Thursday, June 28, 2018

Why Are So Many Kids So Fragile? (The Collapse of Parenting: Chapter 5)

In the last of the chapters discussing the "problems" today, Sax looks at something that I hear more and more from teachers and professors:
"Many college faculty and staff report a noticeable fragility among today's students. Some describe them as "teacups"-- beautiful, but liable to break with the slightest drop" -- Jean, Twenge, San Diego State University (Sax 93).
  • Fragility has become a characteristic of American children and teenagers to an extent unknown 25 years ago (Sax 99).
    • Unwillingness to work on something they are weak at, in order improve. Instead, they will avoid such situations where they may fail or look weak.
    • Self definitions of greatness resulting in complete breakdowns at the slightest blow to their ego.
"...something inside seems to be missing: some inner strength that we took for granted in young people a few decades back..." (Sax 100).
"I have seen the same process in young adults--more often young men than young women--who come home from college, or drop out of college, to retreat into the bedroom with a computer screen or a video game. That's often the final common pathway which I have observed in twenty-somethings: young people whose dreams don't come true, who then give up, retreat, and return to live with their parents or (if their parents have the means) live separately from their parents but remain supported by their parents." (Sax 100)
  • Phenomenon of fragile young Americans who quit easily and have little ambition has huge economic consequences, but the cause isn't economic it is American parenting.
    • Weak parent-child relationship.
      • Kids need to value their parents opinion first, not that of their peers.
        • A good parent-child relationship is robust and unconditional.
        • Peer relationships are by nature fragile. This is why if emphasis and value is placed on peer opinions, the child will easily break because the relationship of value is inherently weak.
"That's one reason there has  been an explosion in the prevalence of anxiety and depression among American teenagers, as they frantically try to secure their attachment to other teens, as they try to gain unconditional love and acceptance from sources that are unable to provide it." (Sax 105)
  • In other places, people aren't look at as "generations" that creates a gap beween ages. They just do things together as a family.
  • Need for commitment to children in public places -- play areas, highchairs, milk/food, nursing rooms, diaper change stations.
  • Emphasize primacy of parent-child relationship over peers, academics, and other activities.
    • Family only vacations!
  • Connecting with adults should be a higher priority than connecting with peers, academics or activities.
    • Prioritize extended family and close adult friends in the life of the children.
"Part of your job as a parent is to educate desire. To teach your child to go beyond "whatever floats your boat." To enjoy, and to want to enjoy, pleasures higher and deeper than video games and social media can provide. Those pleasure may be found perhaps in conversation with wise adults; or in meditation, prayer, or reflection; or in music, dance, or the arts." (Sax 109).
  •  Educate desire! Teach your values so they don't adopt the values of popular culture!
  • Technology and devices further divide generations and undermine parental authority because then peers/friends know more about "important" things than you.
The Upshot
  • Fight for time with your child even if it means forgoing extra curricular activities so that meals can be had as a family! Attachment is vital and cannot happen if kids don't see parents and spend time with them! Primary attachments should be to parents not peers!
  • Decline in parental authority is directly related to weakening attachments to parents/adults.
  • "Failure comes to us all. The willingness to fail, and then to move on with no loss of enthusiasm, is a mark of character. The opposite of fragility...is the willingness to fail. When kids are secure in the unconditional acceptance of their parents, they can find the courage to venture and to fail. When kids value the good regard of their peers or their own self-concept above the good regard of their parents, they lose the willingness to fail. They become fragile." (Sax 113)

Why Are American Students Falling Behind? (The Collapse of Parenting: Chapter 4)

As a teacher, I would say this chapter is very much applicable to Canada as well.

Academic Performance and Creativity  are both on a sharp decline. Why?

  • Over investment in technology (tablets, smartboards, laptops).
    • The best countries (academically) have classrooms that are "utilitarian and sparse" with old fashioned chalk boards.
  • Overemphasis on sports.
  • Low selectivity in teacher training.
  • Culture of Disrespect.
    • Schools seeking to make education cool and fun because it then requires less classroom management.
      • No! Solution isn't to make school an arcade. It's to create a culture where students want to please adults, not look cool to peers!
    • There is a decline in college degrees and critical thinking barely improves over four years even when they do go to college -- the education is mediocre.
"Simply being exposed to American culture in the interval between 2000-2012--the era of Lady Gaga, Akon, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus--might have a corrosive effect on rational thinking (Sax 90)
The Upshot

  • Don't jump on the tech bandwagon by being fooled by its proposed "educational value".
  • Inculcate the desire to please adults not peers.
  • Creativity is necessary for success and academic performance.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why Are So Many Kids On Medication? (The Collapse of Parenting: Chapter 3)

I have been engrossed in this book every moment I have, but haven't had a chance to sit down and share some of the highlights. Here are some of the main points he makes in Chapter 3, entitled "Why Are So Many Kids On Medication". Moreso than the previous chapters, here the statistics and comments made are based on the USA compared to other nations, however, as a Canadian I still found it very useful even if we statistically rank better than our neighbours to the south.
 
