in, it goes a long way in trying to re-establish peace.

And to my fellow Americans of different faith traditions, please look beyond the violence, into your own hearts. Recognize the humanity in your Muslim American neighbors. They are good, and they are striving to be better, always. Peace is possible, and, as has forever been the case, it is the only sustainable way forward. We are united, in so many more ways than we are divided. This is divine truth, and it is also the truth that makes a town, a city, a country and a world thrive.

-Umm Muhemmed is an American convert to Islam, she is a student of Qur’aan, author of ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma,’ and ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan’ (forthcoming)

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Chapter 5: Why Ya Sin?

Immediately following is a chapter from ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan,’ a recently completed story by Umm Muhemmed, which follows from ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma’. ‘Ya Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma, throughout the month of Ramadan.  Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text as well.

Setting: Sunday morning, nearby park
Characters: Ibrahim, Abdurrahman, Khadija, Amna and Nani

Ibrahim has grabbed two limbs and is hanging freely between them. From where I am sitting with Abdurrahman, I can barely make out his face behind all the leaves.

Janu, please go see what he’s up to,” I say to Abdurrahman, who has been sitting quietly, trying to complete extra rounds of thikr on his tasbeeh. “It’s pretty high, and I know I can neither reach nor catch him,” I add.

“I’m going,” says Abdurrahman, standing up quickly, sensing my concern. “But, just so you know,” he says, turning back to me, “little boys were made to climb trees. I think your mother would vouch for me on that one too.”

My mother, who is squatting in a tree-shaded sandbox, nearby with Amna, nods her head and smiles.

Abdurrahman makes his way over to the tree, putting his tasbeeh away in his pocket as he walks. “So why so high bambino?” asks Abdurrahman.

“Papa, what do you mean? I just heard you, ‘little boys were made to climb trees’,” Ibrahim repeats.

“You’re right, I’m right, and mamas were made to worry,” says Abdurrahman smiling and grabbing the lower branch. Within another minute, he has climbed up to Ibrahim, and is hanging alongside, albeit with his feet dangling another three feet below.

“You know Ammi was telling me about Muslim athletes in Ramadan when she was growing up. Were you one?”

Bambino, you know I’m only a ten year-old Muslim, but let’s just say, I have played a couple of good rounds of soccer before iftar, with Taleem, that is, before you and Amna came along and ate up all my energy.”

“Papa, we don’t eat your energy,” responds Ibrahim.

“You know what I mean. So, a penny for your thoughts? What have you been strategizing up here?”

“Planning,” says Ibrahim.

“Planning what?” Abdurrahman responds.

“A game I am going to play with Yaseen when he comes over next time. I’ll take that branch up there and then he can have the lower one, and then we’ll fight the black lizards with our double edged swords.”

“What black lizards?”

“The ones that are taking over our planet,” says Ibrahim, in a very serious tone.

“Of course,” smiles Abdurrahman.

“Papa,” Ibrahim says, pausing. “Why do you and Ammi and Hafidha Rabia want me to learn Surah Yā Sīn now? You know how long it is…four Surah An Nabas lined up?” which seems to have become Ibrahim’s refrain about Yā Sīn this past week.[1]

“You know someone once said basically that if you recite Surah Yā Sīn at fajr, you’ll be happy all day,” responds Abdurrahman.

“Who said that?” queries Ibrahim.

“Who do you think?” Abdurrahman responds.


“Well, she may have reminded me of it, but no, think a little bit harder.”

“I give up,” says Ibrahim.

“You never give up, bambino. You’re Nonna’s grandson and she doesn’t allow quitters,” says Abdurrahman.

“Neither does Nani,” adds Ibrahim. “Ok, so if it’s not Ammi…and it’s not you,” he says looking at Abdurrahman for confirmation. “Then, maybe, Ammi’s papa?”

“Try again.”

“Papa, I’m lost. You aren’t giving me enough clues. In any real detective case, you have to give the detective clues.”

“Or the detective has to look for the clues,” responds Abdurrahman.

“Ok, so, was it a boy or a girl?” asks Ibrahim.

“A man,” Abdurrahman responds.

“Is he alive?” Ibrahim continues.

“No,” says Abdurrahman.

“Was he good or evil, like the black lizards?”

“He was the best,” says Abdurrahman.

“Really? Papa, are you sure he was real?”

“Yes, very sure. I’ve changed my life I’m so sure.”

“Papa, you just gave away the answer. It was Prophet Muhemmed,” says Ibrahim.

Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam,” adds Abdurrahman, then continuing, “yes, and he also said that Yā Sīn is the heart of the Qur’aan.”[2]

“What else, Papa?”

“For reciting Yā Sīn you receive the reward of reading the Qur’aan ten times,” responds Abdurrahman.[3]

“Ten times?” Ibrahim exclaims, “I haven’t even finished one time. So you mean if I finish Yā Sīn before I finish reading the whole Qur’aan, I’ve already finished it?”

Abdurrahman smiles, again. “I think we should ask your mother about that one, or maybe Hafidha Rabia. That’s a technicality I don’t quite get.”

“So, anything else?” probes Ibrahim, who is still hanging, with his feet dangling between the two trees.

Bambino, don’t you want to put your feet down on the ground for a minute?”

“Papa, I’m starting my fast at noon, and I’ve got all the energy in the world. I think I could hang here all day, even if I were fasting.”

“It’s a pretty cool spot,” adds Abdurrahman. “And to answer your question, I do have more ahadith, a lot more, but let’s take them one at a time. They mean more that way, sort of like your ayah, which I have been meaning to ask you about. Did you get it before we left this morning?”

“Errr,” says Ibrahim, looking around as though he’s guilty, then shakes his head.

“Ok, well then, let me take you through it now. Ayah six right, that’s what your mother said you were on today.”

Ibrahim nods.

Abdurrahman starts reciting quietly until he gets to ayah six, then pronounces it out loud for Ibrahim to hear, “Li-tundhira qawman-ma undhira aba’ uhum fahum ghafilun.” He repeats it again, and again. Ibrahim closes his eyes, as he listens, then starts to move his lips. Then both are silent for a minute.

“Papa, I think I got it,” says Ibrahim.

“Of course you do,” responds Abdurrahman, “but you have to promise me, you’ll go look in your mushaf when we get home. Your mama is not going to be happy if she thinks we cut any corners.”

“Don’t worry Papa, we’re not going to make her worried….can you tell me what it means now?” asks Ibrahim.

“Don’t quote me on this, but I think it has to do with Prophet Muhemmed Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam warning people whose fathers didn’t warn them, and who didn’t obey Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala’s command, but again, let’s go look it up when we are at home.”[4]

“So, like you?” says Ibrahim.

“What?” responds Abdurrahman.

“Like you, your father wasn’t Muslim,” Ibrahim says.

“No, I take your point, but alhumdulilah, he was a very good man,” Abdurrahman says. “And that’s the way I want you to think of him, bambino. And maybe one day when I’m gone, you’ll remember me with your children, inshaa Allah.”

“I’ll remember you Papa, don’t worry, but first, help me get up to the next branch, and then the one after that and then that one up there. I want to surprise Ammi and show her we can go all the way to the top.”

“Ibrahim, your mother will never forgive me. So, how about, we go up to the next branch, but we don’t make a scene. Just you and me, for a minute, and we leave the other branches for another day, ok bambino?”

“You make good deals, Papa. Ok, just one more branch, and one more time on Yā Sīn and then we’ll go back to the sandbox,” says Ibrahim, starting to hoist his legs up.

[1] The fictitious character Hafidha Rabia, who featured more prominently in A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, teaches the family remotely, from Jakarta. As previously noted, ‘hafidha’ is the honorary title given to a woman who has memorized the Qur’aan (the male designation is ‘hafidh’ also spelled ‘hafiz’). The name

‘Rabia’ means ‘spring’ in Arabic. Among the most renowned personages to hold the name ‘Rabia’ in Islamic history is ’Rabia al Basri’, the 8th century, Sufi mystic. During Ramadan, as mentioned in the ‘Cast of Characters’, lessons with Hafidha Rabia have been suspended, however, progress and review, with the immediate family, still continue apace.

[2] The hadith transmitted by ‘Ataa bin Abi Rabaah RA states that the Prophet SAW said: “Whosoever recites Surah Yā Sīn in the early part of the day his needs will be fulfilled,” (Mishkaat); furthermore, under the commentary of the above hadith it is explained: “ones worldly needs and the needs pertaining to the deen and the Hereafter will be fulfilled.”

[3] “Everything has a heart and the heart of the Qur’an is Yā Sīn. Anyone who reads it, God will write down for him ten readings of the Qur’an,” as recorded by Anas (Tirmidhi Hadith Collection).

[4] As translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, “In order that thou mayest admonish a people, whose fathers had received no admonition, and who therefore remained heedless (of the Signs of Allah),” (1989, p.1117).

