An offer we can’t refuse

Mount Arafat or Mount Arafah is a granite hill east of Mecca is also known as the Mount of Mercy (Jabal ar-Rahmah). This is where Prophet Muhammad SAW delivered the Farewell Sermon to the Muslims who had accompanied him for the Hajj towards the end of his life.

On the 9th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah pilgrims go to Arafat from Mina, for the most important part of the Hajj. The Khutbah of Hajj is narrated and Zuhr prayer and Asr prayer are prayed together. The pilgrims spend the whole day on the mountain to supplicate to Allah to forgive their sins and to pray for personal strength in the future.

The last stretch of a race is when the athlete pushes themselves to the best of their abilities. They can see the finish line and is willing to ignore the fatigue and the pain to just reach their goal. The Day of Arafh is the last stretch for the Muslims. The day when we’d like to give yet our all. To dig into the deepest crevices of our subconscious and pull out the most earnest of Duas for our Creator. There is no shame in shedding tears in displaying weakness because the reward that’s promised is too great to miss. Forgiveness and sins from the past year and the coming year. An offer we can’t refuse right ? May Allah enable us to give it our all on this beautiful day and May He accept our Duas.

Exploring, Defining and Celebrating Muslim Identity

I started Bismillah Buddies when I was about 37, when my son was around 2 . Why do I mention my age…. because the number , so close to 40, helps to anchor and define the journey that led me to doing this.
A journey which many of us born-Muslim share. It takes us from being born Muslim to a lifestyle which ignores many key aspects of faith. Aspects which include core concepts, and not only rituals. For me, the journey was a bid to find myself. This quest led me along many different dark alleys before leading me back to familiar, but now new, path; that of my faith -Islam. The process of this journey helped in finding a calm within myself which stays on as a reassuring companion. This journey, however, doesn’t end. It is ongoing till we meet our maker.

Becoming a mother was a life-changing experience- in its sudden, unexpected intensity of raw emotion. Emotions, I can honestly say I had not felt before. Emotions that led me to discover new aspects of myself, Like finding new secret-rooms in a house I had lived in all my life. Why; I often introspected as I held a new born in my arms; did I doubt? Why did I lack confidence in my identity as a Muslim when I was young? Why did I make choices prioritizing extrinsic societal expectations over the voice in my heart?

One part of it, I realized was a lack of joy, confidence and pride in being Muslim, un-abashedly so. Our natural fitrah is subdued because we fail to inject joy, enthusiasm and relevance in our conversations about Islam.
This is something that I felt I could amend when it came to my own children.

With Bismillah Buddies, I want to cultivate that joy, confidence and calm acceptance that comes with knowledge. Having Faith as an anchor, regardless of the trials around, is the gift I want to give my children.

I have thought and searched about how to create this anchor, starting to piece together elements and colors that need to be blended as we explore, define and celebrate our Muslim identity.

Some things that come to mind:
– Joy: A smile, a laugh, joy, colour. Anything that makes us happy should be integral to the practice of faith.
– Understanding core concepts: somethings speak to the deepest levels of our hearts. They are universal desires for love, mercy and justice. Because any practice of faith devoid of the core leaves us searching for answers outside.
– Factual knowledge : Accurate factual knowledge about what our Book says, what the lives of inspiring Muslim personalities exemplify, outside of cultural biases, and time-bound trends.

Bringing these elements together – this is what Bismillah Buddies is dedicated to. To rediscovery. This is how we aspire to make Islam relevant, engaging and fun for our children and us. And of course, our intention is to draw closer to our creator as we find peace in submitting to the divine will.