  • I cannot restate the number of alarming statistics he provides in this chapter!
The root of the Problem
  • Not all bad behaviour needs medication.
  • Respect, courtesy, and manners are not longer taught in Kindergarten. This along with the previously discussed "culture of disrespect" means the responsibility of teaching these is (more than ever before) on the shoulders of parents!
Cultural Shift between 1994 and 2003
  • Between these years there was a forty fold increase in childhood bipolar  diagnosis.
    • Doctors who "discovered"  childhood "rapid cycling bipolar" were paid $4million by the drug companies that produced its medication.
  • ADHD, Aspergers, Bipolar all being used for bad behaviour because parents want a quick fix that avoids putting in the work required to change the child's behaviour by asserting authority. This is not the case in Europe -- UK, Germany, Spain.
    • My own thought is that this may also have to do with the growing number of families where both parents are working and are too busy/exhausted/guilty to do this.
  • Sleep deprivation mimics ADHD almost perfectly!!
    • "One of the basic duties of a parent is to ensure that a child gets a good night's sleep..." (Sax 57). The need to assert authority in this regard is most necessary now because of wifi devices that never existed before.
  • Dramatic increase in ADHD is because of "the medicalization of misbehaviour" (Sax 61). Instead of correcting kids' bad behaviour parents are more likely to medicate the child with the hope of fixing behaviour.
    • "We parents in the United States are not doing our job of enculturation, as I explained in Chapter 1. Neither we the parents, nor the schools, nor the TV shows, nor the Internet are adequately teaching Fulghum's Rules, such as "Play fair./ Don't hit people./ Put things back where you found them." As a result: kids born in the United States are now many times more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and to be treated with powerful medications, compared to kids living elsewhere" (Sax 61-62).
  • At age 20, medications go up and academic achievement goes down.
The Problem
  • Instead of removing cell phones and laptops from bedrooms to allow for adequate sleep, parents look to brain based explanations that require medications. Why? Because it shifts the burden of responsibility from parents/child to the doctor!
  • It is frightening that medications are being used to modify behaviours!!
    • Long term use leads to being disengaged and less motivated to achieve in the real world, obesity, diabetes...
The Solution
"When the teacher and parents exercise their authority, most students will develop better habits and show greater self-control, because the teacher and parents require it, because they expect it, and because the student really cares what they think" (Sax 68).
What to Do

  1. Command. Don't Ask.
    • ? mark undermines your authority!
    • Sometimes with teens you can offer an explanation -- but it isn't to convince or negotiate.
  2. Eat Dinner with Your Kids.
    • No cell phones, no TV.
    • Each dinner counts! Statistically proven! So don't let anything trump dinner together:
      • Mistaken North American belief in importance of extra-curricular over family time. Family should be a higher priority!
    • Decreases internalizing problems like being sad, anxious, lonely.
    • Decreases externalizing problems like fighting, skipping, stealing.
    • Decreases obesity in the future.
    • Increases likelihood of helping others and being satisfied with life.
Upshot
  •  Instead of investing the time to correct bad behaviour we are shifting the burden of responsibility to medications that seriously mess up the future of the child in every way (academically, psychologically, emotionally, physically and spiritually)!
  • Family time trumps everything, especially peer-time!

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Why Are So Many Kids Overweight? (The Collapse of Parenting: Chapter 2)

Bismillah. As promised in my previous post on Dr. Leonard Sax's insightful book The Collapse of Parenting, here are some notes on Chapter 2 "Why Are So Many Kids Overweight?".

The number of obese and overweight children are on the rise. Even children who are 'slender' are increasingly unfit compared to their counterparts in decades past. 

Three-fold explanation of why:
  1. What Kids Eat
  2. What Kids Do
  3. How Much Kids Sleep
What Kids Eat
  • It used to be that parents decided on meals and told their children they would get no dessert unless they finished their meal, veggies and all!
  • It used to be that parents enforced a "no snacking between meals" policy.
"Ad lib feeding throughout the day appears to disrupt circadian rhythms, interfering with normal metabolism and disturbing the balance of hormones that regulate appetite" (Sax, p.40).
  • In the culture of disrespect where there is no parental authority, however:
    • the frequency of pizza, potato chips, fries, ice cream and soda have replaced fruits, vegetables, and milk.
    • soda consumption is on the rise, especially in teens
    • fast food consumption has increased by 200% over a couple of decades
  • Even on short car rides home from school, parents pack snacks for their children. Can children not endure hunger for 30 minutes? Will they die of starvation?
"Kids who have never been hungry will grow up to be heavier; yet psychologically they are likely to be more fragile. They haven't learned to master their own needs" (Sax, p.41).
  •  Food choices are the first thing to slide when parental authority is compromised. The ultimatums of previous generations: "no dessert until you finish your broccoli" has morphed into questions like "How about if you eat three bites of broccoli, and then you can have dessert?" or requests for kids to do the parent a "favour" by eating...and the children really believe they've done the parents a favour that must be returned...!

What Kids Do
  • Kids are no longer outside playing, but increasingly watching TV or on some screen inside.
    • In 1965 the average person watched 10.5hrs/week of television. Today, the average 9 year old has 50hrs/week of screen time and the average teen has 70hrs/week of screen time (!!!)
  • Televisions used to be one per household and shared by the family to that it was supervised by parents and often a family pastime. Today, screens are individualized and private, with more and more parents knowing little of what their child is doing or watching on the screen. (Scary!)
  • Turn of your screens! Go outside and play with them! Walk to school or the grocery store!

How Much Kids Sleep
  • Kids' sleep is on the decline. One major factor is screens in the room that distract children and lead them to delay going to sleep.
    • According to the experts this is how much sleep kids need:
      • 2-5 year olds: at least 11 hours a day
      • 6-12 year olds: at least 10 hours a day
      • 13-18 year olds: at least 9 hours a day
    • The majority of kids today cite sleep as their favourite pastime. Why? Because they are sleep deprived!
  • Less sleep leads hormones that regulate sleep to get messed up and confuse our brain in bad ways. It starts to say "I am tired...I need chips, cookies, cake....NOW!".
  • Culture of disrespect is connected to fatter kids because not eating well, not being active/doing chores, sitting at screens. Therefore, the more disrespectful the child, the more likely they are to be fat. There are many studies to prove this.

The Upshot?
Eat Right. Veggies before pizza and ice cream.
Eat Less. Don't supersize. Prepare small servings that need to be completely finished before taking seconds.
Exercise More. Turn off devices. Go outside. Play.
YOU CAN DO THIS! 
 
 
 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Leonard Sax: The Collapse of Parenting

Bismillah.