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Ramadan, goal setting and a new look at da’wah

Below is a selection from the Q&A, with minor embellishments, following the ‘Ramadan, goal setting and a new look at da’wah’ presentation in Houston TX, Saturday, July 21st, 2012. Also please find the hand-out with selected children’s activities, circulated after the talk, below (following the Q&A). It is important to note at the outset, as indicated during the presentation, I do not have a perfect prescription for childcare/rearing. It is, for me, a daily struggle, and a daily learning. Each parent ultimately holds the unique keys and the understanding for the job inshaa Allah. The goal of the talk was to shed light on the fact that each parent/caregiver actually has the potential to act as a da’ii to his/her family and community, in the Prophetic tradition, especially during the month of Ramadan.

1)       How do we reach our children, especially our older children, in Ramadan?
Consider a young woman/older teenager who has demonstrated no interest in the religion and a pronounced interest in computer programming and a fascination with hacking. While Martin Lings’ ‘Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources’ and Tariq Ramadan’s ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet’ are wonderful texts, this may not be the right way to re-start a dialogue.  Instead, I suggest picking up the latest issue of ‘Wired Magazine’ and sharing the feature article on ‘Anonymous’ as a way to communicate your own understanding of hacking, including the real perils (and associated punishments). Following, you may be able to introduce another book, namely ‘Alif the Unseen’, by G. Willow Wilson, a recent fiction that, in a Harry Potter-esque way, walks the reader into a fantasy, computer underground. This could prompt a further dialogue about the author, who is a revert to Islam, and an eloquent and clear thinker on a range of deen-subjects, and, who is also featured this month in ‘Azizah Magazine’, which delves into a wide array of issues experienced by Muslim women and could be a further connection and source of inspiration for an older teen. This is just one example (which may/not fit your situation), but the point is that we use the youth’s interests, not necessarily our own, and we start our dialogue from that place, trying to link back to the deen. In addition, if the youth you are trying to reach has her/his own room, simply ask if you may spend time in that space, with him/her. Observe the space; ask questions about what may be on the wall or decorating different parts of the room. What is his/her mode of expression? Try to understand rather than judge what you see. A dialogue is sure to start, and there is also potential to link that dialogue, in a sensitive way, to the deen, but the onus on us, as parents and care givers, is to listen first.  I also suggest taking your family out of its norm and consider an iftar in Memorial Park (or a park near to your home). Consider spending an hour in the park before hand. Let nature be a link, among you, and a link back to the deen. The point here is to create a very positive association with iftar and to spend time observing AllahSWT’s extraordinary creations. Tone and how we deliver the ‘message’ is almost everything. Keeping the example of Prophet Muhemmed (SAW) in the forefront of our minds and hearts will inshaa Allah help us all in our efforts. Please note a similar question was raised during the AQO launch discussion which may be of possible interest.

2)      I have non-Muslim colleagues at work who ask me how I fast, how I actually go without food and water? I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but how should I respond?
Less is more. I would simply recommend responding, ‘With God’s help’. If they press you on the subject, you could describe the (spiritual) nourishment during the month of Ramadan, i.e. the extra prayers, acts of charity, etc, which are all a sort of soul food. If they press you still further, you may want to share a couple of articles with them. Islamicity is replete with many such articles, but you may want to excerpt/tailor to ensure the tone and language is in line with your specific da’wah effort. I have received these questions for many years, often from the same people; generally the question is not necessarily a question but more a statement of disbelief, therefore I try to answer courteously but also move on (it is therefore important for you to sense what the questioner is really asking). In addition, there is a precedent for fasting in nearly every world religion and it may be helpful to read up on this for your own reference if you want to make real inter-faith bridges. For some comic relief on the subject, I suggest Baba Ali’s Ramadan’s Reruns (initial segment), available via Youtube.