‘I will love you even when you’re dead’

When my daughter was around 5 and heavily into the card making phase. I once got one with a cute drawing and a message that read ‘I will love you even when you’re dead’
My reaction was torn between awww so cute and OMG does she want me gone already ?
This card came to my mind recently when my friend’s 4 year old told her ‘Mama I will miss you so much when you die’.
Strangely enough, many friends had similar equally emotional yet morbid stories to tell about their children.
So I googled it, and sure enough there were several articles that spoke about how kids aged 4 and 5 years have this strange affinity towards death and talking about it as part of normal conversation. It was even called a ‘normal stage of development’ in kids. Who knew?
So how do we address it ? I’d say first and foremost they need acknowledgement. That yes you are saying this and I hear it. Now let’s see what we can do about it. Understand what your child themselves know about the statement they made. Ask them what they know about death. Be open to questions and be ready with the age appropriate language and apt terms to explain it to them. We can tell them that death is certain but we never know when. And after death we will be reunited in Jannah In Sha Allah so that should give us hope. We could also try to talk about what to do after someone dies. Make Dua for them, give charity. And if you feel sad the best thing to do is to get closer to Allah SWT.

May Allah SWT keep our little ones protected today and always.

P.S Have you had similar experiences ?

Quranic Duaa’s for children

As I watched my 8 year old make duaa in his own words, it struck me how different and unique children’s duaas are: simple, honest and weirdly beautiful. Children ask for things like a Lego set, a pet-cat or cookies for breakfast. It always makes me smile.

Children experience the world differently than adults. Their experiences and perceptions are not quite like grown-ups, but that doesn’t make them any less real or important. We often make the mistake of making them imitate adults even if those acts are not relevant to what their experience as a child is. Understanding a child’s point-of-view and distilling the essence of Islamic values to make them applicable to that POV is what we believe in.

The core mission of Bismillah Buddies is ‘to make Islamic education relevant, engaging and fun for children.

Duaa is a very important element of worship. Teaching our children how to make duaa, is as important teaching them how to do Salah. As I was going over some Quranic duaas, I tried to do what we do for every Bismillah Buddies play date. I tried to see them from my son’s POV, in order to select a few simple ones that he could relate to. Here is a list of 10 simple Qura’nic duaas that I feel are relevant for a 7-10 year old.

The BB checklist:
– Relevant:
I have not added any duaa about offspring, or spouse. These are not issues which children are thinking of right now. Those are things I can make duaa for , for him.

– Engaging:
The duaas selected are short and simple. They are easy to say and learn, like mini-challenges that a child can conquer. Exploring the meaning, context and application of these will engage them, InShaAllah.

– Fun:
Imaging and visualizing manifestations of these duaa will make understanding them a fun exercise. Some simple ways to talk to children about these are:
– When learning Duaa 2 from this list, ask them about what they think the straight path is, visualize what walking in the straight path would entail.
– When learning Duaa 3 from this list, tell them about something wrong you have done which you would like Allah not to take you to task for.
– Duaa 4 can be accompanied by stories from the Sahaba or even people we see around us today who are amongst the Saliheen
– Duaa 5 can be accompanied by the story of the people of the cave. We can also talk about some predicament the children or you faced.
– Duaa 6: Tell them a funny story from when they were babies.
– Duaa 7:Imagine what a house in paradise might be like
– Duaa 8: Something they can add on to anything they do
– Duaa 9: Talk about belief, and how just the simple act of believing is important
– Duaa 10: Something to add onto the end of every toy and cookie duaa they make.

The List:

1- Rabbi Zidni Ilma (Taha:114)
My lord increase me in knowledge

2 – Ihdenas-Siratal-Mustaqeem.
Siratal-Lazeena An’amta ‘alaihim, ghairil maghdoobi ‘alaihim wa lad-daaaleen.
(Al-Fatiha, 6-7)
Guide us to the straight path; the path of those who have earned your pleasure; not the path of those who have angered you or those who have gone astray.

3 – Rabbanaa la tu’aakhiznaa in naseenaaa aw akhtaanaa
. (Baqarah,286)
Oh Lord, take us not to task if we forget or fall in error.

4- Rabbi hab lee hukmanw-wa alhiqnee bis saaliheen
(Ash Shuara, 83)
Oh Lord, grant me wisdom and unite me to the righteous.

