#Blessed: Rumi

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.

Yesterday morning, I saw my cousin retweeted an article called “The Erasure of Islam from the Poetry of Rumi.” Instantly, I was intrigued because I took a class almost every semester in college with a professor who is a Rumi translator (he’s actually quotes in the article). From my freshman class called Islamic Mystical Literature to my senior seminar on Rumi himself, I received a lot of first-time exposure to Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi—the mystical poet and the Islamic scholar.

I excitedly clicked the article, and came to realize much of my paper from a Sufism class sophomore year (good God, that was almost FIVE years ago) discussed similar issues regarding Rumi as the best-selling poet in the U.S. But what I never mentioned in the paper, which was the premise of Rozina Ali’s entire article, was how many Islamic references are written out of the popular translations. At the same time, references to prophets that would still be recognizable to your average American were left as is.

Although I knew many people quoted Rumi online, at weddings, and in greeting cards for romantic reasons, it never occurred to me the references to Quran and Islam were blatantly left out or reworked in translations to appeal to a general audience. Whether intentional or not, this reworking did erase Islam from much of Rumi’s translated works which spread so far and wide in the Western world. But of course, all the credit for Rumi’s popularity can’t be relinquished to the translated works, which Omid Safi cleverly referred to as “spiritual colonialism” in Ali’s piece. To quote from the introductory paragraph of a paper I submitted my final semester of college about Rumi:

“There is something to be said about a writer who can connect with his or her reader. The conveyance of a message to an audience requires skill. The conveyance of a message to an audience that transcends borders put in place by faiths, languages, and centuries requires great mastery of said skill with a mix of unique flair, clarity, intrigue, and empathy. The writings and poems of Jalal ad-Din Rumi do exactly that. For despite his being a thirteenth century Muslim mystic originating from what is present-day Afghanistan, Mawlana Rumi is a bestselling poet in twenty-first century North America. Rumi the poet, the scholar, the Sufi, and the human was and is a bridge connecting members of his audience from all corners of both the Muslim and non-Muslim, past and present worlds.”

Clicking that article yesterday threw me back into the classroom of my college courses. It reminded me how I’d come across a line of poetry exactly when I needed it most and how fond I grew of Mawlana Rumi’s writings, Alhamdulillah.

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#Blessed: Snow

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.

“Snowflakes falling real slowly, everything looks so pretty.”

–Arthur Read, of course

Ah, snow. What a sight it is, really. When I looked out the window this morning, (which is hardly a view of the sidewalk four stories below due to a theater wall adjacent to our building) I saw flurries. They floated around, trying to make their way to the ground below.

Snow, simply put, makes me happy. Maybe it’s the childhood (and teenage-hood and young adulthood, let’s be honest) excitement that resulted from a school closing due to too much white on the roads. Even now well-removed from my schooldays, I seclude myself to the wondrous indoors when snow falls, admiring from afar in the warmth of my fuzzy blanket and perhaps with my fingers wrapped around a cup of chai.

Other memories of snow include:

  • Sitting in a circle on the carpets of the masjid on Jumuah with my high school English class due to a busted heater in our room.
  • Not immediately realizing my next door neighbor/cousin was attempting snow angels when my mom and I saw her from our kitchen window lying on the ground outside.
  • Turning on the clock radio or News 12 to hear my school’s name announced on the please-be-on-it closed list.
  • Skipping the first day of my final semester in college because I didn’t want to endanger myself driving in the snow.
  • Attending a friend’s wedding ceremony as the next day’s huge storm began flurrying its first snowflakes outside the masjid.
  • Printing wedding invitations on the floor of my living room with envelopes surrounding me as I looped videos of my soon-to-be nephew making a funny face and attempting to vanish quarters into thin air.

I do, I love the snow. Yes, driving in it freaks me out, and no, I’m never the first person to initiate a snowball fight or suggest we shovel the driveway…but it is kind of beautiful. It’s a beauty that falls straight from the sky, only when and if Allah wills. And that’s a sign I feel very blessed to witness, Alhamdulillah.

#Blessed: Lots of Fruit

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.

