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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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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Ramadan Cooking Tips

It’s that time of the year again! This year I wanted to make Ramadan extra special and do my utmost to spend this valuable time doing beneficial actions that would bring me more knowledge and hasana such as reading Qur’an, listening to lectures and writing in my Islamic journal, and less time being miserably tired in a hot kitchen. My household consists of me, my husband and my cat and since we both work outside of the home full-time, coming home after a long days work to start preparing for Iftar is probably the last thing I want to do. Here are some tips I came up with to help with that:

Cook in bulk

 

For each Ramadan meal, my husband and I have a sort of routine that consists of a soup, salad, breek (Tunisian fried egg and potato pocket), and then the main dish which is usually a pasta or rice dish. As soon as I found out Ramadan was today, last night I spent time cooking up a huge dish of chorba (Tunisian soup) and have it stored in the refrigerator at the moment. I also prepared the filling for the breek so that all I have to do is fill the phyllo dough and fry them for fresh-made breek every night. i estimate that I’ve cooked enough breek and chorba to last us through Thursday. This means that all I have to do is cook a pasta or rice dish when I get home from work to have a delicious spread for Iftar, which will be no big deal since I’ve already completed tip number two below.

Prepare your ingredients

 

Last night as I was cooking, I diced one extra onion, minced a two bunches of parsley, peeled the potatoes, already minced the garlic, and cleaned and trimmed the meat so that today when I arrive, all I have to do is put the ingredients in the saucepan and I’ll have a delicious meal that took no effort to prepare. Cutting and dicing takes up the majority of your time and so does the clean up that needs to get done after doing all of that. Preparing and storing your basic ingredients takes the time and effort out of your Ramadan meal.

Cook and store time-consuming dishes during the weekend

 

 

Like I mentioned before, I cooked a big pot of soup on Sunday that will probably last me through Thursday but I can do the same for the pasta sauces that I make. Sauces and soups are time consuming dishes since they need to sit and simmer in order to bring out the best flavors. This would be best to do during the weekend when I can take my time and not try to rush it because I’ve got other dishes to prepare in time for Maghrib. Once I’ve made the sauce in bulk, I wait for it to cool and then store the sauce and freeze until I’m ready to use it.

So there you have it, those are my 3 tips for easy Ramadan cooking. If you choose to use any of them I hope they help you to maximize your time on more beneficial actions. Ramadan is about the benefits to your soul and I plan on writing more posts on that — but it sure is nice to have a good meal at the end of the day!

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