Friday, June 24, 2016

My Son Is of My Family

Asalamu Alaykom,

Today, we reached the eleventh surah in Quran.  That makes us sound very diligent about reading Quran this Ramadan.  The truth is that it has taken us three Ramadans to reach this point.  I read the Quran to El Kid, but we don't zoom through.  We end up discussing and exploring meaning.  Our discussions are what every parent dreams of, but our page count is not anything to brag about.

Surah Hud explores the idea that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.  Messengers (peace be upon them all) were sent with "glad tidings" or at least that's what it says in my Mohammed Asad translation.  Honestly, it makes me think of the Christmas carol line, "Glad tidings we bring to you and your kin.  We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"  Anyway, The Truth can be delivered to your community, but that doesn't mean anybody is going to accept it.

Prophet Noah/Nuh had the task of being a loner.  He was different.  Not many accepted his ideas.  I understand him---not even his own son agreed with him.  Recently, I've had dealings with my oldest son that have us looking at life from two different angles.  I can understand the amount of anguish involved with wanting the best for your son and not being able to make it happen.  Again, you can't force someone to accept what you want for them---in any regard.

There has to be free will.  We can always offer, but then we also have to accept when it is not wanted.  Often, the people we want to accept Islam the most are the ones who are the least interested.  We have to let it go.

Here is the section from Surah Hud which tells us about Prophet Noah/Nabi Nuh

In the beginning, Noah really tries:

25. And indeed We sent Nuh (Noah) to his people (and he said): "I have come to you as a plain warner."

26. "That you worship none but Allah, surely, I fear for you the torment of a painful Day."

27. The chiefs of the disbelievers among his people said: "We see you but a man like ourselves, nor do we see any follow you but the meanest among us and they (too) followed you without thinking. And we do not see in you any merit above us, in fact we think you are liars."

28. He said: "O my people! Tell me, if I have a clear proof from my Lord, and a Mercy (Prophethood, etc.) has come to me from Him, but that (Mercy) has been obscured from your sight. Shall we compel you to accept it (Islamic Monotheism) when you have a strong hatred for it?

29. "And O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but Allah. I am not going to drive away those who have believed. Surely, they are going to meet their Lord, but I see that you are a people that are ignorant.

30. "And O my people! Who will help me against Allah, if I drove them away? Will you not then give a thought?

31. "And I do not say to you that with me are the Treasures of Allah, "Nor that I know the Ghaib (unseen); "nor do I say I am an angel, and I do not say of those whom your eyes look down upon that Allah will not bestow any good on them. Allah knows what is in their inner-selves (as regards belief, etc.). In that case, I should, indeed be one of the Zalimun (wrong-doers, oppressors, etc.)."

32. They said: "O Nuh (Noah)! You have disputed with us and much have you prolonged the dispute with us, now bring upon us what you threaten us with, if you are of the truthful."

33. He said: "Only Allah will bring it (the punishment) on you, if He will, and then you will escape not.

34. "And my advice will not profit you, even if I wish to give you good counsel, if Allah's Will is to keep you astray. He is your Lord! and to Him you shall return."

35. Or they (the pagans of Makkah) say: "He (Muhammad pbuh) has fabricated it (the Qur'an)." Say: "If I have fabricated it, upon me be my crimes, but I am innocent of (all) those crimes which you commit."

Then he realizes that he's never going to be voted Mr. Popularity:

36. And it was inspired to Nuh (Noah): "None of your people will believe except those who have believed already. So be not sad because of what they used to do.

He obeys the command to build the ark, even though he was laughed at:

37. "And construct the ship under Our Eyes and with Our Inspiration, and address Me not on behalf of those who did wrong; they are surely to be drowned."

38. And as he was constructing the ship, whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they made a mockery of him. He said: "If you mock at us, so do we mock at you likewise for your mocking.

39. "And you will know who it is on whom will come a torment that will cover him with disgrace and on whom will fall a lasting torment."


40. (So it was) till then there came Our Command and the oven gushed forth (water like fountains from the earth). We said: "Embark therein, of each kind two (male and female), and your family, except him against whom the Word has already gone forth, and those who believe. And none believed with him, except a few."

41. And he [Nuh (Noah)] said: "Embark therein, in the Name of Allah will be its moving course and its resting anchorage. Surely, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Tafsir At-Tabari, Vol. 12, Page 43)

His son isn't going with him.  This is the part that chokes me up:

42. So it (the ship) sailed with them amidst the waves like mountains, and Nuh (Noah) called out to his son, who had separated himself (apart), "O my son! Embark with us and be not with the disbelievers."

