Mercy for all of Mankind

And We have sent u not but as a Mercy to all the worlds" Al Qur'an. 21:107
And We have sent u not but as a Mercy to all the worlds” Al Qur’an. 21:107
Calligraphy by Sana Naveed at http://www.muhammadanart.com/

 

The last post I wrote was on the topic of Christmas-The birth of Jesus –Prophet ISA (Peace be upon him). It only seems befitting that today I would write about the Birth of my beloved Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). It turns out that the celebration of the birth of this central figure of Islam is just as controversial as Jesus’. There are two camps on the topic of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet (PBUH). Group One vehemently opposes any such celebration or even the existence of such a celebration. They are also the same faction that opposes Christmas. The pretext being that there are only two festival allowed by the religion: the celebration of the two Eids. They further prove this by saying no such event ever took place during the life or after the death of the Prophet (PBUH). Group two is the group that supports the celebration of the birthday, presenting all sorts of references in support for this. Their prime argument is that the faith of the Believers of Islam is incomplete without the love of their beloved Prophet (PBUH).What is the extent of the love of the Prophet (PBUH)? As per them there is no such thing as the limit of that love because where that extent ends, begins the love of the Almighty. These groups are further sub-divided by their views on the levels of the Haram-ness on the topic of the celebration and about the levels of the extent through which you can celebrate this blessed day.

Now, like most things in my life I don’t belong to one camp over the other. I understand the debate prohibiting the celebration, but I also understand the reasons for celebration. I am most definitely wary of using Haram (prohibited)/Kuffar (disbelief)/Bidaa (innovation) to define the practice of celebration, just as much as I am against those who believe in the Mawlid (birthday) referring to the non-believers of Mawlid as infidels. I tend to hold a middle ground, and believe that excess of anything is generally a bad thing. But, anti-exorbitance is the framework through which I like to live my life. I am constantly questioning excessiveness and wastefulness of our material means. So, I do not support any extravagance in celebration whether be personal or religious. Now, having cleared that, I don’t think wishing a happy Mawlid un nabi, or promoting the recitation of Darud is wrong; nor do I necessarily support the idea of fancy Milaad gatherings. Milaad is a gathering where through poetry a person praises the Prophet (PBUH), him and expresses one’s love for him. Nothing wrong with poetry and nothing wrong with expressing your love for the Prophet (PBUH). I often enjoy Nasheeds and Naats myself. The problem comes when people go to extreme measures to arrange these gatherings; spending lots of money, using lots of lighting and flags to decorate the streets and calling anyone who doesn’t support the idea of Milaad as an infidel. Recently, I came across a video that showcased an extreme example of the celebration of the birth, which included dancing to a song that objectified women, and likened them to alcohol. Both objectification and intoxication are prohibited in Islam and seems like a contradictory way to celebrate the birth of the man whose Prophethood is the birth of Islam. This definitely is where I would draw the line on celebration.

What does the day of birth of the Prophet (Pbuh) mean for me? His birthday is a reminder of the beautiful blessing that Allah Almighty bestowed upon this world and the next world; therefore, a cause for jubilation. It is a reminder for me as a Muslim to be thankful to be from his Ummah. It is a moment for me to ponder and really live the essence of his teachings. It is a chance for me to understand the importance of the precious gift of Shahadah (belief in the oneness of God) that I share with my fellow Muslims. I wish, instead of engaging in debates about the actual practice of celebrating Mawlid, perhaps we would live our lives being exemplary of the teachings of this great man. To me a better celebration would be to showcase mercy, kindness, good behaviour, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, charity and piety on a daily basis, but if not, then at least just on the day of his birth. Wouldn’t that be the greatest way to commemorate his birth? If instead of wasting tons of money on the Milaad celebration, we fed the orphans; or used the money to invest in medical or education for the poor; we would be upholding the real essence of the teachings of the Great Prophet of Islam. Sure, if you must show your love through hosting a Milaad, by all means, but let’s not turn it into a mockery by hosting elaborate events, competing and outdoing each other in the size of the events, using it as an excuse to buy the most expensive outfits for the gathering or wasting food at those said events.

