My Recent Reads

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I wrote about books I’ve read so I thought I would share with you what I’ve been into this August and September.

 

     1. Elements of Etiquette by Craig Claiborne

This concise book on etiquette was written by famed restaurant critic, Craig Claiborne. What I liked about this book versus others that I have read is that it is relevant to today’s modern social situations. While it can be interesting to read about more obsolete social expectations from long ago, this practical and contemporary approach will give you the information you need to make the best decisions in today’s world.

     2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Don’t read this book with makeup on! It’s rare for a book to make me cry, but this one definitely did. Written by the late Randy Pausch, it encapsulates a lifetime of wisdom and lessons in a humorous tone despite the author’s knowledge that he will soon die due to cancer. This book is not emotional because of the author’s impending death — he has had way too much fun in his life to allow that too happen — but because of his acceptance and resiliency in spite of that. It’s a tear-jerker that teaches us to never forget our childish innocence and do whatever it takes to  live out our own fun and beautiful life.

3. Paris in Love by Eloisa James

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to live in Paris then all you have to do is read this book! This beautiful memoir captures the author’s Paris experience in a way that is both dream-like yet accurate. After living in France for two years myself, I can certainly say that I left my heart there and this novel brings back all of my own memories. It’s amazing how this book is so personal to the author and yet I find myself remembering my own experiences in her words.

4. What Islam Did For Us by Tim Wallace-Murphy

This book was not what I expected it to be. I was expecting to learn more about the inventions and discoveries in the field of medicine, mathematics and astronomy by Muslim scientists that I’ve heard so much about, but instead this book focuses heavily on the historical ties between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is not necessarily a negative point, but based on the title it definitely wasn’t the subject matter I was expecting to read about. This is a great book for those who want to understand how each of the three religions have affected each other since ancient times until now.

That’s what I’ve read so far in the last two months. I’m open to recommendations for new books to read so feel free to comment. Watch my video to see what I’m currently reading and what I’m planning on reading soon!

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Book Review: Laughing All the Way to the Mosque

This was a first for me; I’ve never read an autobiographical book of a modern-day Muslimah.

Frankly, it’s not a topic that interests me because I feel like I would already know what would be written; que the stereotypical struggles of overcoming racism, oppression of a patriarchal society, religion vs. the modern world, etc. Perhaps that’s dismissive and presumptive of me, but in all honestly, that’s completely how I see it. But this book was given to me as an Easter gift by my aunt (ironic!) who wasn’t sure if it would be offensive or not, but thought it would at least be humorous. I figured it would be a waste not to read it.

The author, Zarqa Nawaz, is a Canadian of Pakistani origin who starts the book with her grade school self wanting to fit in with the other Canadian girls in her class. The only thing standing in her way are her pungent curried chicken drumsticks that her mom packs for lunch. Although after some whining she successfully convinces her mother to pack her PB&J like the other girls, after a short trial period she comes to the conclusion that fitting in is overrated and leaves you more hungry.

As you continue reading, you will see that that is the theme of Nawaz’ life. Although I was doubtful about the impact this book would have on me, surprisingly, Nawaz has gumption which is something more Muslim women should have. At first, due to parental pressure she started going down the traditional and boring path of pre-med undergraduate studies, medical school and then marriage, but she knew she was better than that. Luckily, she did not get accepted to medical school which triggered two desperate quests in her and her mother: Nawaz wanted to get into journalism school and her mother wanted her to get married. Of course, Nawaz finishes her quest first and from there her talent at writing takes her from the newsroom, to producing a couple of short independent films, to the first sitcom of its kind on Canadian television, “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. Oh yes, and she does find the time to get married and have four children in the midst of all of this.

She takes us through all of these milestones in her life and the hilarious events that punctuate them. Her writing is funny in a way that is well-suited to a medium such as film or TV. There were a few times when I felt that she was stretching the humor in a situation (bathroom scene with the contractor, jinn outhouse by the gas station) but for the most part I chuckled along to her foibles. At times she shocked me with her cheeky inattention to social rules (her comments at the dead body washing committee were too much!) but I suppose it’s that same boldness that compelled her to forge the career she did.

This is a mostly light-hearted but meaningful read that explains the common cultural and religious issues that Muslim women encounter at some point in their lives. I was expecting the lamenting of a disenfranchised woman but was surprised to find the smart and ballsy woman for me to admire. Overall, I highly recommend this book to someone interested in seeing a different type of Muslimah than the ones you see on the news — endearingly irreverent though she may be.

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Your Life is Your Masterpiece

There’s the simple fact of life that everyone will die one day. No matter what divergences exist that separate our lives from one another, everyone of us will end the same way. However, its no use being glum about it — we might as well have a nice time and make something of ourselves until it happens to us.

That’s what I wanted to write about today — about the middle part between birth and death and the attention to detail that make it mean something.

Some people think that there’s no point in doing anything at all or no meaning in what we do because it will all be for nothing in the end. Our flesh and bones will have turned to dust, our belongings will belong to us no more and our memories and experiences will have gone from us and the world.

I disagree with the last part.

Every life matters and will have mattered when it ends. We do take something with us when we leave this world. We take with us to the grave our deeds.