3)     How do we manage the long days in Ramadan with our children, and without TV?
Although I am not a fan, TV is not inherently evil. If your children have a very strong desire to watch TV, and they are not listening to you (in terms of limiting the TV time), try having a dialogue with them about what they think would be an appropriate amount during Ramadan, considering the many additional Ramadan activities/goals you may have outlined (provided you have their buy-in for those goals). Try to reach a compromise that works for all of you, but have them have a sense of ownership in the process. Then, I strongly recommend pre-selecting programs, especially a range of (informative, potentially calm) nature programs. In the activity list below, I have also included a reference to the Zaky series, as well as the PBS documentary ‘Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet’, which while geared toward adults, could be watched in shorter segments by/with younger children. I would keep a chart and make a record, but give this specific task to the children. You could also create a reward scheme. Muslimville offers a range of wonderful Ramadan resources (cited below), including ‘Smart Cool Week’ which is TV-free but full of alternative activities. Chapter 5 ‘TV’ in ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey’ also deals explicitly with this issue.
Sometimes the placement of the TV is also a major challenge. If you really want to excise TV from your home during Ramadan then you may need to reconsider its placement in the home (most living rooms are organized around TV sets). And if you do remove it then you need to make sure you have alternatives (books, puzzles, drawing, legos, clay, outdoor activities), and you also need to realize that in any transition away from TV you may need to be forefront in interacting with your children. Two parents also contributed the following, during the Q&A: maintain a loose schedule and have the children know what is coming in the day. Also, to the extent possible, have the children participate in food preparation, especially iftar, and be open to accepting the chaos (and clean-up) that often accompanies children in the kitchen.

4)   What should I do, during Ramadan, since I’m fasting? (this question was asked by a young male teenager, who attended the talk, all previous questions had been asked by adults)?
‘There are endless possibilities, but the important part is to stay active. Ramadan is not a long siesta, even in Houston-summer-break-heat. Do you like basketball?’
Head nod.
‘ Ok, do you have a basketball hoop (or access to one)?’
‘Ok, well, you may not have the energy to do 100 shots, but I would still try for 5-10 shots, when the sun is not at its peak. Stay active. Keep moving…. Do you have a favorite author? Have you read all the books by your favorite author?’
‘Ok, well, how about finding a second favorite author. The public libraries are open and want to see you….Have you started to make any Eid gifts?’
‘Well, quite apart from any Qur’aanic goals you may have for this month, why don’t you consider (now, don’t share this with your parents), copying out your favorite ayaat from the Qur’aan and laminating them and/or framing them to give them as gifts. Remember, stay active. Don’t lose or waste a minute. Ramadan is only once a year and we don’t want to be caught ‘sleeping on the job.’ Let’s talk more one-on-one after, ok?’
In addition, the principal of ILM Academy recommended that we consider incorporating more community service and charity projects during the course of Ramadan, which could have major appeal for our youth. Habitat for Humanity may be too ambitious but maybe not. Ask the youth what they think they could do and then plot a strategy with them.  Also try making the mesgid a real destination for activities so a positive relationship is cultivated with this sacred space.

Following is a short list of Ramadan materials of possible interest. In this era of information overload, I deliberately selected only a few of the materials I have come across (and actively tested/implemented and enjoyed with children).  These are all free downloads with the exception to the Ramadan Memory Book (available for a nominal fee) and the full length versions of two videos (although clips may be viewed freely).  I welcome feedback.

Web sites/e-books
1. Ramadan Memory Book by Umm Ibrahim (Talibidden Jr), this is a wonderful resource that we have used (and re-used) for 4 years, alhumdulilah! Geared toward children 5-8. Available via:
Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/umm-ibrahim/ramadan-memory-book/ebook/product-5161193.html
(also recommend TJ http://tjramadan.blogspot.com/ by same author)

2. Muslimville Ramadan competitions, ages JK to 8. We have participated for 3 years and always experience new learning, alhumdulilah. Available via: http://ramadancompetition.com/

3. Mini Muslim Ramadan resources, including e-book, Fatimah’s First Fasting Day Storybook. Available via: http://www.mini-mumin.com/RK2.html

4.  Resources available via Productive Muslim (www.productivemuslim.com), including 30 Tips for a guilt-free Ramadan (free e-book). These are not specifically geared toward children, however, may be useful to adults and tailored by parents to children.

1. Zaky series, via One4Kids, especially, Let’s Learn Qur’an with Zaky & Friends, geared for younger children. Ramadan Song with Zaky, featured on this video, is also available via Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3jQfIzgXsM

2. Muhammad: Legacy of Prophet (PBS): although now a decade old (and not explicitly ‘Ramadan-focused’), is still stirring and we have found that it may we watched with young and old alike, with parental guidance:  http://www.pbs.org/muhammad/film2.shtml

Other technology
 Each person has his/her own personal preferences, but we have found that digital Qur’aans (including the iQuran application) go a long way in helping to engage our youth (including getting them to identify favorite qaris, identify selections to memorize, serve as a reward for a major Qur’aanic accomplishments etc). We, however, only use such devices as a supplement (to our actual mushafs) and try to observe the same etiquette in handling etc that we would with a real mushaf.  In addition, a favorite Qur’anic search engine is available via: http://www.islamicity.com/QuranSearch/

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