There is an opportunity every year on the 12th of Rabi-Al-Awal to celebrate the legacy of this great man of history. Let’s take the time to ponder upon his lesson, his teachings and pledge to at least instill a fraction of the patience and love this man possessed for everyone. He was a man of simple means-the Prophet of the worlds, with often very little to eat, tattered clothes to wear, epitome of humbleness, patience and forgiveness. We, as his Ummah represent none of the characteristics possessed by this man. Let’s celebrate not by showing anger to someone whose idea of celebration differs from yours. Let’s celebrate by being patient, forgiving and realizing that we are all humans and can err. Love and understanding can heal and turn the evilest of hearts. Islamic history is replete with stories of such turning of the hearts all due to the mercy, and love shown by this Great man. Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) reacted not with anger or hatred-he was a visionary and knew that you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

I, for one am happy that today is the day of the birth of the man who was sent as a mercy to all of mankind (Al-Anbiyaa’: 107), and to whom the Quran was revealed and of the man who spent his years crying: “Allahumma Ummati, Allahumma Ummati – O Allah my Ummah, O Allah my Ummah”. We are from that Ummah and we must not disservice this great man by engaging in petty arguments, hatred, lying and deceit. Instead of arguing about the celebration, and disrespecting one another, using vulgarity and derogatory language, instead of wasting the means Allah has bestowed upon us, we should walk the earth as the representatives of his teachings. That would be the true celebration of the birth of Muhammed-The Prophet (PBUH) and the greatest man on earth.

Mawlid-Un-Nabi Mubarak!

Allahuma salle ala sayyidina Muhammedin nabi yil ummi yi wa Ala aalihi wa asabhi wasalam.

Calligraphy by Sana Naveed http://www.muhammadanart.com/
Calligraphy by Sana Naveed
http://www.muhammadanart.com/

Oh no Christmas! The Muslim Existential Crisis

mr1

Picture from Michigan, courtesy of my friend MR

As soon as the month of December rolls in, Christmas sales, Christmas cheer, Christmas lights and decoration–everything Christmas-y starts to surround you. It is a festive-cheery-get together with family-be merry-be patient-be generous-be in the Christmas Spirit– time of the year–UNLESS you happen to be Muslim!

If you are Muslim, Christmas time poses more an existential dilemma than anything else. What this leads to is a crisis and it becomes a time of panic. An OH MY GOD-I committed Blasphemy-I am going to burn in hell-I fell out of the Folds of Islam because I wished my co-workers/neighbours/friends Merry Christmas-crisis of Faith- time of the year. Of course, this sort of thinking would suck the fun and cheer right out of anything festive, and Christmas is no exception. Usually, when Christmas month starts, I start to receive facebook tagged photos, text messages or emails outlining to me the million and one reasons for why Christmas is HARAM! No wonder so many of us look unhappy during the month of December.

Recently, I received one similar text message from multiple sources, outlining the pagan history of Christmas and making the following 5 claims; Santa’s choice of Red for his attire represents fire/hell; Santa Claus if rearranged spells Satan and Lucas (which is short of Lucifer); Merry Christmas actually means Merry Death of Christ (because Mass means sacrifice by death); the disagreement on the actual date of birth of Christ, which as per the Quran should be in April, or May or June; and instead of the birth of Jesus, 25th December happens to be the birth of 13 pagan Gods/Goddesses.Now, I have not done research on the facts claimed, but I am going to analyze the text on face value.