Any visit to our parents’ homes or their visits to us result in love, laughs, and lots of fruit. I would’ve just finished picking out the bunch of bananas that weren’t too green or too yellow to last us a certain amount of days earlier during the week at the grocery store, when I’d be hit with another bunch—or two—upon seeing the ‘rents. Our breakfast or lunch would be “forced” to include a banana each day to ensure no wastage. Even with us eating a couple everyday, there’d still be three or so left over that turned too mushy to get down.

An online recipe search would give me a use for the still-standing three brown-spotted bananas: muffins. Never had I made them before, but now was the time to try. Alhamdulillah the overripe fruits turned into a delicious breakfast or late night dessert (and probably a regular recipe with all the fruits that end up in our house).

More recently, my mom gave me a huge bag of grapes. We’re only two people, and the grapes were well on their way to mushy status. We ate all we could over the week, and with a long travel plan ahead of us, what were we to do with the remaining fruit? Jam? More than one jar in the fridge already. Sorbet? Eh, not feeling it. Fruit leather? Hey…that’s a childhood favorite my parents would buy for me from the Pathmark next door. Let’s give it a shot!

After only a half-hour or less worth of prep (plus four hours in the oven, lol), I got myself an awesome, healthy, and nostalgic snack. I’d be surprised if lots of fruit ever pose a “problem” for us again.

Alhamdulillah for those overripe bananas and grapes sitting around that I initially wished hadn’t found their way to my counter and fridge. I learned a couple new recipes, ate some yummy snacks, and avoided wasting food. Plus, I came to realize how versatile fruit can be.

#Blessed: Fuzzy Blankets

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.

For most of this January morning, I stayed wrapped up in a blanket gifted to us by my brother and sister-in-law back in the fall. That wonderful piece of fabric makes you feel like you’re being hugged by a cloud and you simply don’t want to let go.

When my nephew came by with my sister last week, he climbed up onto my bed and said in his very matter-of-fact, articulate, almost 6-year-old voice, “This is so soft!”

Oh yes, Abdullah. Isn’t it soft? So soft in fact, I refused to take it off this morning. I kept myself wrapped in my blanket as I settled into the day and completed some tasks on my to-do list. Ah, the benefits of remote work.

It wasn’t until late afternoon I realized my blanket didn’t yet make its way back to its proper place on the bed. As the sun started to set, I gently placed the warm, soft, fuzzy blanket at the foot. Its ends gracefully hung off the sides of the mattress, waiting ’til I’d want to wrap myself in them next.

Until tonight, fuzzy blanket.

While this sounds very overdramatic, having a comfortable and warm blanket in the winter is truly a blessing. Many people suffer greatly when battling the cold temperatures and this project is about recognizing even the simplest of pleasures we enjoy. Alhamdulillah. 

If you are able, please take a moment to donate a $30 winter pack to Syrians who need it. May Allah reward you for your efforts.

#Blessed: Onions

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day.

I know, I KNOW. I’ve been the girl who complained about onions forever, and here I am recognizing onions as an actual blessing. A few months ago, I would’ve considered this a defeat. But onions, in all their smelly and tearjerking non-glory, should be given their due.

First, you must understand, I have a history of sorts with onions.

Any time I’d call in an order for a burger at a local restaurant on my way home from school, I’d say, “No onions, please.” The guy on the other line would say, “They’re grilled onions.” And I’m thinking, I don’t care. Onions and I do not mix. This exchange happened every time I ordered from this place, no exaggeration.

Burgers, my beloved papdi chaat, you name it—I didn’t want onions in it. If onions made their way into something I ordered, my entire mood would be thrown off and my appetite totally lost. Granted, I was being pretty stubborn, but that onion taste and smell lingers in your food and mouth man, and it’s simply not good. It’s one of the worst downers, you’re looking forward to eating that dish you specifically paid for to not have onions in it, and then you bite into a ring of that vegetable (if you failed to inspect it thoroughly upon receipt). Even the fact that onions played a role in one of my childhood favorite books, Holes, was a little bit of a downer.

So why recognize onions as a blessing? I’ve come to realize Desi food owes a lot of its awesome taste to onions. I secretly always knew this, but didn’t want to admit it. I would joke how I’d never use onions when I had to cook. My sister-in-law would laugh and give me this look like, Yeah okay…we’ll see. 