5- Rabbanaaa aatinaa mil ladunka rahmatanw-wa haiyi’ lanaa min amrinaa rashadaa
. (Al Kahf: 10)
Oh Lord, give us mercy from yourself and provide us the right way from our plight.

6 – Rabbir hamhumaa kamaa rabbayaanee sagheera
(Isra: 24)
Oh my Lord, have compassion on them as they brought me up (when I was )little

7 – Rabbibni lee ‘indaka baitan fil jannati
(At tahreem: 11)
Oh Lord, build for me a home with you in paradise. (Dua of aasiya RA)

8- Rabbanaa taqabbal minnaa innaka Antas Samee’ul Aleem
Oh Lord, accept (this service) from us; verily you and you alone are the hearer, the knower.

9 – Rabbanaaa aamannaa faktubnaa ma’ash shaahideen
(Al Maeda:83)
Oh Lord, we believe, so write us down with the witnesses.

10- Rabbanaa wa taqabbal du’aaa’
(Al Ibrahim, 40)
Oh Lord, accept my duaa.
(*The whole verse is a duaa, I have selected the last part to keep it short and easy to memorize)

Memorizing Surah Kahf

31st May 2019 Friday Ramadan 26th

The last Friday of this Ramadan has been a very special one for me. What has always been part of a routine now just got all the more special. Let me explain;

It was Ramadan 2014. I was dealing with an infant and a cranky 5 year old. Unable to fast, spirituality was at an all time low and frustration was at an all time high. Only mothers will understand this.

To get myself out of this rut, I decided on a whim to set myself a challenge. I decided to memorize SURAH KAHF. 110 ayaat in 30 days. It almost seemed like I was setting myself up for failure, I mean I couldn’t even manage to pray when I wanted and sleep when I wanted.

Nevertheless I said Bismillah and begun. Pretty soon, it was heartbreaking to realise that my tired self just couldn’t grasp the words with the ease I expected to. I remember reading

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ

We have made this Qur’an easy as a reminder. Is there, then, any who will take heed? (Surah Qamar: Verse 17)

But why wasn’t it easy for me ? Was I that far away from my Lord? I kept at it. By the end of Ramadan that year I had managed around 25 ayaat. Far away from my goal. But, Subhanallah! the sweetness of knowing and learning these ayaat was far greater than the dispppointment of not having reached my goal. And this is what motivated me to pick it up every Ramadan like reaching out to an old friend.

And so, yesterday I finally recited the entire Surah Kahf on my own as part of my Friday Ritual . There is something absolutely inexplicable in the sense of achievement that comes with learning the Quran. Like the tortoise that won the race slow and steady Allah SWT taught me so much more than these verses through these 5 years. Patience in waiting for the sweet sweet end result, the importance if being consistent, the instant Imaan boost you get from learning e new letter or a new verse, that Allah SWT can make it happen no matter how unattainable it looks for a hopeless mother.

Setting a new goal for next Ramadan now In Sha Allah.

May Allah SWT keep us striving in his path in our own small way and increase the love of Quran in all of us

Wal Asr…. By time

Wal Asr…. By time.

tick . tock . tick . tock . tick . tock….
Have you ever seen time passing by? Slowly but surely, as you go through the daily minutiae of your life everyday; fretting, rushing, stretching and pushing.
Have you ever noticed each second slide away, one by one? Drip drip drip, water dripping out of a leaky tap, drop by single drop.
Have you seen it flow? Have you tried to catch it, stop it and hold it close ?
Have to tried to calibrate your rhythm, to walk in tune with time, matching steps together ?
Have your eyes witnessed it? Time, as it slowly passes by. Regularly, relentlessly; in the dead of the night, with the hum of the morning traffic, in the blazing summer heat of a scorching Dubai afternoon.

I have.

45 deg said the car thermostat. Despite the AC on full blast, the angry rays burned my skin through the windshield. Dubai summer is here at last. Fashionably late this year; but arriving with a bang in full blazing glory ;pointy shiny nails and a dazzling gown of yellow and gold …. ‘Dahhlings, i’m heeere, let the party begin’.