If it seems that red is the colour of fire/hell then perhaps none of us should own/wear/come near anything red. As far as rearranging the names of Santa Claus to get Satan and Lucas is concerned, well I can rearrange my name to spell Ham-een (Ham pluralized in Arabic) and since Ham is Haram in Islam, then that means–I am haram (wow, this got really depressing really fast). The one I can give some weight to is whether Merry Christmas really means Merry Death of Christ, it seems quite morbid to be celebrating the death of Jesus. In that case, perhaps we need to change the name of Christmas to something more appropriate like Christbirth, . So, this is then a question of semantics. Now onto the date of the actual birth of Jesus and the birth of other Pagan Gods coinciding on that date. I believe most Christians accept that 25th December does NOT represent the actual date of birth of Jesus. According to one theory this date was chosen as the Winter Solstice and an ancient Roman Pagan festival celebrations used to already take place around this time. It perhaps  then seemed to be a date chosen out of convenience than historical authenticity. Quite frankly, I would be happier to have Christmas in April (coinciding with my birthday, giving me full rights to say I was born in the month of Jesus (beats sharing the month with Hitler). Who wouldn’t want an early Summer Christmas-the sun is out, the temperatures are well above zero, flowers are blooming-all in all it would be a much more convenient and happier time for Christmas Alas, we are stuck with December-cold-grey, below freezing-snowy-wet-weather is likely the forecast  (in the northern hemisphere at least).

The point of my rant is not to undermine the decision of those who do not wish to celebrate Christmas. I respect individual’s and communities’ decision to not celebrate Christmas. If it is considered strictly a festival of the Christian faith, then all others do not have to celebrate just as the rest of the world doesn’t join in to celebrate Eid, Diwali, Hannukah, etc with the other faiths. My bone of contention is that such viral message undermine any good will that may arise out of the spirit of the season between communities, they create paranoia, suspicion and lead to bigger chasm between faiths. In a world that is fraught with so much war and hatred, there really is no need for more hateful messages. Plus, wishing someone a happy Christmas does not throw one out of the folds of Islam. One does not have to partake in the traditional festivities of Christmas if the desire is to preserve your faith and not emulate those of others.

I, for one am celebrating Christmas. I have not partook in putting up a Christmas tree, lighting up my home, dealing with the mad holiday rush or exchanging presents (although, I have done this in the past), nor does this mean that I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, (because I don’t, I accept him as a very revered Prophet of Islam). Nor does it mean I believe in the 13 Pagan Gods/Goddesses because that goes against my monotheistic belief system. But what it means is that I have taken the off day and decided to do spend some time with my family and friends, who were otherwise unavailable for a get together during other times in the year and London completely shuts down on Christmas day, thereby giving you no other option  but to spend it with family. Christmas day aka December 25th if nothing else, presents me with a day off and I for one welcome any public holiday! It offers me a chance to spend some more time with my husband, whose work demands long working hours. In all fairness, I was equally overjoyed to know that he will be off on boxing day (December 26th) as well. In our modern busy lives, any time off provides an opportunity to unwind and spend it with our loved ones.

If Christmas provides that opportunity to reconnect with my loved ones, I will gladly take it. My husband was unable to take a day off on both the Eids this year, and our eid festivities ended shortly after offering the Eid prayers at the Masjid. I will gladly make up for those missed days with the day off on Christmas. No one said that one should leave the practices of their faith and just adopt other practices, however there is no harm in enjoying the atmosphere that is created. If Christmas guilt induces the spirit of generosity, happiness, good relations, politeness etc, how is that a bad thing? Doesn’t Ramadan tend to invoke similar good behaviour in us Muslims? If all it takes for people to be smiling on their commute home, be polite, be cordial, and be generous is Christmas then I would wish the entire year to be Christmas. If it takes one day out of the year for us to remember our loved ones, guilting us into spending time with our loved ones, wearing that ugly sweater knitted by our grandmothers-then why not? Any day out of the 365 days of the year which manages to awaken our sense of communal and familial relations is a good day in my dictionary and worth celebrating. I am of course not suggesting that we should only do these things once a year, but once a year sure offers a starting point.

So a very Happy Christmas to those who are celebrating and a happy day off to all those who are not celebrating. I wish everyone gets a chance to let loose, put their feet up, eat yummy food and share their love, generosity and laughter with their loved ones and their community at large.