Oh, how the turn tables…

Last week, I fried a bunch of onions for the SECOND time in my life. I wouldn’t be surprised if my carpet still boasts of the stench. Today, I used not one—but two—onions in the dinner I made. Yes, it was smelly, but you know what? The food tastes great, Alhamdulillah. (All of that credit goes to my mom, by the way, who gives impeccable instructions over the phone on how to cook stuff.)

While I still order my burgers without onions, I do understand now that onions are a blessing and a requirement for most of the other dishes I deem my favorites. Alhamdulillah, I came around somewhat. And if you wanna know a little secret: I’ve always loved to sprinkle lots of fried onions on my haleem growing up. Darn things…had me all along didn’t they?

#Blessed: Cousins

This post is a part of a series called #Blessed, an effort to recognize a blessing in every day. 

Every New Year’s Eve, my cousins and I would spend the night together. I don’t think any of us actually cared that the digit at the end of the year was increasing by 1, but it was an excuse to hang out. We all had off, so let’s have a sleepover, play games, eat, and perhaps get someone to confess an embarrassing story or two.

This past New Year’s Eve was the first I spent away from my cousins in a long time. A few days before the 31st, I asked if they had plans (I’ve moved out of state so I wasn’t able to attend). They were, as tradition would have it, gathering at one of my cousin’s houses to not watch the ball drop and not witness the awkwardness that was CNN’s broadcast. My plans this past New Year’s Eve consisted of sitting in my apartment, hoping to get some chores done before nightfall (which didn’t exactly happen). I was supposed to be unoccupied by the time my cousins FaceTimed me, but we discovered I can easily chime in Taboo answers while folding some laundry.

The audio wasn’t as clear as it would’ve been sitting in the same room, but that FaceTime-turned-Google Hangout was so immensely appreciated Saturday night. Don’t get me wrong…I love where I am now, Alhamdulillah, and wouldn’t have it any other way—it’s just sometimes, you can’t help but miss what you once had at your disposal. One quick text sent during a period of downtime (or more likely, in an attempt to procrastinate) and within a half hour or so you found yourself at the nearest frozen yogurt spot with people who make you laugh, who’ve seen you cry, and who’ve never failed to be your best friends.

I could easily dedicate a post to each of these four cousins I’m thinking of (and may very well do that over the course of this project), but today, I wanted to recognize the group, which as of yesterday has been dubbed: the dope bagels (edit: okay, the name has since passed). I love how some of you are gung-ho about grammar and some of you don’t give a care in the world but pretend to, how you are dedicated to your prayers even if it means using a scarf off the rack at Macy’s, how you rub it in my face that you ate cookies without me, and how you always keep me a part of the group even though I’m a state or two away.

Alhamdulillah, these cousins are my sisters, my best friends, my go-to text message/Snap recipients, and above all, beautiful blessings from Allah.

#Blessed: Writing

وَآتَاكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا

“And He gave you of all that you asked for, and if you count the Blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them.” —Qur’an, 14:34

It’s 2017, and I am back. Really. I’m taking on a new project: #Blessed. I want to post as much as I can…every day, every week? Some type of consistency is what I’m aiming for. Each post, a different blessing. I want to really drive home the point made in the verse above. Try all you want to count the blessings God has given you; you’ll never be able to enumerate them.

I want—need—to spend more time in my life reflecting on God and His role in my life. He’s nearer to me than my jugular vein, and too often I’ve belittled this close tie to mere motions in less than half-hearted prayers throughout the day.

I used to have this quote saved in my phone: if you want to focus on Allah more in your prayers, focus on Allah outside your prayers. Our remembrance isn’t limited to Qur’an, prayer beads, or other forms of ritual worship. Every breath can—and should—be a moment of awe, a moment that makes us truly say and think and believe Alhamdulillah, all praises are due to Allah.

So here’s to 2017. What do I feel blessed for on Day 1? If it must be limited to one thing, then Alhamdulillah for the ability to write.

This. This Is Surreal.

— Note: I wrote this soon after returning from umrah in April 2015. Posting it today as a TBT. —

I thought I knew what the word surreal meant. I thought I experienced surreality a handful of cherished times in my life, like when I stepped on the court belonging to my favorite basketball team and met a legendary player. Or when I took in the view of the crowd against the bright blue sky at my college commencement while I walked to my seat on the field wearing my cap and gown. Or when I saw my name printed in a byline to a story I wrote for my favorite magazine.