In a recent talk on nurturing children, Sh. Zahir Bacchus recommended the book The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. Having previously read Boys Adrift by the same author on the recommendation of Sh. Nuh Keller, I ordered a copy right away. I suggest you do that right now as well!

On the request of Salik, I will post highlights from each chapter when I get the chance, however I highly recommend reading the book itself as it is peppered with real life stories and examples we can learn from.

Chapter One: The Culture of Disrespect

  • The purpose of childhood is to teach children the rules of good behaviour and what constitutes good character in our culture.
    • In North America and Western Europe, schools began to back out of this responsibility in favour of emphasizing numeracy and literacy. Therefore placing the burden of responsibility to teach this culture more so on parents than ever before.
 
  • The second half of the twentieth century saw the empowerment of the previously disenfranchised: people of colour, women, employees, and children.  While the first three give equality to mature adults, the last one takes away parental authority. Without parental authority, deference to parents is gone.
 
  • TV shows in the past always depicted parents in a positive role as consistently reliable and trustworthy. Sax examined 150 of today's most popular shows and found that not one of them shows parents in this light -- even on the Disney channel. It is difficult to parent in a culture that is constantly undermining parental authority.
 
  • Songs used to be loving and positive, now the vulgar ones make it to number one.
 
  • Look at the messages on shirts: "Do I look like I care?", "Is that all you got?", "Out of your league". I even see little children with shirts like "Too cool for school" or "Dad's the boss, Mom is his boss, and I'm their boss". We laugh these off, but the messages are real and affirming the culture of disrespect all around them. As a high school teacher myself, I am shocked at how much vulgarity students insert into their everyday, casual conversations. They refer to friends or beckon them with curse words, and this isn't taken offensively. A child who is taught to have self-respect could never tolerate this or dish it out -- it's not normal, but for youth today it has become normative.
 
  • The notion of history being a smooth trajectory of progress is false to say the least. And yet it has trickled into North American society in such a deep seated way that a product need only advertise itself as "new" to be synonymous with "better". This easily transfers to people so that youth is better than being older, which is why elders aren't respected or considered valuable and relevant -- again, undermining parental authority. It's no wonder that North Americans are obsessed with anti-aging products.
"Two hundred years ago, it was reasonable to trust in the future without being utterly stupid. Who can believe in today's prophecies, seeing as we are yesterday's splendid future...'Progress' means, in the final analysis, taking away from man what ennobles him in order to sell him cheaply what debases him."      - Nicolas Gomez-Davila
  • Have fun with your kids. Don't let them opt to spend time with friends instead. "Why? Because having fun together is one of foundation of authoritative parenting in the modern world" (Sax, p.28). If fun is only found with friends, they won't want to spend time with adults. Without that time with adults, the culture of respect cannot be imparted.
 
  • Parents today want to please their children because of their desire to be loved by them, but this backfires. "The child expects to look up to the parent, to be instructed by the parent, indeed to be commanded by the parent. If the parent instead serves the child, then that relationship falls out of its natural balance" (Sax, p.30)
Upshot of it all? When there is no parental authority, children seek that authority in their peers who are children themselves.


 
 

Feminism...

...seeks to eliminate the feminine.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sh. Yahya on Seeking Knowledge

Bismillah. Alhamdulillah, we were blessed this past weekend with a visit from Shaykh Yahya Rhodus to SeekersHub, and I was able to attend the session on Seeking Knowledge.


Your entire life is learning: either formally or informally.
  • Book Recommendation: Mindset. Speaks about people being of two mindsets: Growth Mindset (belief that we have the ability to change and examining life experiences with this in mind so that we can learn/grow from all experiences) and Fixed Mindset (people who think you cannot change yourself). Our deen, he said, is of a Growth Mindset. Our varying temperaments and personalities will respond differently to various virtues, but we can learn how to attain them by tuning into ourselves.
Importance of foundational learning.
  • Take formal learning and solidify it through informal experiences.
  • We don't learn our  foundations and then never return to them again. As we grow, Insha'Allah, the Ihsan dimension of our faith will help to perfect the Iman and Islam dimensions.
If you don't preoccupy yourself with good, you will be occupied with evil. Don't waste time. Make a schedule. Prioritize learning. Imam Shafi'i said, "make knowledge and excuse for other things, don't make other things an excuse for knowledge".  You will never truly learn until you make knowledge a priority.
  • Slow & steady wins the race! Some examples of how to incorporate learning into your busy day:
      • Keep a book of hadith in your car. Resolve to read one each time you get in the car.
      • A book by your night stand that you read for X number of minutes each night or read X number of pages each night.
      • Listen to a lecture or podcast while you drive. If not the entire time, then at least for ten minutes each time.
  • These are points of contact to stimulate you throughout the day!
Four Components of Learning
  1. Shaykh Fattah. A teacher who can unlock the treasure chest of wisdom for you.
  2. Aql Rajjah. Intelligence/discernment.
    • Think about the knowledge you are learning. Knowledge is a great companion!
    • Always keep a notebook! Take notes, review them within a day or two. When it is full, transcribe it into another notebook or digitize it.
    • We should all have a daily time for reflection. This is the forgotten sunnah!
      • Book of Assistance. Chapter on Reflection. Do the exercises.
  3. Kutb Siha. Correct books.
    • A qualified teacher to guide you in this regard.
    • Respect for the matn (textbook) tradition.
  4. Mudawwama wa Ilha. Perseverance.
    • Fight your nafs! We have energy for tv, but not for books.
    • Consistency is the key to the great station of istiqama (steadfastness).
Allahuma ilma lana illa ma alamtana, rabbi zidni ilma.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Evil Eye and the Blessed Eye

The evil eye is real. Our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) taught us so and also gave us the prevention and cure for it through the recitation of surah al-falaq and surah al-nas, three times in the morning and three times in the evening. Yet, we hear people obsessed with "nazar", even to the point of paranoia.

