A for Effort


*You gotta try a little, little bit. That's all you have to do........... and God helps do the rest!*
- Adam's World (Brother Dawud W. Ali)

Writing this is entirely a therapeutic endeavour, insha'Allah. I think I need to clear things up in my mind a bit lest I continue my thinking-pacing which will surely annoy one of my family members soon.

So it is that often (certainly not always) in Muslim-run organizations I observe that we only seem to get the "Muslim-run" part and the concept of organization goes out the window. I don't want to complain about it. A for effort for those who start and attempt to run organizations. So fine, it isn't as organized as I'd like, there is currently no tangible curriculum, and there is no back-up plan for the poor substitute who has to leave her lovely lesson plan in the worthy hands of her co-teachers and proceed to teach another class. That's life, get over it. It's not ideal, but I'm okay with it.

So what's the problem? Well, that I hate, or strongly dislike, having a class just to pass the time. If they don't learn anything, if they don't go home having enjoyed the lesson because they engaged with the work, then I feel that I fail in my duty as a teacher. My duty is not to pass two hours of time and hope that perhaps, mayhap, they'll grasp something. I want them to think. I want them to learn. I want them to challenge themselves. And I want them to appreciate the process.

Too idealistic, eh? Fine, I see your point. But the bar has to be set high. Realistically, I know it will take a heck of a lot, from both the teacher and the student, to reach a high standard of education, but over time it can be achieved.

But I currently don't have time. I have one day to prepare something substantial (which is a blessing compared to the one hour I had last week). Unfortunately, I feel I may have not set the appropriate impression as a teacher. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and some slack where they don't actually require it and where it doesn't actually benefit them.

I didn't feel good last week. The first half was fine, the second half wasn't. We wasted time, precious time. I felt a lack of connect and control, and a lack of enjoyment toward the material. I felt that it was partly a half-hearted, slip-slop, ineffective day. I worry that it will be repeated. I really want to see life, a bit of umph.

So the game plan? Figure it out. Make it work. You like challenges sometimes, bon appetit. You've been served a challenge. Don't let your insecurities put you down before you give it another try. Don't dog on what did not reach fruition in the past. Work with a clean slate. Erase any preconceived notions. Don't underestimate your good judgment. Utilize your resources. But first, lift the burden of worry off your chest. If your 100% isn't enough, then put it down as the way things are. You cannot do more than that.

You fail only because you want to control, to guide, to give what is not yours to give. If you recognize your role, you'll find your peace. You are but a tool, working in His service. You don't decide who will learn what, where, when, why, or how. You are the delivery person. All you can do is bring it to the doorstep. They will only take the fruits if He allows them. They will only benefit from those fruits if He allows it. So you, o lowly one, are but the ignorant messenger requiring His guidance every step of the way. Never forget your place, and you'll find your way. You surely will, insha'Allah.

Ya Rabb, I seek peace with You. I ask You to make this endeavour successful, for all parties to benefit, for a rejuvenation towards education, deen, and all the other sweetness in life. Ya Rabb, You are the educator, educate us all. Only in Your name can we succeed.

Update: 2007-04-02

Praise and thanks belongs to God alone. It was beautiful! Only He could have allowed such to occur.

Thank you Allah, the One who facilitates all.

Looking for Miracle Grow


If you want to keep a houseplant, you must learn her personality. Sometimes she isn't comfortable in certain environments and will need to be moved to a different location. If she likes it, you will see the improvement. If not, try again until you find the right spot.

Such, it seems, is the case with today's educational situation. An excellent analysis (masha'Allah) of the situation entitled "
Is Education Failing?" lays the cards out on the table very well, but it is becoming a bit more complicated each day.

I cannot add much more to the the above-mentioned article, but it is the final comment which has unveiled yet another crack in our foundational structures. The issue is one of morality. Where do our children learn morality?

At home of course! But what if our children aren't learning what they need to learn at home? What if their fathers aren't in the picture because they are too busy sipping on coffee as they discuss the politics of back home? What if their mothers are just too busy with other things to notice the problems or are simply at a loss for solutions?

In an effort to try to understand this all better, I put the question to my uncle, an excellent teacher of many years having taught in both public and private schools, "How can we teach children morals and values??" His response earnestly led towards trying to get the family back in order, but his words were tinged with despair as he described the resistance of some parents in embracing the role of an educator at home. It seems like a hopeless situation for many.

My optimism was soon renewed as my uncle told me the story of one student who inquired about what he missed in class during his absence only because he knew that when he went home his father would ask him what he had learnt that day. This simple and habitual question will give this young man, in the least, an appreciation for knowledge. Often, the best way to teach is to take small, yet consistent, steps. It is no surprise that this is also one great way to learn.

Our discussion regarding education continued for some time, but I still felt unsettled. Surely there must be way out of this web of deteriorating morality. So I asked him, "Do you think it's good for children to attend public schools or Islamic schools?" His answer was very insightful, as I had not thought of this before. He said that for the first few years Islamic school is good because it instills a strong Islamic identity in children. After that, they should be in public schools so they experience a struggle. Our young need the struggle in order to appreciate and learn to value the depths of our own moral and ethical Islamic teachings. Essentially, when the foundation is solid, the struggle serves only to strengthen the rest of the building.

The day after speaking to my uncle, I had the pleasure of spending the entire day with a good friend. Knowing that she has a healthy background in education, especially early childhood education, I asked her which she thought was more beneficial, Islamic school or public school. Her answer was quite the contrary, clearly reflecting her own experiences. She said that it didn't matter if their early years were in a public school because children aren't very susceptible to peer pressure at that age. However, once they get older, they should be in Islamic schools, especially in their teenage years. Some youngsters simply cannot handle the strong conformity pressures of public schools today.