But it wasn’t until Spring 2015, some minutes after 11 P.M. that I really experienced surreality. Never did something feel more real and unreal at the same time. I laid my eyes on the Ka’ba as I walked with my parents to perform umrah for the first time in my life.

All of the photographs, illustrations, and wall-hangings, all of the Sunday school projects, all of the stories from my Islamic history books—there it was in front of me. The Ka’ba. This is the direction we pray five times a day. This is where Islam started. But all that wasn’t running through my mind at that first glance. I was pretty much starstruck, but I put my hands together to make du’a like I was advised to do. I wish it lasted longer. I wish I was more prepared. I wish I could redo that moment and handle it with more care.

But alas, the moment passed, and I continued to walk until my parents and I joined the other members of our ummah who were doing tawaf. We performed the acts of umrah, and I pray Allah accepts it from us and everyone else—and invites us all back for another go ‘round. He knows best that I need it.

Prior to arriving in Makkah, I saw some pictures floating around on the Internet of groups at umrah, praying together. I’d see the Haram in the pictures, with tall red cranes in the background—clearly proving there was indeed much construction taking place. Upon our arrival, one of the new sections of the Haram was open for the public. My family and I opted to pray there:

Masjid al-Haram Masjid al-Haram

There were birds, insects, and even cats who opted to pray there too. If I was in a masjid near my house and saw a cat walking on the carpet, I’d probably not be the happiest person (I’m not the most comfortable around animals!), but things were just different in Makkah. I felt a connection with those animals. They, like me, were a creation fashioned by the same Creator. Being able to share the space was beautiful.

Of course, it wasn’t just my family and the animals. There were people from all around the world. We prayed next to people from Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Pakistan, India, and surely more. I should’ve said salaams to more people while I was there…it kind of reminded me how I’d feel in class on the final day of the semester. You’re next to these people day after day. You recognize their faces and know how they sit, but you never talk to them. And on the last day of class you wish you took more of an initiative to be friendly, but it’s too late. The semester is over and now you’ll go your separate ways. There isn’t much I can do about that now, but next time Insha’Allah, I want to give that first salaam the way a few women gave it to me. I remember their faces and voices and smiles. Although those brief encounters were the first and most likely the last times I will see those women, I don’t think I can ever forget them.

Perhaps what I’ll remember most from my trip is this:

This was the first prayer I prayed in Makkah. I walked out of the hotel and met the warm night air surrounding the Haram. We prayed on the tiled floor outside the walls of the masjid. In the second rak’a, the Imam recited the end of Surah al-Hashr—some of the most beautiful verses I’ve heard. They echoed throughout the lit-up sky and in my heart, and they stayed with me. And SubhanAllah, the final prayer I prayed in Madinah before heading home was the one below. In the first rak’a, the Imam recited those very same verses from Surah al-Hashr.

“O you who have believed, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow—and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.

And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient.

Not equal are the companions of the Fire and the companions of Paradise. The companions of Paradise—they are the attainers [of success].

If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and coming apart from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will give thought.

He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, Knower of the unseen and the witnessed. He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.

He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him.

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”

— Qur’an, Chapter 59, Verses 18-24

It’s truly amazing how Allah makes things work, how He can so easily change the meaning of a word in our lives. As wonderful as walking on the court, wearing my cap and gown, and seeing my name in a byline were, the true surreal moment of my life was hearing the same verses in my first and my last prayer at the Haramayn during this particular visit. The true surreal moment was seeing and touching the Ka’ba with my parents. The true surreal moment was realizing what surreal can actually be.

Out in the Garden, One Fine Day…

Every fall, I get this urge to go apple picking. It’s something the fall does to me. Fall = pretty leaves + apple pie. Apple picking combines appreciating the beautiful colors of the trees while also checking the first item off the ingredients list. You can’t really fail.

But the last time I actually went apple picking was in the first grade, maybe. I might’ve ditched school on the day of the trip. You know how it is. This year though, the desire to go pluck a fruit off a tree was fulfilled. It was a pretty big moment for me.