Share with me how you are spending your Christmas/day off on my facebook page with pictures and anecdotes from around the globe. Join me on twitter @fieryfury1 and share  your pictures #xmasaroundtheglobe.

THE MUSLIM STORY OF CHRISTMAS

Telling My Kids We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

My home used to be a Christmas-free zone. No longer

Some Muslim leaders still criticize Christmas celebrations as assimilation gone too far

 

Is that Santa at the door? No, its the Shia community of Multan

 

 

Happy Sandy-versary

Happy Sandy-versary!

The raging winds have finally calmed down-so have my nerves and my fast beating heart. Today is a calmer day, with the sun peeping through thick cumulus clouds, so unlike the stereotypical grey skies of London. The air is cooler and crisp; thank the Lord for finally bringing in a cold front. Never thought I would be thanking for a cold day, but the hotter than normal weather brought in a surprise for Londoners. What are the odds for Hurricane St. Jude to fall a day shy of my sandy-versary all the way across the pond! I swear I am cursed! It may have been scarier than normal for most Londoners, but for me it was DEJAVU pangs of anxiety. If the 62 mph winds weren’t knocking the wind out of me, I would have even had sense to laugh at the irony. Come to think of it, I may have laughed, but it was more a nervous laughter than the kind of laughter one laughs after realizing the hilarity of a situation.

Clear blue skies the day after St. Jude
Clear blue skies the day after St. Jude

 

Mostly when I think of Sandy, it seems surreal. I often question whether we really went through those circumstances? The clumps of hair that I continue to lose are an affirmation of the reality of the ordeal from a year ago. The beautiful thing about time is that it passes and it tends to fly. It has been a year since I went through Sandy-which I can safely term as one of the top worst times of my life. The impact of Sandy may not be much on my daily life, other than the odd times when my olfactory senses will be overwhelmed with the smell that I have come to term as the “Sandy smell”, or when I will be reminded of the odd thing or two that were drowned by this catastrophe, however yesterday night, the impact of that storm became wildly apparent. It is true a storm will change you forever, whereas, I used to enjoy the odd gusts of wind in the past, those same gusts left me almost paralyzed with fear and up all night. My wild imagination ran rampant with all that could possibly go wrong with the 62 mph winds beating down my balcony door-for example the trash can lying on the balcony that posed the real threat of being rammed through the glass door, thereby leaving us exposed to all the elements! You would think surviving through a storm would prepare you for any such disaster again. Think again, fear and secondary trauma my dear friends can leave you unprepared. The almost repeat of similar circumstances on the anniversary of my Sandy experience made my stormy weather roommate to suggest that I follow in the footsteps of Helen Hunt in Twister and find my new calling as a storm chaser. I had to inform her that I may have survived through that stressful situation, but I am a colossal wuss and don’t see myself being a storm chaser extraordinaire anytime soon.

Dark Clouds as the gusts pick up
Dark Clouds as the gusts pick up
A piece of paper making a run at 62mph
A piece of paper making a run at 62mph

A lot has changed since that dreadful night of the 29th of October in 2012, for example I no longer reside in that ground floor apartment; heck I no longer even live on the same continent. Not only was I lucky enough to not have to restart my post-sandy life in that God forsaken apartment, I was lucky enough to be moved across the pond to start anew. The stressful move at that time across the Atlantic surely proved to be a blessing in disguise. They say once you step in a river neither you nor the river will ever be the same again. I had part of the New York bay and 6 feet of Hudson river in my apartment, and although I did not wade through the murderous waters, I did spend more than 3 weeks salvaging the pieces of my life through the muck that it left behind-therefore, I can say with certainty that it has changed me.