I really understood better this year the last ditch effort Noah was making.  The son wasn't on the ship.  The waves were already rolling in.  Honestly?  It was too late.  Noah called to his son who was now far away.  Why?  The disbelieving son had distanced himself from his father; the father still reached out to the disbelieving son.

43. The son replied: "I will betake myself to a mountain, it will save me from the water." Nuh (Noah) said: "This day there is no saviour from the Decree of Allah except him on whom He has mercy." And a wave came in between them, so he (the son) was among the drowned.

It's not that the son doesn't understand there is danger; he simply can't follow his dad.  There is a BOAT in front of him with his loving father once again begging him to jump on, but he can't.  The son is so stubborn.  He tries to think up another way to stay alive.  THERE'S A BOAT! but the son tries to find a mountain.  Subhanallah.  

Before we all think of the people we know who won't jump on our boats, we have to acknowledge that there's been a number of boats we ourselves refused.  Life is so hard when we are hard-headed.  Sadly, Noah's son right there and then---pretty much in the middle of stating how he was capable of doing it differently---has a wave rise up and drown him.

Noah saw that.  Noah saw his son's face, saw his son's hope in finding a way out of the disaster (as long as it didn't mean listening to his father), and then saw the water pull him under.  That's horrible.  That's not easily forgotten.  

The flood subsides thanks to the Grace of God:

44. And it was said: "O earth! Swallow up your water, and O sky! Withhold (your rain)." And the water was diminished (made to subside) and the Decree (of Allah) was fulfilled (i.e. the destruction of the people of Nuh (Noah). And it (the ship) rested on Mount Judi, and it was said: "Away with the people who are Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doing)!"

That is MAJOR drama!  The flood, the earth swallowing water, the sky ceasing its rain, the ship on a mountain?!  If you were making a movie from this story line, you'd been working for months on these special effects.  Remember that Prophet Noah is in the center of it all---manning the ship through turbulent waters and pounding rain, and finally coming resting on dry land .  Right after he is saved, he is told that alllllllllll the people who teased him are gone.

What is Prophet Noah's first thought? 

45. And Nuh (Noah) called upon his Lord and said, "O my Lord! Verily, my son is of my family! And certainly, Your Promise is true, and You are the Most Just of the judges."

No matter what monumental challenge Prophet Noah had survived, his heart was still connected to what he had lost.  This year, that really hit me.  I've always felt a special affinity for this story as it relates to me and my family.  However, this is the first time I cried over these words because they simply rang so true.  The fact that God had safely brought Noah through the hardest time in his life wasn't on his mind.  Despite all our blessings, we all do mourn whatever we have to let go.

Noah wasn't sounding 100% on board with what had just happened.  If he was a prophet, then why had God let his son drown?

God answers:

46. He said: "O Nuh (Noah)! Surely, he is not of your family; verily, his work is unrighteous, so ask not of Me that of which you have no knowledge! I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorants."

God sets Noah's mind to right with wiping away his doubts.  No, that wasn't a son who could come to follow the straight path.  It wasn't going to happen.  Besides that, Noah needed to simply believe in God and accept God's ways.  That's actually funny.  

God tells Noah to preach to the people---he does it.

God tells Noah to build a ship in the desert---he does it.

God tells Noah to gather up the animals---he does it.

Noah is FULLY believing and accomplishing every task until it comes to his family.  This is why the Quran says that children are a trial.  They aren't really ours.  We have them on loan (same as our bodies).  Yet, we want to think otherwise; we want to hold on to them as if they are an extension of ourselves.  They have their own minds and their own paths which is already known to Allah.

Noah realizes that he's gone too far.

47. Nuh (Noah) said: "O my Lord! I seek refuge with You from asking You that of which I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have Mercy on me, I would indeed be one of the losers."

That's the moment of letting go.

48. It was said: "O Nuh (Noah)! Come down (from the ship) with peace from Us and blessings on you and on the people who are with you (and on some of their off spring), but (there will be other) people to whom We shall grant their pleasures (for a time), but in the end a painful torment will reach them from Us."

This is where the story ends, but Allah speaks to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in what has to be the most amazing story summation. 

49. This is of the news of the unseen which We reveal unto you (O Muhammad pbuh ), neither you nor your people knew them before this. So be patient. Surely, the (good) end is for the Muttaqun (pious)


Don't be afraid to build your ship, to board it, and prepare yourselves for the future.  Your family---especially your children---are to be invited on your journey of faith, but they can't be forced.  

Stay buoyant this Ramadan and always.