See, my dad always brings stuff inside the house from his garden outside. I hardly go into the garden. I can’t really navigate myself there—what’s alive? what isn’t?—neither of my thumbs are close to green. But this past weekend, my uncle visited and wanted to pick some pears off our pear tree. My mom suggested I accompany him since my dad wasn’t home, and so I joined him for the entire ten steps it takes to get to the tree in my backyard.

That’s when I realized, whoaWe have a pear tree. Like, there are actual pretty pears on this tree. I knew before too…but it’s just different seeing the pears growing on the tree than cut up in a kitchen bowl, you know?

My uncle was super excited and started picking a bunch off. Later my aunt joined us. They had the most adorable time filling up a bunch of bags to take home and distribute among their neighbors and friends.

I went back out a while after they left to pick a few myself so I could bake something to satisfy my sweet tooth. As I tried to fix my eye on a pear within reach, I saw a leaf gracefully fall to the ground.

I froze.

“With Him are the keys of the Unseen. No one knows them but He. He knows what is in the land and the sea. No leaf ever falls but that He knows about it, and there is no grain in the dark layers of the earth, or anything fresh or dry that is not recorded in a manifest book.” [Quran, 6:59]

There I was, standing before a tree that existed in my backyard for as long as I could remember. A tree that my basketball would roll under every time I missed a shot. My cousin and I would “nose goes” to see who’d have to fetch the ball by the tree with the bees. For years, I didn’t give that tree a second look or care for the fruits it provided. I sat inside my house as decades of autumns passed, countless leaves fell without my knowledge.

But when that one leaf fell on Saturday, it caught my eye. As I watched it make its way to the ground, it hit me. Allah made that little leaf fall. He knew exactly when and how it’d fall, and who would see it. He’s the One who knows when every single leaf on this planet parts ways with its branch. Not one person would care to keep track of something so normal, so overlooked.

God. Wow. You’re Amazing. My tiny brain can’t even begin to comprehend.

I took the pears inside and I started to wash and peel them. My dad was home by then and of course showed me the proper way to wash it. There were pomegranate seeds, grapes, and oranges already on the counter. Each fruit so different—the colors, the textures, the shapes, the tastes! No joke, every time I cut up fruit for some chaat at Iftar time, my mind blows.

“He is the One who sent down water from the heavens. Then We brought forth with it vegetation of all kinds. Then from it We brought grains set upon one another. From the palm-trees, from their spathes, come forth the low hanging branches. (We produce) vineyards and the olive and the pomegranate, either similar or not similar to each other. Look at its fruit when it bears fruit, and its ripening. Surely, in all this there are signs for people who believe.” [Quran, 6:99]

The signs are everywhere…ank kohlke dehko! 👀

My Friend In Med School

A little while back, someone from a company sent me an email about National Girlfriends Day. I’d never heard of this day, but I wasn’t surprised. Thanks to Rhett and Link, I know people celebrate “National ______ Day” for some very random things…

But my understanding is that National Girlfriends Day is a day to celebrate female friendship, that irreplaceable sisterhood. The girls I’d call my friends are some awesome people—they connect, care, laugh, and listen in a way others simply don’t. One of my friends is currently in medical school (Masha’Allah), and she always tells me the interesting things she learns about the human body. What she studies truly fascinates her and increases her faith in the Creator. Her eyes light up as she talks about the subject, while I listen amazed. I’m usually more amazed at how much she loves the subject than the actual facts (which are still eye-opening nonetheless).

Every now and then, my friend will ask me if I got my blood work done or how my iron levels are doing. I’m kind of horrible…I never go to the doctor’s office. Alhamdulillah, I haven’t had to due to any emergencies. But the regular check-ups and blood tests…somehow I’ve managed to get out of them more than once. And obviously that’s not a good thing, and obviously I need to change. I just don’t know when exactly.

But in the spirit of my friend in med school, I thought I’d share what that company shared with me about National Girlfriends Day. This infographic provides a roadmap for women, telling them what they should pay attention to in their bodies to maintain good health. Now, I’m no expert…but if you have questions about something in that infographic (like I certainly do!), I think my girl-frand in med school would be happy to explain a thing or two. :)

So I guess this is Happy National Girlfriends Day! Take care, ladies.