My Nanni (Allah be pleased with her) was a very righteous woman, masha'Allah. One day her neighbour saw her and in a bout of frustration, shouted "what is with you? I do so much black magic on you and wish you ill, but nothing works!". Imagine that. Most of us would be frightened to our core! My Nanni? She calmly replied, "I say my five prayers and read Quran and have complete certainty that my Lord will protect me".

***

Let us also consider however, that if the eye of the evildoer, a heart filled with greed or envy or hate can be powerful, then what about the heart of the wali, a heart that knows Allah?  How powerful is that blessed eye? Should we not then seek to place ourselves at the feet of such people, exposing ourselves to their blessed gazes?

Surrounding Little Ones with Sacred Symbols

Salik and I have always felt that our immediate spaces should be beautiful because of the affect this has on the soul. When we became parents our consciousness of this became heightened as we looked at the impact all things would have on the pure souls presented to us as a trust from our Lord. When I was expecting Salik Junior I remember sitting in the majlis al-dhikr one night and being overcome with the understanding that this baby soon to be in my arms was coming to me from the Divine Presence and it would be my responsibility to remind him of that Origin and protect him from all that seeks to make him forget that Origin.

Our sensory experiences should not be belittled. As a high school teacher I see how much young people fill their souls with images, sounds, and other sensory experiences with no regard to the impact of these on their heart, and on their soul. They are unaware of the damage they do to themselves and of how much work in the Path is required to undo this damage.

Salik and I were speaking a few days ago to one of the fuqara who has a toddler and he also mentioned that he believes it is so important to surround their little girl with the symbols of worship. Indeed we do this as well. Exposing children to musallas, misbahas, Quran, dhikr, sacred art, and awliya from a young age will, insha'Allah, have a profound affect on their souls because these are the formative years of their lives. Placing these things in their rooms and in our homes is important.  Think of a song your parents played when you were a child and the affect of that song on your heart when you hear it now.

There's something about those early years.

May Allah protect all children from that which distracts from their true purpose. Ameen.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sacred Spaces in Our Homes

Our homes have a room dedicated to every function of our physical being: a place to prepare food, a place to eat food, a place to sleep, etc. When it comes to prayer, however, we have been largely affected by modernist thinkers into praying "anywhere" (obviously, if we are out and we need to pray we honour the time and pray wherever we are) without acknowledgement that not all places are created equal.

We should likewise have a place dedicated to worship. A sacred space free of distractions, heedlessness, and the day -to-day of life. A space where we go to pray our salah, make dhikr, and have seclusion ('uzla).

The space should ideally not be too large. We should fragrance it with bukhoor.

After some time, the difference between that space and other spaces in the home will be palpable. And the quality of your prayers when made there will also be palpable!

Having done this in all the homes we've lived in over the years, we have seen that even those who are unaware of the purpose of that space feel the difference. Even non-Muslims have commented on the feeling of peace there or said it feels "zen".

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Not Recognizing the Wali

A dear teacher of ours once told us that the first person to be blinded from the Wali is his wife.

The meaning of this is that those closest to a wali see their humanity so much that they often let that blind them from seeing their rank with Allah and the adab that commands.

It is in this light that the Shaykh al-Akbar has advised that one not spend more than three days in a row with their Shaykh because they will be exposed to his bashariyya and as a result may not see him with the same awe and admiration as they previously did.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Don't Let Your Good Looks Fool You...

Excerpt rom a lesson on Shukr, delivered by Sidi Shaykh:

When you admire your appearance you should be grateful and acknowledge the One who has concealed your ugliness under this beauty. You didn't choose it, He did. When you are so in love with your appearance that you begin to look down upon others, you exit 'ubudiyyah because He created them -- they did not choose their appearance, He did.

The human being should reflect on their origin: a thing of filth from a place of filth, inside you all sorts of filth and yet despite all that, Allah concealed this in beauty, made you vicegerents on Earth and placed everything in it for your benefit and ease. Glory be to Him!

Acknowledge Allah's right to be thanked.



Friday, April 06, 2018

A Love and Blessing Eternal

In times past I had looked upon blessings and asked,
"Are these a test? Will they last?"

Until that blessed day
that my heart did first lay,
eyes upon the one who would show it the Way.

The greatest blessing bestowed upon this impoverished one,
He has illuminated my heart, brighter than the sun.

Given me conviction that his presence is not only a treasure,
But indeed a mark of God's Great Pleasure.

A bond most sublime,
Free from the bounds of space and time.
A blessing, a love, an intercession
Unto the abode of eternal Heaven.

***

May Allah preserve him with health and longevity, and continue to benefit many through him.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thank You, Dear Lord

Dear Lord,

Increase us in knowledge,
Increase us in wisdom.
To our beloved Prophet
Let us pledge our allegiance.

Rules and limits have You created,
not for Your benefit, but that we be aided.
If left to our desires we shan't be satiated.
Left to our thoughts we are but ill-fated.

We thank you, dear Lord, for guidance
For wisdom, discernment and for prudence.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Social Media...

...has made the world a very unforgiving place.

The Disease of Being Busy (Omid Safi)

Born and raised in Canada, I had never truly experienced life anywhere else up until a few months ago (because vacations really don't count). I love Canada. It is my home in this world.

Living in the Gulf for a few months felt so great, so different, so relaxing. I had hardly any of my possessions, but felt so at ease. When I came back to Canada people who didn't even know I had left (that's Toronto for you!), remarked at how relaxed I looked. School/work began and we were back in "the rat-race" or "the grind". The fact that we call our daily lives a "rat race" or "the grind" is clearly a problem, no?

It's not normal and it is to one's spiritual detriment (and physical, emotional, psychological). Even when we make good intentions in the work that we do, the busyness takes a toll on the stillness of our heart and the clarity of our minds. The exhaustion takes a toll on the quality of our prayers.