Monday, June 20, 2016

MayFly Birthday Flew By

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a pic from the 48th birthday.  That's funny!  I should have written MY 48th birthday.  I guess I'm still not fully claiming it.

What you're seeing is the dessert tray I brought out after iftar.  I didn't feel like a birthday cake.  There was a time when I actually believed that blowing out birthday candles on a birthday cake was mandatory.  Now?  It can be homemade strawberry ice cream (well, homemade from a powder packet), Rice Krispie bars, along with vanilla nougat and candy berries.  Honestly?  That's so me---on an IKEA platter no less!

What I realized, after writing about my birthday, is that this year has been a confluence of many milestones at once. 

The birthday---whichever one it was (I can't remember)

The end of another school year

My eldest son graduating from university (alhumdulillah big time)

The start of Ramadan which is a super-duper reflective time for everyone

The anniversary of us making hijrah

Even though, we came in August of 2009, it was indeed Ramadan.  To enter into another Ramadan means to remember coming here when the decorations were up and so were everyone's hopes for a better life.  

In some ways, I came to Egypt when Egypt is at its best.  Going out at night and feeling the energy in the streets is different at Ramadan.  There is such a relief; a collective sigh of a burden lifted.  Subhanallah, that I saw Egypt that way almost seven years ago.  Of course, I also saw my husband at his best since we first met during that Ramadan as well.  You can read "Making Hijrah" if you wish.

This year, I am working.  It is the first Ramadan since I was pregnant with El Kid to be teaching.  We have shorten days, alhumdulillah.  If I don't have duties, I can leave as early as 1:00.  That's a blessing!  Of course, in the States, there are no shorter hours and no understanding of the limitations a person feels while fasting.

Unfortunately, some days I couldn't leave until the later bus, which brought me to my neighborhood, but not to my street.  In the heat of the day, I had to make my way home.  Micro bus?  Tuk-tuk?  Both fine options.  If either had been there when I was dropped off, I might have taken one.  However, I stepped off the bus onto a quiet street (an oddity in Egypt) and I walked peacefully home making tasbeeh all the way.

Keeping track on my finger joints of every praise for Allah, as I went step-by-step home, I noticed the world around me which I normally I might take for granted.

I am forever loving the artwork on vehicles.

Mashahallah, this family builds a mini-mosque every year and places it on this cement corner.  You cannot tell from this angle, but there's a speaker in there.  Sure enough, that mosque plays Quran!

This other family doesn't have enough money to buy a brand new fanoos, so they make one from that year's discarded text book.  I hope it was math and not English!

The streets are decorated with these plastic streamers.  They blow in the wind and sound like rustling leaves.  It may seem silly to you, but to a Midwestern gal who was used to TREES, the desert is a better place for having this soft swooshing sound.

Here's a combo of streamers AND homemade fanoos.

Later, a vegetable cart set up shop in the shade.

Then, just because Egypt is weird, there was a camel rib cage.  It is the only time I've ever seen the butcher have it on display.  Usually, there is meat hanging, but not bones.

Sure, the sun had been hot and the walk was a little longer than I would have liked.  On the other hand, I wouldn't have missed this opportunity to see the world with appreciative eyes and remember how blessed I am to be a part of it.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mayfly Birthday

Asalamu Alaykom,

It's been a while.

It's been almost 48 years.

That's a lot of years and a lot of birthdays.

Actually, Prince (God bless him and grant him peace), believed he had only one birth day.

It's amazing to be alive at all.  15-25% of pregnancies do not survive.  Alhumdulillah for those that didn't and alhumdulillah for those that did.

I've just been reading about baby traditions around the world.  Celebration timings vary from the first week to the first tooth 

---and you have to watch the Armenian ceremony when the baby chooses his or her work tools for the future.

In Bali, it is the 210th day that is special since only then is a baby let down onto his or her own feet.  Mashahallah.  Imagine the commitment the whole family makes to ensure that baby is always held.

So many babies don't make it to their first birthday.  For every 1,000 babies born in the world, 6 die before they reach a year.  Subhanallah.

Now, once again I need to remember that I have survived those perilous months-- many, many, MANY times over.  I am blessed.  Alhumdulillah.

It's easy to feel those 576 months weigh down on me like kilos---especially when people assume I would rather shed them in a kind of anni-ectomy.

To everyone who has said, "You don't look 47," I want to say, "Obviously, I must because I am and soon I will be 48.  This is what 48 looks like."

Other birthdays have a cute nickname.  There is the Golden Birthday when your new age matches the date you were born.  There is Sweet Sixteen when you finally get kissed by Jake Ryan.