What last night reminded me is that no matter that you survived your first storm; a subsequent encounter does not necessarily mean you will be better prepared. Of course the principal of once bitten, twice shy would dictate extra precaution on your part the next time around; which is exactly why I no longer reside on a ground floor. We actively sought for a place away from the water and 6 storey high because of our little Sandy-experience, but precisely because we are 6 floors higher than the last time, I was unprepared to deal with the unexpected storm from last night. Whilst going through the Sandy ordeal, I had taken mental and written notes to later convert them into a guide on how to survive through a hurricane, but playing ostrich became a vital part of survival and I never actually got around to doing that. On my Sandy-versary, I wanted to bring that ostrich head of mine out from under the sand and start on that guide (which I will start putting together in the coming weeks and could be found here.)

Disaster preparedness-at its best
Disaster preparedness for Sandy-at its best

What I can leave you tonight is a starter kit to surviving through a storm! The kit needs to consist of:

1. Great sense of humour
2. Faith
3. The ability to roll your sleeves up and get dirty
4. Tenacity
5. And an ample dosage of great friends and family-this last one is of utmost importance because everyone has fair weather friends, only a handful of people are lucky to have stormy weather friends-and stormy weather friends are forever!

friends-are-forever-triple-31000

The truth of the matter is that the Sandy days are behind me but the experience will live with me eternally. Perhaps overtime it too will fade in memory, but the generosity, love, and care that my dear friends showed me will live with me forever. I look back on that terrible time not with anger, but rather nostalgia. What I lost that day were material goods, but what I gained goes far beyond the material world. I learned the beauty, strength and the human will for survival, I experienced shared grief, communal generosity; I earned gratitude, fortitude and patience. Most of all, I learned to cherish and love my friends who took us in when the roof over our head had 6 feet of water below it. On the anniversary of Sandy, I choose to be thankful first and foremost to God for giving my husband and I the mental and physical strength to survive through it, for putting friends into our lives who had such big and generous hearts and for letting us be of the few who were affected very little by Sandy. I choose to be thankful to every single person, friend, family, community member who stood by us, whether it be in providing shelter, helping us through the clean up process, letting us use their showers to clean ourselves up, for acting as movers to help move our belongings, helping us carry our dirty laundry, for providing emotional and moral support when physical support was impossible, for their prayers and best wishes, for words of encouragement, for providing entertainment and humour and of course who generously cooked for us. A big thank you to all those who suffered equally with us, yet offered a helping hand as neighbours and community members. I may have digital images of the disaster, but I have feelings of love and gratitude towards all those family and friends who supported us that cannot be captured in any digital format. To the bonds of friendship that became stronger due to Sandy I say Sandy wasn’t a disaster at all!

Happy Sandy-versary!

Ramadan Reflections: My Room

I am currently visiting my parents in Vancouver. They still live in the same house that I last lived in before I moved to the East coast 3 years ago. I am very nomadic when I visit my family. The other day, it hit me that I can no longer lay claim to my room as “my room” since  my baby sister has completely taken over it. She and I shared this particular room for 5 years and had been roommates for 13 years before I moved away. Whenever I visit my family, my stays are of longer durations.  My family is always excited to have me over and do everything in their capacity to ensure my comfort. One of the bedrooms is almost always made available for me to stay in, however, I get anxious and have troubles sleeping in a new space, so I generally crash on the couch in the living room. Our home (3 years since I moved away, and I still can’t refer to it as just my parents home, but ours) is not huge, but a cozy little place. growing up here, that was one of the things that I loved most about it. It was sometimes hard to really find privacy (which would get annoying), but you always felt the presence of the people in the house. At times, it seemed to be a small home, but for our family of 6, it served its purpose.

Since I moved out, it meant that each sibling had a room of their own and basically a private space. We managed well in this home of ours. Since, I don’t see this house as separate from my existence,  there really is never any need for any sort of formality. Comfort to me is not defined by my convenience but by the convenience of the hosts that I am visiting. Sometimes,  to me, requiring a private space to sleep in is not important when I visit, but this very Bedouin-like attitude of mine is in fact what impedes their normal routine.