Click here for article by Professor Omid Safi that is spot on. Please take the time to read and share! 

We are so entrenched in our busy lives that we think it is the only way to live. Before I lived in the Gulf I too believed that this was just the reality of life. I have seen many times that when people opt out of this busy life -- moving out of the city and working from home, moving abroad, downsizing to live on one income -- people are so judgmental that they call these people "lazy". As if there is no other purpose in life. No value to having free time.

It does not have to be this way. We need to make changes, especially as these things pertain to our children and our afterlives.

Two Parenting Lessons from My Childhood

Bismillah.

As the mother of young children and as someone who adores her own parents, I have been reflecting a lot lately on my own childhood and how my parents parented.

Alhamdulillah, I grew up in a beautiful home where my parents always made time for us. I never felt that either of them was too busy for us. My mom started working when I was nine years old, but structured her hours around our school day. My father worked very hard, but played with us as soon as he came home and he always made time on the weekend for our family to have a day out together. We would go to the lake to feed the birds bread scraps we picked up from the bakery or had at home, play together at the park, go out for dinner together and then come home and watch The Road to Avonlea together. I remember they made a distinct and conscious decision that they would not spend weekends at their friends' homes for dawats like everyone else did because they wanted to have time for our family to really be together -- not just under the same roof where they would spend time with their friends and leave us to play with their kids, but for us as a family to be close to one another. Those outings are some of my fondest childhood memories.

Lesson One: Make a regular family ritual that you do together. I say ritual because I believe it has to be consistent and regular in order to really impact children and create a bond.

My mother wasn't a "no machine" and she is quite honestly the sweetest, most selfless lady I know masha'Allah, but there were a few things she really quite adamantly forbade me:
  • The Phone. When all my friends began talking on the phone after school, my mother forbade me from ever giving our phone number to anyone. She simply said to me, "you spend your entire day at school with your friends. So when you come home, I want you to talk to all of us." When I became a teen and it was sometimes uncomfortable to tell girls I couldn't give them my number, I remember my mom telling me quite frankly that all young girls talk about on the phone is boys and that boys this age aren't serious or in a position to marry you. She told me when I got to University she would ease up a little because then I'd have friends that were mature and had education as a top priority.
  • Hangouts. A natural extension of that was that I wasn't allowed to hangout with my friends after school or on weekends either. I didn't have my own social life, birthday parties and outings. I knew when I left school, I came home to my truest friends. As I grew up into a teenager, my mom became my best friend -- the one who took me shopping and to the movies, and that is where she imparted to me so much of her worldview.
  • Clothing. My parents were traditional Pakistanis who came here in the 70s and had the culture of their childhood as their guide. They didn't force me to wear hijab, but my clothing had strict rules embedded in my thinking from a young age. Even at home, I always wore traditional shalwar kameez. I went shopping with my mom who did that deliberately so that she would be the one telling me what looked good and what didn't (as opposed to my friends),  and she always told me the honest truth, explaining that she couldn't let me make a fool of myself to spare my feelings at the moment. She also often told me that her mother used to tell her that "people look at models and wear whatever is trendy, but not everything suits everyone so don't be a part of the herd -- examine clothes to see if they meet your own style and suit you." All of this deeply embedded in me a sense of haya' (modesty). 
  • Closed Doors. We were only allowed to close our bedroom doors for the few minutes it took us to change our clothes. "Privacy" is something that is really over-hyped in our times. Traditionally, people didn't have enough rooms in a house to be closing doors to their "own space". What are kids doing on their own that requires a closed door anyways? We were one unit. If one person were to close themselves off, the others would miss them.

Lesson Two: Rather than a long list of rules, teach children principles that will help guide their independent lives in the future and explain to them the wisdom for which you are giving them any given rule.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Strength Borne of Vulnerability

Why is that with some people, our bond is stronger than it is with others? That despite seeing some friends a fraction of the time we see or spend with others, we still feel a greater comfort with them? Many a reason can be given for this experience that most of us can relate to, but one has, over the years resonated most with me.

Vulnerability.

The friends with whom we can be vulnerable, are our closest friends. They are the friends that even if we see them once a year, we always feel connected to. There is a certain strength in a relationship that is borne out of the ability for two people to be vulnerable with one another. To share their fears, their difficulties, their challenges, their weaknesses and their deepest secrets. Perhaps this is because there needs to be an incredible amount of love and trust for us to allow someone to know us in our entirety, to feel safe from being judged, dismissed, exposed, or worse.


Shaykh Hamza once said that if we have one truly good friend we should be incredibly grateful. And if we have two we should make a sajda of shukr. Such friends are hard to find. May Allah bless them.

O My Servant! I am Allah!

Many years ago, a teacher of ours once gave us a qasida from Tarim. It was a beautiful rendition of the nasheed "Kullama na dayt ya Hu". Different from the more popular versions, I found that it was sung in a manner that evoked more thought on what is actually being said -- much like how the stops in the warsh recitation of the Quran almost force a unique type of reflection. He didn't realize that at the time I was going through a trial in which I would often beseech My Lord in supplication. Hearing the words,


Whenever I call out, "O Lord!"

He replies, "O My Servant, I am here for you!"


These words brought and still bring my heart a tranquility that is hard to put into words. When we make dua, do we realize Who we are calling on? We are calling on ALLAH. Lord of All the Worlds!
Reflect on that. He is Allah. Nothing is beyond His Control. Ask and you shall surely be granted.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Teaching Little Ones About Their Invisible Hearts

Bismillah.

About a year ago I began reading the Fons Vitae Ghazali Children's Series to our son.  The concept of having an "invisible heart" is an incredibly powerful tool with which to teach little ones about akhlaq, the impact of good and bad actions/behaviours, and to set them on the spiritual path through early muhasaba (taking account of one's actions and thoughts). I wanted to take a moment to encourage people to take advantage of this incredible resource that is available to us as it has quite literally changed how we parent and how our children view themselves.