See Molly and Michael from 32 years ago ?

I went to summer camp with one of the extras who stands in the school bathroom with Anthony Michael Hall and John Cusack to admire undies.  That young actor housed me secretly in his DePaul dorm room (completely platonically) in Chicago so I could audition for their drama program.  I didn't get in.  There are many times I didn't get what I wanted, and I'm grateful for all those disappointments ---at the time I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth.  I didn't.

I'm still here.

I'm here, and I have made up a cute nickname for my 48th birthday.  I got to thinking that 48 is really the number we think of as 48 hours---and then either the TV show or the Eddie Murphy movie.

It's the equivalent of two days.  I wanted to make a connection between two days and my 48th birthday.  What lasts two days?

I thought of the mayfly.    That's a mayfly at the top of this post.  I thought they were rather ugly until I saw this macro picture.  The wings are disco-diva iridescent.  While a mayfly doesn't get the same admiration as a butterfly---they aren't as "nice"---it truly is an amazing creation worthy of admiration (as it alllllllllllll is).  

A mayfly isn't known for its longevity.  Two days is the maximum.  It is such a temporary creature that it hardly seems fair to kill it, even if it swarms in with hundreds of others. A mayfly belongs to the genus, or family name, of ephemera

Ephemera, noun (from Greek emphemeros) things that exist or are used for only a short time.

However, there's another definition which states, "something of no lasting significance". 

That's vastly different to me.  I have accepted that I will not exist on this earth forever, but I do hope and pray that my life will have lasting significance.  This is why I am a mother and a teacher.  

There was this precious conversation I had on the school bus with my boy this week.  We talked over the connection between Rip Van Winkle and Ramadan.  Washington Irving's story is actually Surah Al Kahf in American trappings and Ramadan is the month we can chose to be like Rip, mindlessly idle, or like Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) fully engaged in a daily betterment program.  I tried to impart 7:20 AM wisdom.  Did he "get" it?

"So, " El-Kid, at age 10, questioned, "if I listen to you and do a good job with my life, then you will get good sins?"

"Deeds not sins, " I corrected.  He apparently was also feeling the 7:20 AM.  "What's really great is that, even after I'm no longer alive, I can collect good deeds if you help other people learn any of the good I've taught you---and taught the kids at school.  Subhanallah, right?"

I am here for a short time, but I am determined to make it significant.

Therefore, I will look at my transformation into a 48-year-old as my Mayfly Birthday.  Yes, I know that it sounds nasty to name a celebration after a bug, but keep in mind that both halves of that compound word have double meanings.  May can be the month in spring or it can be a modal verb meaning "possibility".  Fly can be the noun, the insect,  or the verb, meaning to travel through the air.  That idea of possibly sailing from where I am through the atmosphere to another higher level is another reason to have a May-fly Birthday.


What makes it even more important to me this year is that this is the first time in 30 years that my birthday will be in Ramadan.  

The lunar or Islamic/Hijri calendar takes 30 years to move around the solar or Christian/Gregorian calendar.  I haven't had my birthday in Ramadan since I was turning 18.  

In 1986, when I was 18, I didn't have any idea that I would be a Muslim teacher in Egypt.  If you had told me that, I would have laughed.  I was going to be an actress.  18 is a turning point.  It is adulthood when you have to make real choices for your future (not just on an Armenian table top).  It seems that making the wrong choice will flip your world upside-down from which you will never recover.

My eldest son is 21, graduating university this month, alhumdulliah, and feeling that his next step must be a good one---no, a great one!  "One small step for man..." and all that.

At almost 48, I can testify that I have goofed up, flubbed up, and screwed up a multitude of times to the nth degree, yet through the Grace of God my life is exactly what it was always meant to be.  Alhumdulillah.  It doesn't mean that I'm always happy about it, or that I can easily accept what I'm given with gratitude.  No, I get caught in stinkin' thinkin'.  

This year has had a lot of that and I am sorry that I wasted time.

For the year ahead, which starts with a month of fasting, I will inshahallah re-focus on....

This blog is in need of an overhaul.  I will be making sure over the summer that it still an accurate extension of who I am and who I want to be (not just who I was).  If you are a reader of this blog, like Shafaq and Deanna, then thank you for being here.  I am sorry that I haven't been here.  

Just as I only take photos when I'm happy, I only blog when I have something to say---at least more than 140 characters on Twitter.  I haven't been here because I didn't know what made enough sense to anyone else.  Hopefully, there will be something that speaks to you----if it does, then that's from Allah; if it doesn't, that's from me.

Love and Light!