The summer heat party is in full swing, as I rush in from one errand and out on the way to another.

Then, I see him.

Spotless white kurta glowing as it reflects the sun-rays. He is walking slowly across the road, with his walking stick…. tap . tap . tap . I know it’s almost time for Zohr Salah because I see him making his way to the masjid, as always. Reliable and dependable, one of the constants in the quiet street I live in.
On this street, it’s not the Adhaan that heralds the arrival of prayer time; but the deliberate, slow and serene footsteps of this peaceful man walking to the masjid. Five times a day, everyday; whatever the season; he makes his way down the road and around the corner . When I see him walk to the mosque, I know I will soon hear the sound of adhaan.

Regular as time , he slowly passes me by.

tick…tick…tick goes the clock
drip…drip… drip goes the leaky tap
tap… tap … tap goes his walking stick guiding this man to the only place that matters – the place where foreheads touch prayer mats in Salah. The place where he connects to his lord.

For no reason at all, something catches in my throat , and I feel my eyes fill up. I finally have the answer to a question that’s been plaguing me since I was very little.
‘What do you want to be when u grow up? ’

“This man…. “; says my heart; “I want to be him.”

Personalize your Ibadah

There are a variety of paths to reach your spiritual goals, to draw closer to Allah SWT. Not all the paths look the same, but each has incredible benefits and rewards. Allah SWT has created us with different personalities, with different strengths and weaknesses. So that we may cover, shield and compensate each other’s weaknesses . That we may, using each other strengths, collectively build a strong, supportive and loving community .

Yet sometimes, more often than necessary, we fall into the trap of comparing and competing with each other. Competition is good if it inspires us to better ourselves and improve our faults; it is damaging if it makes us feel envious and bitter.

My friend A, she breezes through the Quran, completing a reading not once but twice in the month.
Another lady, lets say B, cooks up a storm sending food packages to friends, family and the everyone else around her.
Another stays hours in the Masjid, praying Taraweeh , Qiyam and Itikaaf.
Z has a hectic schedule built around her children- Quran class in the day, classes at home for 15 children twice a week, hifdh classes at the mosque.
N spends a lot of time at work and focuses on fitness, honoring the amanah Allah has given her ie. her physical self.
J secludes herself, reducing her social
life to a bare minimum as she focusses inward on learning.
M is increasing her socializing to build stronger family and community ties.
S focuses on creating , to inspire and teach as a means of Sadaqah Jariya.
F is busy with little children, wiping , cleaning, feeding and entertaining toddlers.

Each of these activities has immense rewards. If you can, do look up Hadith and Quran references that explain the rewards for each of these actions.

But then S sees N and regrets not exercising.
Z sees B and regrets not cooking and feeding people….. you get the idea…and they feel inadequate and diminished.

Let go of comparison, Let go of regret.

Find your strength, your sweet-spot. The thing that ignites and excites you. Then make the intention of dedicating whatever you are doing (and whatever you love to do) to the cause of Allah SWT alone.

Do it ONLY for the sake of gaining HIS pleasure.
Do it after consciously removing ALL social expectations.
Do it to seek approval from Allah alone.
Do it, conscious and mindful of the rewards promised for that activity.
Do it to find YOUR path to Jannah.

Find your self, focus on yourself, then dedicate the best of yourself to Allah SWT

May Allah accept all our efforts and help us build a vibrant and pious community here in Dunya. Then reunite us in the blessed gardens- in Jannah.

image courtesy:
(we all know how difficult it is to find good stock images related to Islam/Muslims)

Mercy even in pain and grief

During Ramadan, Post Fajr is my favorite time to read the Quran. It’s still dark and quiet, there’s the fresh zeal of energy after Suhoor. And so I end up paying more attention to the meaning of the verses. And while reading Surah Ali Imran part of this ayah caught my attention and I had to read up.