Since children are naturally so drawn to that which is invisible, the concept immediately catches their attention. Once this simple idea of the invisible heart (and its being like a mirror) has been grasped, disciplining children actually takes on a very different character because now everything is understood in light of the invisible heart and keeping it as clean as a sparkling mirror. The seeds of vices can be easily thrown away -- for instance, when a child displays jealousy over something their sibling receives, they can be taught to be aware of that feeling and know that it is from shaytaan and that they should make istighfar (have them do it 10x or on a tasbih depending on their level of focus) as a way of erasing the "smudge" of jealousy from the mirror that is their invisible heart, and that the way to keep it from coming back is to be happy that their sibling was given a blessing from Allah. It goes without saying then, that we also must exemplify this in our own lives by vocalizing our happiness at the good fortune and blessings bestowed upon others around us and in our own lives (so that the children can hear it and see it).

Likewise, knowledge of the invisible heart helps us sow the seeds of virtues such that preferring others over ourselves, service, charity, kind words, and sharing all make so much more sense in light of this invisible heart that we are polishing, as opposed to when they are abstract virtues.

The concept of the invisible heart is such a refreshing and  impactful way of teaching children to be mindful of their actions and thoughts. May Allah bless those who have put their time, hearts, minds, and good intentions into this project and may He facilitate its completion with tawfiq and taysir.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Expansive Souls of the Ahl al-Bayt

Bismillah.

When I first met our beloved guide, Sidi Shaykh Abdellah al-Haddad, what stood out to me was the love and warmth with which he embraced the variety of souls that came his way. I have written previously about how even passersby have commented on the love that emanates from his very being. He gives and gives, yet only grows in what he has to offer.

During our months in the Gulf, we were blessed to spend some time with the Habaib. As I saw what their own cultural and lifestyle are like, and then juxtaposed that with the interactions I've witnessed them having in North America, I was amazed. Although in their own homes they live a very traditional and conservative lifestyle where men and women don't really interact, in North America I have experienced first-hand how naturally they will address questions from sisters, exchange salams, etc. That despite their own limited exposure to the social worlds online and on the ground in the West, the mercy and forbearance with which they field questions from people at various ends of faith. And I've seen the warmth with which they do so: smiling with no sign of being uncomfortable or awkward, but with impeccable adab and respect.

Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that what Sidi Shaykh and the Habaib have in common is that they are all ahl al-bayt -- descendants of the noble lineage of our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).

I believe with my heart that this is why they are able to take in so many different hearts, personalities, and cultures with such ease, grace, love, and mercy. They have in their blood the expansive soul of our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Mercy to All the Worlds. They look at all of us with the eye of love and mercy. They don't harbour pride because of their piety, knowledge or the stringent positions they may take themselves. They are in practice, hard on themselves, but easy on others. This is the Prophetic way. Take people as they are, and guide them gently, one soul at a time with your love, prayers, sincerity, and example.

We have much to learn from these noble and blessed souls. Salik has often said that the human soul has a sanctity that must be respected. That the feelings of the human being must be considered because far too often in our piety, there is a subtle pride or self-righteousness that causes us to make others feel inferior, awkward and uncomfortable.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When Hearts Find One Another

Bismillah.

One of the most true and beautiful teachings of our faith is that hearts that were close to one another on the day when we were asked "who is your Lord?", are close in this world. It may be that those hearts marry one another or are discovered in our children, they may be best friends or wayfarers on the Path, they can be people separated by time and space as we often feel so connected to someone we have never met or who died physically years before we first stepped foot on this earth. Sometimes, we find those hearts in what are otherwise brief encounters with strangers and sometimes those encounters are so intense they leave an impression on the heart forever.

I remember sixteen years ago when making umrah with my parents, as I came down the escalator in Madina to make wudu, a woman sitting at the bottom there watching me got up as I got off the escalator, embraced me in a long hug, kissed me and said a few words before letting me go. I don't know what she said, but I can still feel that loving hug. May Allah make her affairs blessed and easy.

A couple of months ago in Dubai, we prayed at the masjid of Habib Husayn for Jummah and its barakah was so intense we didn't want to leave and felt compelled to return for the maghrib prayer. As I sat in tashahhud, I felt a strong presence to my right come in. When I completed my prayer and supplications, I looked toward my right and a few spaces over was an elderly, presumably Emirati lady. I went over thinking to shake her hand before leaving and as I did that, she quickly stood up and we embraced in a long hug and traditional exchange of kisses. She smiled with a twinkle in her eye and starting making long duas for me and literally using her hands as if to shower me with them. It was an unexplainable moment that just left me feeling so spiritually full and so loved by someone I didn't know and don't know. I don't know her name or ethnicity and she didn't ask me any questions about who I was or where I came from. Our hearts felt one another, recognized one another, loved one another. And that brief moment was perhaps all we were meant to have in this world. May Allah bless her. Ameen to all her duas.

Recently, we were blessed to make umrah. As I sat with my children at marwa having completed our umrah, exhausted, I found myself next to a group of older Algerian ladies. They seemed intrigued about where I was from and what languages I spoke. Unfortunately, the one closest to me and I had it seems no common language and weren't able to communicate much. When I saw Salik return I finally got up and woke the children who had fallen asleep. As I was leaving, the one who had been furthest from me stopped me, pulled me down to herself, asked me where I came from then gave me a big hug, kisses and duas with eyes overflowing with love. I can still feel that love. May Allah envelope her with His Love.