Your life is the only thing you have and the details that you tend to make up that life. We all need to be mindful of where we place our thoughts and importance on things both big and small because no man is an island. What each of us does with our lives has a rippling effect and has influence far beyond what we will ever know.

You need to know what is important to you and find ways to live that out everyday. If you don’t know, its inevitable that you will allow others to make that choice for you and you will not have lived the life you could have lived and made the impact that you could have made. There is nothing more tragic than a wasted life.

Find your direction, find your conviction. Your life is your masterpiece that will endure long after you.

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My Top 5 Tips to Save Money

Today I’m delving into a subject that is very different from the normal posts I write about, but its a topic that is very familiar to me because I actually work in private banking as my day job. My dream is to write full-time one day, but in the meantime I’m satisfied with the impact I make on my clients lives as well as the amount of financial experience I gain while working in the banking industry.

So today I wanted to share my top 5 tips for saving money that are the simplest and easiest to for you to incorporate into your life right now.

  1. Pay all of your bills as soon as you receive them

No one needs the drama and stress of getting late payment fees and a ding on their credit report. The simplest way to avoid this is to pay your bills as soon as you receive the bill in the mail. This way, the funds are out of your account immediately so that you can’t spend it, or if you prefer paying all of your bill with a credit card to rack up rewards (like me) you will see the charge immediately on your card so you can adjust your budget for the rest of the month.

2. Set up automatic payments for your bills

This is a way to make tip number one completely fool proof. Most billers will allow you to pay your bills automatically and this gives you one less thing to remember so that you can put your focus and energy for more important things — like writing!

3. Set up automatic transfers to a savings account

You notice a pattern yet? Yes, when possible automate your banking. You can set up automatic transfers to your savings account and decide how much and when these transfers should happen. You can also have your paycheck be split between your checking and savings account as well instead of once it reaches your account, if that is what you prefer. Personally, I have a portion of my paycheck deposited into a savings account at a small, local bank and not the one that I have my main accounts at. I only have a saving account there and no ATM card or online banking so that I am not tempted to use any of it because it would be too much of an inconvenience. There are very few branches for me to visit, so the only way I can find out how much is there is the old fashioned way — calling on the phone. I don’t call often since I can’t be bothered, but when I do I am pleasantly surprised!

4. Avoid credit cards — if they are not right for you!

I use a travel rewards credit card for everything — bills, groceries, gas, purchases — and I’ve racked up a ton of points on it so that I can travel for free when I want. However, I also pay it off completely every single month and have never paid a cent of interest on it. If you have a the discipline to stick to a budget, then using your credit card for purchases is an awesome way to get some real benefits as well as boost your credit score. But, if you’ve found it difficult to pay off the balance each month or are currently in credit card debt — avoid them. Credit cards have the highest interest rate of any credit product so they are notoriously difficult to dig yourself out of should you fall in.

5. Create a realistic budget and check on it often

No matter how much you make, you have a budget. Budgets are for everyone. I don’t care if you work a minimum wage job or are an ER surgeon, if you don’t know how to manage your money, you will eventually find yourself living paycheck to paycheck or living in debt — trust me, I’ve seen it. Anyone who has an interest in living in financial stability and prosperity will follow a budget. It’s all about creating cash flow and savings and this requires your frequent attention. This means you need to check your account often and know if any adjustments need to be made. Try to limit how much your lifestyle expands as you inevitably earn more and save more throughout your life. If your paycheck is $4000 a month and currently save $500 a month and you get a raise and now earn $5000 a month, set up an automatic transfer to save that extra $1500 a month. The numbers are inflated, but you can see how you can use your raise to save faster and do more intelligent things with your money than giving it Nordstrom’s or Best Buy.

These 5 tips are easy and simple, which is what saving needs to be in order for it to get done. We all have enough to deal with in our lives and your personal finances should be as simple as possible to leave space for deepening and discovering your real passions. Money is not the answer to everything, but life is better with it than without it.

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Reflections: Eid Al-Adha 2016

Eid al-adha has begun and will last until Thursday. The most holy of our two holidays in which we remember one of the main trials of Ibrahim’s life — to obey Allah by the sacrifice of his son, Ismail.

Every year this holiday comes and every year I find it very difficult to relate to that level of iman. It’s too incredible for my little brain. The fact is that I just don’t hear about things like that happening nowadays.

If you take a moment and really imagine the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice as more than just a story you read about, but as what it is — a real historical event — you’ll know what I mean.

What if you heard about an incident with a neighbor who was a good man. A man who was very pious and God-fearing and you hear about what happened with his son who was also very pious and good. You hear that one day he had a dream in which God told him to sacrifice his son to show his faith. Right when he’s about to slit his son’s throat, at the eleventh hour, a miracle happens and he sees that his son has been replaced by a dead ram and that his son is unharmed.

It’s different when you hear it like that, isn’t it? That kind of faith doesn’t exist in everyone or everywhere. I wish I could say that I would do the same if I was in his position. But honestly, I most likely won’t. I don’t know anyone who would either. But that’s why we remember it every year since about 1700 BC.