‘Then, after inflicting this grief, He sent down an inner peace upon you – a sleep which overtook some of you.’ (Part of Ayah 154)

The verses in this part described the happenings at the time of the battle of Uhud. It was the second conquest for the Muslim Ummah. They were defending the city of Madina from being attacked by the Makkans who had camped at the base of the Uhud mountain.There were challenges ahead. The first of the problems came when out of the mere 1000 that had set out to Uhud to defend Madina 300 of them changed their minds and turned back refusing to take part. There were now only 700 muslims against 3000 from the Quraysh. The first day of battle resulted in several deaths among the Muslims as well as an injured Prophet PBUH and other companions. But they kept going. The resilience showed by Muslims shocked the Quraysh and the strategic positioning chosen by the Prophet SAW near Uhud defended the Muslims in big way. The next big blow came when those appointed by the Prophet SAW to guard an entry into Uhud left their positions to join the general crowd thereby allowing the Quraysh led by Khalid bin Waleed to overcome them and defeat them.

It was such an emotional and physically intense moment for the entire Ummah. And the verse says that in the aftermath of all this Allah (SWT) causes them to sleep. Subhanallah. Like a parent comforting a child who disobeyed and was hurt. There is Mercy even in pain and grief. This mercy from Him is still open after having erred and disobeyed. And it is what prevails after the pain. The hope that there is good to come after all this. And understanding that our trials where a necessary part of the blessings that were to accompany it.
We all know that the shifa for our ailments come from Allah Ash Shafi. And in that shifa also lies the cure for our ailing minds and hearts, the small and big anxieties we go through everyday. There’s so much more good to expect from our Lord than we could ever expect in our limited imaginations. May Allah SWT make us yearn for the good and call out to him in this month.

It’s day three of Ramadan

It’s day three of Ramadan.

The third (or fourth or fifth…) day of Ramadan is the very best . By day three, I have overcome the awkwardness of small talk with a dearly loved friend I’m meeting after a year, and we have found and settled into a cozy familiarity together. We have picked up the conversation where we left it off last year. Some things about us have changed, some remain the same.
Like one half of an old couple, I decided to try some new things this year . But by day three, as we settle into the homely routine we’ve developed over the years, a lot of these new initiatives start sliding away:
– like eating home cooked healthy meals for Iftar. On day two, we made healthy sugar-free ice cream at home (yay!) and ordered in chaat for Iftar . I wonder what the Iftar table will see on day three. (I’ve just prayed Fajr, but I can see a box of kulfi dancing in mid-air above the couch.)
– like making and following a duaa list. While I strictly followed ‘the list’ for two days; on day three; my wandering personality emerges in my duaa-making. List thrown aside, I run through the aisles of the universe like a toddler let loose in a candy shop …. “Ya Allah get me this ,and get me that, and save this tree and this animal, and help this hungry child Ya Karim, please please please help her, and of course give me Jannah ya Rahman, and Ya Afuw- forgive my sins , all of them Ya Rabb”
– like those dream-duaa visualizations. Well, the images keep changing. “I don’t know what I want to be, But you do Ya Al-Alim, help me BE what you want me to be. Put me on the right path and Ya-Al Qawiyy give me the strength to follow that path.”
– Like keeping the home neat. Tidied up on day one, day two saw a few books left strewn where we had read them. As we enter day three… InShaAllah, the floor should have space for us to walk across – that’s the best I can hope for.

But my friend doesn’t mind. Because my friend knows me for me, and loves me for me. I make sure to thank her for visiting and gracing my home, bringing light and joy. I will remain loyal InShaAllah. I will honour her and she will help me grow in ways I didn’t anticipate. We still have our regular favorite activities, developed over the years.
– Like finishing a complete reading of the Quran. Twenty pages a day, seems daunting on the first two days- but by day three, the steady rhythm sets in. Alhamdulillah .
– Like waking up an hour or two before suhoor to have the peaceful early morning cup of coffee together along with heart-to-heart chats. We reminisce about the past (Remember that crazy Iftar in the tent with goats?) and talk about the future. (InshaAllah, please let us meet next year as well. We will do the healthy iftar next year- for sure!)
– Like immersing ourselves into a new book, reading slowly and pausing ever so often to imagine and absorb. This years top selection being about the Duaa of the Sahaba.
– Like making time to do just a little bit more good together everyday; be it buying and making food to distribute in the city, or meeting a new neighbour or connecting with family.