As we were headed to Makkah, a friend of mine had told me to meet a good friend of hers who lives in Makkah and is of very noble lineage. I was told she has a majlis of dhikr in her home once a week early in the morning and I had been given directions so that we could attend, and we were looking very much forward to it. Having made umrah with the children the day before and losing an entire night of sleep however, had left us all so exhausted that when we woke up we realized we had missed the gathering. It saddened us, and we made our way to the haram for the dhuhr prayer. As we entered the sun was blazing hot so we decided to try and find a shaded area for the children amidst the maze of construction taking place. When we did find shade, we were unable to see the kaba so we headed back out and found spots behind maqam Ibrahim. As the prayer ended I saw my husband heading toward our meeting spot only to turn around and go back because of the call for a janazah prayer. When that was done I went with our girls to find Salik and Salik Jr. at the meeting spot and noticed they were having a jovial conversation with a young man in ihram.  As I approached them, Salik said to me this brother is a descendent of so-and-so. I smiled, stunned as this meant he was from that same noble lineage as the girl I was supposed to have met that morning. As I was having that thought he told us they had a gathering in their home earlier that morning. I quickly took out my phone and showed him the directions to the home we had been invited to and he smiled and said "yes, that's my home!". How on earth can it be that in a blazing hot haram, where one had to squint their eyes and could barely see anyone, a "stranger" sees a "stranger", approaches them amidst his own umrah to ask where they had come from and if they knew such and such a family... How? Because hearts are connected and they find each other even in a sea of hearts. And so, of course, he invited to us to visit their home that evening and meet his uncle who is a great wali Allah.  We went and were enveloped by love as soon as we walked through the doors. On the women's side, not one spoke any English (except one who could string together a few words), but they surrounded me and the girls and with my broken Arabic, their broken English and hearts full of love I had one of the best hangouts of my life. Each of those girls forever etched in my heart and that night, that love, will always be with me. May Allah bless each of them, give them ease in all their affairs, and unite us all in this world again and in Jannatul firdaws forever in the company of our Habib (endless peace and blessings be upon our beautiful Master).



Monday, November 06, 2017

Finding Female Scholars...Off Stage...

Bismillah.

Let me start by saying that most of my teachers in faith have been men. I have an abundance of spiritual love for them. They have each shown me an immense amount of respect and dignified love because of their embodiment the Prophetic way. Today, I want to speak about female scholars.

Salik and I have had an opportunity the past few months to relocate to the middle east for a few months with our children. Before leaving, we had a beautiful ladies gathering at the zawiyah in Toronto with Anse Tamara and the Hakim Sisters. It was a blessed evening to say the least. Masha'Allah, Anse Tamara is a captivating and engaging speaker who is able to bring herself to the audience as a woman first and foremost and then inspire us to rise up spiritually. The Hakim sisters brought the gathering to life with their voices, getting everyone to join in -- as I looked around, the room was smiling, everyone was uplifted. She comes from a line of female scholars who nurture women. Ustadha Shehnaz Karim from Ottawa is from the same line and carries herself with the same loving humanity as Anse Tamara. She was the first person to speak to me about nurturing circles of sisterly love and learning many years ago. As a concept it was appealing, but as always, there is nothing like experiential knowledge.

As we came to the middle east, I was blessed to be immersed into circles of spiritual women who operate largely without men. Yes, there are sometimes gatherings of dhikr where there are men, but most often we meet without any men present at all. These women are scholars who were literally raised in the laps of scholars and taught from infancy the sciences of our faith. They are spiritually realized. They emanate the Prophetic Light and are almost angelic -- more beautiful, more illuminated each time I see them. They fill the room with a love that seems to hug you as soon as you walk in. Others are advanced students, translators who publish under their kunya because they are that sincere, and others yet are young students or wayfarers. These women are genuinely concerned for one another, care for one another and for anyone that enters their gathering. The very first time I entered a gathering, I felt their love for me. No "cattiness", no judgment, no isolating behaviours. I have found that Islam permeates their veins such that it is so graceful, so natural. They are truly happy.

Women are social beings. Much more so than men. As my teacher Hakim once said, it is in Allah's wisdom that the Friday communal prayer is obligatory for men, but not women because men need to be forced to gather in a way that women don't because they naturally incline towards getting together.


For years now I have heard many complain about the lack of female speakers at large scale conferences and seen organizers inviting various women to speak in order to not get a #allmalepanel. To be honest, I find most female speakers at these large scale conferences to not be as compelling as many of the male speakers. I know that's not a popular thing to say, but I have to be honest with myself and that is how I have always felt and when you look around the room during those sessions, that isn't when the room is full. That is not to say it is an issue of inability on the part of female scholars, but many, arguably most who have real training simply would never speak at a mixed gathering because that is not a part of the traditional culture in which they were raised. So what often ends up happening is we are grasping at straws to have women speakers just for the sake of having women speaking, but they are 'speakers' and not scholars most of the time. So you have male scholars who are also gifted orators, juxtaposed with women activists and community leaders, but not very many women scholars because the vast majority of women scholars prefer smaller gatherings or gatherings for women only.


These past few months have led it to dawn on me that when as a community we start demanding "more female speakers" at conferences, we are falling into a mode of thinking that exalts men above us. We somehow believe that having more female speakers will mean we have achieved some form of "equality". As if what men are leading in or excelling in is what is superior and to be admired and achieved. And even most men will tell you that large scale conferences aren't the highest places of learning -- they are gatherings to boost people's himmah and encourage them to go learn more...off stage! Yes, some women are gifted speakers and they naturally are put into those roles, but often, it seems forced and that is what I'm speaking about here. The reality is that Prophets were not women. The One who created us, Knows our differences.

Perhaps this is not the correct cognitive frame. Perhaps we are looking for superificial "equality" at the cost of true spiritual fulfillment. What these past few months have shown me is that we need more communities of sisters. Intimate gatherings where we can learn, sing, share, and love one another. So that as women we feel supported and cared for by one another because that sisterly love is something that cannot be given to us by any other and these are needs that cannot be met at large scale conferences. We must be there for one another, teach one another, know one another, and love one another.