It was an incredible leap of faith that continues to baffle, awe, and inspire generations of people. It never gets old and it never gets topped.

It makes me look at all of the things I’ve wanted to improve in myself in order to get closer to Allah. One of the most difficult and enduring of which is to memorize the Qur’an. Ever since I converted I’ve had the thought of memorizing this great book gnawing at my brain. Is it the voice of God telling me to do it? I’m guessing not. Most likely it’s just my habit of setting high expectations for myself that is making me want to do this, but still, maybe those thoughts that challenge us to improve and test our strength are the ones we need to listen to.

Just like Ibrahim who listened to a dream he had, maybe we need to listen to our dreams and have some faith in God for everything to work out for us.

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Book Review: Approaching the Qur’an

It has been a while hasn’t it?

Between Ramadan, the new house, the new job, I haven’t been able to find much time to read, let alone write about what I’ve read. I’ve just settled into my a routine so I should be able to return to my usual antics. Then again, I am going to Korea in two weeks so I guess maybe not. We shall see.

Anyway, last night I finished reading “Approaching the Qur’an” by Michael Sells. You may have heard about it before as this book was at the crux of a contentious lawsuit brought forward in 2002 by three students at the University of North Carolina, whose incoming students were assigned it as a summer reading assignment. But never mind all of that. If you haven’t read it before — like me — and you are non-Arabic speaking Muslim — like me, this book will let you experience first-hand the poetry of the Qur’an.

One of my greatest goals is to be able to one day understand the Qur’an as Arabic speakers do. To listen to a recitation and be moved by the rich literature and poetry of the Qur’an is something that I so dearly want to experience. Until my understanding of Arabic and Qur’anic grammar reaches that level, I will have to settle for the English translations. While the translations may help me know what is being said, they are useless in conveying the same poetic impact that it brought upon those who heard it when it was first revealed.

This book does not cover the entire Qur’an. Sells translates Al-Fatiha, a portion of sura 53 (The Star), and then suras 81 through 114. Sells attempts translate not only the meaning of the words, but also the poetic devices of the original text. Reading Sells’ translations makes me feel as though I am reading the Qur’an for the first time. I felt moved in a way that I wasn’t before and I could understand how impactful the text could be especially in a recited format. Nevertheless, this is a translation and there is always something of meaning lost when a text a translated, so of course this will be the case with the Qur’an. However, to give you a taste of what I mean, here is a comparison of Sells’ translation and the Sahih International translation of sura 104, “The Slanderer”:

Sahih International

Woe to every scorner and mocker

Who collects wealth and [continuously] counts it.

He thinks that his wealth will make him immortal.

No! He will surely be thrown into the Crusher.

And what can make you know what is the Crusher?

It is the fire of Allah , [eternally] fueled,

Which mounts directed at the hearts.

Indeed, Hellfire will be closed down upon them

In extended columns.

Sells’

Woe to every backbiting slanderer

Who gather his wealth and counts it

thinking with his wealth he will never die

Nay, let him be thrown into the Hútama

And what can tell you of the Hútama

The fire of God, stoked for blazing

rising up over the heart

covering them in vaults of flame

stretching out its pillars

There’s a fundamental difference between those two translations. The meaning is the same, but the impact lies in not only what is said but also what is not said in Sells’ version. I so wish that Sells could come out with a complete translation of the entire Qur’an. If there are any non-Muslims out there reading this review who would like to read a translation of the Qur’an, I urge you to start with this book. It doesn’t have the whole entire Qur’an, but it gives you a hint of the power that the original text brings to its readers and listeners in Arabic. The book also contains a CD in the back that allows to you listen to the Qur’an since the Qur’an is truly intended to be recited and listened to — not read. Even the Muslims out there who depend on the English translations to understand what is being said, read this! It will bring a whole new dimension to the suras you’ve read before and possibly some new meaning to you as well.

Eid Mubarak and Ramadan Reflections

We just finished fasting our last day of Ramadan and I wanted to wish those who were fasting a congratulatory “Eid Mubarak” to you all!

This Ramadan was especially trying for me and my husband since during this time we bought a house and moved into the house and experienced all of the uncertainty and stresses that go with that. At an especially challenging point of the process my husband and I just had to let go of all of the worry, frustration and anxiety and enter into space of surrender to Allah. Also, during this same time I was promoted to a my dream position with the company I work for. While this was happy news for me, it was still a change from what I was used to and between moving at home and moving into a new role at work, I was feeling very disoriented and not my usual self. We completed our istikhara and wished for Allah to facilitate this home-buying experience for us if it was for the best or to end it if it was not. We’ve always known that nothing is in our control and as much as we try to plan and prepare for things, in the end, Allah’s will supersedes all. We did end up by getting the house — alhamdulillah — and now that I am sitting here in my new home and prepared to start my new position next week, I see that nothing was ever truly in my control so there was no need to worry.

I hope that I am able to keep this lesson within me and refer to it whenever I find myself falling into a endless pit of fear and distress because everything always works out — sometimes in ways that you planned, often times in ways that you didn’t even imagine.

Once again, Eid Mubarak everybody and may Allah accept all of our fasts and efforts during this blessed month!

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