By day three, we are starting to relax and enjoy the short time we have together on this beautiful journey. Alhamdulillah for this blessed month. May be find a way to embrace it with love and joy. May we benefit from it and all the blessings it brings. Ameen.

What are some unchanging elements of your Ramadan experience?

Be Ramadan Ready

‘It’s Ramadan tomorrow, and all I want to do is sleep.’ I think in panic as I survey my house with a critical eye. There are books strewn everywhere, a half made lego set on the floor, dishes piled up in the sink. My body aches , I’m sneezing and it feels like the beginnings of a flu. It’s been a very hectic few weeks and I’ve been busy…. but at the moment I can’t remember what with; it’s all a blur: work, setting up my momprenuer project, Ramadan events, school events, packed lunches and bedtime stories… a crazy-mix of all… in this moment I feel exhausted, overwhelmed and inadequate because I’m not ‘Ramadan ready’.

Instagram shows me another picture of a beautifully set up Ramadan wall , a corner , a basket. There are twinkling lights, blue, gold, purple and spring themed. There are moons and stars and carefully curated book titles in a pretty basket. There are activities and games for children and boxes of neatly wrapped samosas and perfectly shaped kebabs. There are even personally labeled eid favors all ready and waiting to be distributed!

Then there are the articles, so many on how to make the best of Ramadan: duaa lists, and goal charts and planners and journals. I have none. I feel unable to cope with the pressure to do and be all these things for Ramadan. I’m overwhelmed and I slump into a corner.

It’s Ramadan tomorrow- and I just want to sleep.

Tears start streaming out of my eyes. I just can’t …. will my kids have a lousy Ramadan because i haven’t decorated a cardboard mosque ? I crawl into bed- teary – ya Allah help me. I dissolve into tears… and slip into sleep. I wake up much later in time for the dawn Salah. I finish my namaaz, and remain sitting on the prayer mat. Slowly. a thought emerges: it’s about your heart, prepare your heart first.

I start to peel away all the extra layers… no my children don’t really need the lights and daily treats. We can do without the cardboard mosque, the real one is close by. (Alhamdulillah for living in this country- UAE !) We don’t need the samosas.

The only thing we really really need is to connect to Allah – with or without the extra frills. If we can do the lights, crafts decor, Alhamdulillah, and if we can’t , Alhamdulillah .
I will make it my intention to have our hearts connect to Allah, and ALL I need for that is my my sincere intention and sincere duaa.
That is something I can do – right here, right now. I can do it while I prepare lunch boxes, wipe surfaces and while I drive around running errands.

I make fervent duaa- to make this Ramadan the best yet. Yes, amidst the toys strewn about and the dirty dishes… this WILL BE the best Ramadan yet.

Alhamdulillah – I am alive and here to witness another Ramadan, InShaAllah. That is an immense blessing and that is enough.

Astaghfirulla – Ramadan is not about envy and inadequacy.
I am happy for all the people who have beautifully decorated homes. I love them and appreciate the effort . I remind myself of the many who have none of these blessings and many who will be struggling with burdens I can’t even imagine this Ramadan.

InShaAllah – I have a day. I will have a tidy house, I will have my prayer mats out, I may set up lights. I have time to prepare. While preparing I will consciously remind myself to focus on what matters most.
Intention matters, so right now I make it my intention to please Allah, in everything I do and even in things I can’t do!

All I need is for my heart to reach out and connect to the divine. All I need to do is take one step, and Allah pulls me up the rest of the way. With the comfort of that thought settling in my heart, the comfort of knowing with certainty that Allah will pull me through; a plan starts to emerge; A plan to be Ramadan ready in 12 hours.

Yalla – Lets do it!