Let us strive for substance and long lasting relationships because as women we are truly the fabric that keeps families and communities together, and only we can understand that role.




Thursday, November 02, 2017

Sir Bani Yas Island and the Hidden Manifestation

Bismillah.

Perhaps his fatigue overcame him or perhaps he saw in me a longing to contemplate the Divine as we sat on our hotel terrace overlooking the Arabian Gulf while our children slept inside the room, so Salik went inside to allow me to retreat.

As the mother of young children, most often our contemplation of the Divine is through gratitude for the miracle that is life and in fervent prayers for health and longevity -- for our parents, spouses, children, loved ones and ourselves. Most often at the day's end we find ourselves utterly exhausted and drained.

As I sat on the terrace and looked out over the resort into the darkness of the Arabian Gulf behind it, I could hear the strength of its powerful waves crashing onto shore. Its force was frightening the first night I heard it -- how great is Allah's Power and Might. And yet, hidden behind this Jalal is the Beauty of the Sea: its colours, its creatures, its calm. Behind the Jalal is the Jamal and conversely when we see its beauty we often neglect to recall its power, but behind that Jamal is the Jalal: the strength of the predators within and the unforgiving power of the water -- we see it stop at shore, but it only does so by Allah's command and when that is lifted we have seen the devastating results.

Allah's opposites are hidden within one another and depending on the given moment, most of us see either one or the other.

I recalled my daughters' amazement at the star over the Island this evening -- I too have always felt an unquenchable desire to stare at a star studded sky like so many others. I looked up and suddenly my soul was overwhelmed by its limited existence. We see only what is before us at the moment or in the recesses of our memories what remains of what we once saw. He Most High see its all, all the time. Every corner of the Earth, every grain of sand, every leaf, every drop..and in Space...and in the Unseen...and in the Heavens...limitlessly. Glory be to Him.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Protect Your Blessings

Bismillah.

When I look back at my youth, I realize how much of a bubble I lived in thanks to selfless parents who gave themselves to us without ever recounting their sacrifices to us -- the stability and peace they provided us.

I still remember the immense pain of the day when that bubble first burst through a heavy trial sent upon us. Since then as I have grown older, I have seen so many devastating events in the lives of people dear to me -- from illnesses, to torture, to friends becoming young widows and widowers, to the deaths of not only people's parents and grandparents, but of young thriving professionals. When one starts to see all of these things, ideally one's perspective of what this life is, should change.

When one witnesses the fragility of life and how in one blink of the eye, everything can change and nothing can stop it -- not wealth, not status, not "power" nor influence, one should stop to reflect.

"And He gives you something of all that you ask of Him, and were you to count the blessings of God, you could not number them. Truly mankind is wrongdoing, ungrateful."

- The Study Quran 14:34

Be grateful. Protect all of those blessings in your life through gratitude to your Lord.

Yet often, we see that it is when we are living comfortably with a stable job, stable marriage, healthy children… that we start to create problems -- may Allah protect us. Our ego satisfied of its basic needs, starts to crave more. It starts to get "offended". We start to demand this that or the other thing from our relatives and friends. We start to meddle. We start to take their peace and happiness away.

Seek refuge in Allah.

Think for a moment how much weight these things would hold on the scales of joy for you, if in an instant Allah sent you a real trial. Would this trivial matter still mean so much to you, if (God forbid) one of your parents died, if illness struck you, or your child got hurt? This person that has so offended you -- if they were being lowered into their grave would you still be yelling at them and loathing them so intensely?

Seek refuge in Allah.

Accept that you cannot control other people. You cannot force relationships to be the way that you wish they were or that they in fact ought to be. You can only do good to others. You cannot demand them to do good to you. Yes it may hurt sometimes, but you cannot force change with a heavy hand or loud voice. Forgive them, and pray for them…don't dwell in your hurt and allow it to cause you to demand things and in the process make things worse.

“The Muslim does not make a request which contains nothing of sin or the severance of family ties except that God will grant it to him in one of three ways: either his request will be granted to him [in this world], or God will store it away for him for the Afterlife, or He will divert from him an evil equivalent to the request.”
- Musnad of Imam Ahmad and Bayhaqi's Shu'ab al-Iman
(Source: The Study Quran)

Seek refuge in Allah. Pray for protection of your blessings, your peace, your happiness. Request the path of gratitude before you are forced onto the path of patience.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

7 Hours Without My Phone...

Bismillah.

Salik and I are both very critical of technology. Yes, it has its necessary uses in our lives -- but we are very aware of its presence in our lives and more so, our children who are growing up in an age where they will have no reference to life without smart phones, tablets, computers and tv.

We have one smartphone for our family. Since I run a business and have clients that are inextricably tied to my having access to my phone, the phone is usually in my possession.

One day last week, the circumstances were such that I needed to be on site with a client and Salik needed to have the phone. For seven hours I had no access to phone, texts, emails.


It. Was. LIBERATING.

I read, wrote in my journal, made dhikr, dua…and outside of the moments one has before bed, it was the first prolonged period of time during daylight hours, in a very long time, that I had to be alone with my thoughts. Unencumbered by anyone's phone call, texts, emails. No random google search of a question that might  pop into my mind. No picking up that device I often loathe, but am forced to have in my life.

Smartphones have changed our existence. Yes so many things have been made easier. But is the lack of calm in our minds and in our souls worth that convenience?

I encourage you all to put your phone away. To go to it a few times a day at most to check it. And if your work isn't connected to it, then even less. And if you have kids, please save them -- by avoiding devices in their presence and teaching them that one can exist without being plugged in. 

That devices are not oxygen. We can live without them. Be with your thoughts -- how can we seek to better ourselves when we can't hear ourselves think? When we can't hear the inner chatter of the soul?

Think.