It occurred to me that although when I was around, there was 6 of us who managed fine in this space, but now that there are 5, somehow that same space seems small when the 6th member of the family rejoins. I started thinking about the irony of life, that once people who are integral parts of our homes, and lives, can all of a sudden seem to be the very cause of disturbances. Like molecules that are constantly moving and adjusting according to the space allotted to them, human beings do the same.  My room is no longer mine, but rather I am a guest in the house. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t behave as a guest, nor am I made to feel unwelcome or as a disturbance, but I am no longer an everyday part of their lives. The layout of the house and the natural flow of the space is now adjusted to be managed without my being there, hence my very presence disturbs the equilibrium of this home.

Life, as a cycle is cruel! As children, we are entirely dependent on our parents, our lives unimaginable or even non-existent without their constant care and nourishment. As we grow up, we crave our own personal spaces, so we move away. I remember when I was younger,  I always thought I could not live without my family for a day, let alone spend 3 years away from them. Being the eldest, I had a lot of responsibility placed onto me. My parents, out of habit always called out my name first when they needed something, before they called out any of my other siblings. There was a huge dependence and reliance on me. Similarly, I was so used to just having everyone around me, that the very thought of not being around them was crippling. It would shake me to my core and I would spend sleepless nights crying; yet I have survived the past 3 years, and so have they. It is not to say we don’t miss one another or even miss each others’ constant presence in our lives, it is just that life takes over.

I often think about my grandparents who have passed away. My maternal grandfather passed away 21 years ago and my maternal grandmother passed away almost about 9 years ago. I think how my mother lives without them in her life? I wonder how my father lives without his dad, who passed away 4 years ago. Our time on this earth is limited, we are bound to each other in relationships of love and nurture. We deem ourselves incomplete, and incapable of living without one another, yet life stops for no one. It continues its vicious cycle of living. Time flows seconds into minutes into hours, into days into weeks into years into decades into centuries. We all come to this world, and leave. When we leave, we cause pain to those we leave behind. At those moments life seems impossible to live, yet we too find the strength and the will to continue living. First we miss our loved ones every waking moment of our lives, then it becomes every other day, slowly, we miss them on happy occasions, or remember them on the day they passed away. Those  people who were once crucial to our very survival , their memories start to fade and they become a distant, hazy image in our heads. Everyone around adjusts and makes themselves a little more comfortable in the space those loved ones once occupied. There remains no empty or extra space.

Just like my room is no longer mine, this earth is also one day not going to be mine. We all do return to Him. Our time on this earth is temporary and short, yet we spend majority of our time inconveniencing everyone around, when we all know we will leave one day. We spend our lives making strong buildings, and yearning to earn unlimited amounts of money for a future time we cannot guarantee we will have. In the process often times, we burn bridges, break hearts, humiliate, keep animosities, lie, cheat and deceive, all for our temporary existence and comfort  in this world. Before I moved away, at times I would feel that my family didn’t value me enough, and I deluded myself into believing that once I was away, they would realize how dependent they are on me. I think we all become slaves to the idea of others existence somehow dependent on us. Yes, we are interdependent, but no life ends with another. It is arrogant to believe my non-existence would somehow stop the world. Coming back to visit my paternal home this Ramadan has been a humbling experience because I realized that once where I was an integral part of my family’s daily life, they have been forced to adjust without me, just as I am forced to without them. This does not mean that our love for one another has diminished, but just that we have learnt to manage without one another.

Our lives should not be slaves to our ego’s desire to be the centre of attention, nor should we live in a life of delusion to think that somehow the world revolves around us. Those of us who live today are blessed to experience this beautiful month of Ramadan. How many of us will live to see the next Ramadan, none of us know. May we all gain the blessings of this month and may we be granted another day to live and utilize the blessings within this blessed month. May we continue to realize the temporary state of our stay in this world, even after this month of Ramadan is over and may we continue to live our lives to the fullest servitude of Allah rather than the worldly possessions and whims (Ameen).