The one view is that of equipping children with the necessary tools and forcing them to use them in the real world, and the other is that of shielding them until they find themselves.

Like houseplants, it's a case-by-case decision. My hope is that after good years of nurturing them, they will survive in the wild. But alas, the matter is not in my hands. As the brother reminds us, "It's a huge favour from Allah Subhana wa ta'Ala that He has protected us from falling into the many traps of academia, while so many others just get washed away in the current."

Thank you Allah!



*Spring, where are you? Come on spring, let's have some fun!*
- Franklin Turtle

The tulips aren't out yet, but the weather is gorgeous. Praise and thanks to God. The sun is shining, the birds sing their beautiful pre-dawn songs, and there is so much umph in the air. Winter's sweet tranquility is gone, and like magic, spring has arrived!

Such is the story of my life. Allahu Akbar!

I can't quite get over the fact that I've been blessed with so much in so many different ways - to think, to care, to know, to love, to aspire, to hope, to share, to grow, to learn, to embrace the beauty of the world around me.

But I cannot savour this all without reminding myself that in the midst of peace and happiness, I could find myself facing challenges and struggles. So often I remind myself that one day I may get that phone call that takes these perfectly assembled pieces in the pie of contentment, messes them around, and begs the question, "Where is your contentment now?" I secretly prepare and await the challenge. I don't wish for it, but because it is a possibility I attempt to prepare for it. With or without perfectly unified components of life, contentment must always remain my faithful companion. God willing.

While I talk about the splendor of the season, where regrowth, rebirth, and rejuvenation are at their peak, I dig deep and reflect on my personal history. I experience severance of the worst kind, from what was once so sweet. But... I won't walk away. I might not be strong enough (yet) to fight my fight, but I am not going anywhere. God willing!

Labayka Allahumma labayk!

Empty Vessel


Imagine for a moment that before your very eyes is a transparent object. A cavity of some sort with two chambers and an opening covering the expanse of the top. The median between the two seems flimsy at best, yet surprisingly it is able to retain the acqeous substance which fills one half of the cavity. The adjacent chamber is entirely empty.

As you stare at the peculiar item, your curiosity grows. Your eyes search the room and you see a bottle of liquid food colouring. Quite naturally, you put a few drops into the occupied chamber, and soon it is filled with brilliant colour stopping short of the delicate divider.

You then put a few drops into the empty chamber and watch as the substance lifelessly sinks into the chamber's base forming a humble puddle. It is a pitiful sight alongside its exuberant neighbour.

In an act of charity, you pour water into the barren enclosure. Life. The entire cavity is now engulfed with awesome radiance, and much to your surprise the median that once separated the two chambers has now disappeared. The vortex of excellence claimed its life, and it became the very nothingness that previously occupied the once empty vessel.

What's New?


Why is it that we rarely ask about that which is old? That which is tried, tested, and true? Does it become boring?

Have you ever tried something new or bought something new and were so impressed with it that you couldn't believe how good it was, only to find that as time passed you wondered what it was that appealed to you so much in that thing to begin with?

Novelty sure has a way of wearing off. I sometimes wonder if my dwindling fascination over time, when something becomes familiar, is proof that I lacked heart from the beginning. What stumps me though, and I'm hoping someone can help me shed light on this, is the greater purpose that this fleeting novelty serves. Where does it fit in the grand scheme of things? For adults, does it demonstrate a lack of greater understanding? Or is it simply something necessary for our continued healthy existence?

Or maybe it's an indicator of greater beauty. A sign of some sort. If the novelty doesn't wear off and the fascination is able to grow into respect which then grows into love which then grows into sincerity and a dedicated friendship, then maybe it's a sign of something truly worthwhile.

We cannot know light unless we've known darkness. We cannot appreciate continued concerns unless we've experienced fleeting concerns.

Whichever place novelty holds in human existence, I sense it is a distraction from that which remains sweet for those who stick to it, for those who care to savour it. This sweetness, packaged in the wrappings of gold, is that which holds everything together. This sweetness is that which we all live for. Its flavour never dulls. Its light never extinguishes.

Praise and thanks belongs to God, the only constant.

O My Sisters...


This is for my sisters. Not my blood relations, but rather all the women out there.

You see, I detect a lot of male bashing from women sometimes. "He isn't blah." And "He doesn't do blah.." And on and on it goes. Currently, I really don't care where the men folk err directly, unless of course they step out of line and start behaving in a manner that would not befit a gentleman.

But men aside, women have other problems. We generally don't interact well with each other in that it seems to me that we lack sincerity in our meetings (correct me if I'm wrong). Perhaps it is the underlying evolutionary psychology where competition takes precedence over politeness and/or basic manners. I honestly can't say I've figured it out. Ironically, I come from a family and home where women have always outnumbered men. In the midst of this upbringing, one would think I would have the psyche of a "typical woman" (if such exists) figured out.

If you disagree with me that there is a need to address the way women deal with each other, then please consider this for a moment. Have you ever been in a mall and had a strange woman give you cut eye from afar? No? Well, have you ever started a class and had the woman sitting next to you give you attitude? No? Well, have you ever tried initiating a conversation among a group of women who are at least acquaintances if not friends? No? Hmmm... Well, I have.

College was an interesting experience for me. Most of my classes were filled with only women. It was a predominantly "non-ethnic" college where hijab-clad women were rare. By the grace of God, I eventually "befriended" almost every person in my class. This says nothing of me, but I will admit that I made it my business to at least speak to all my classmates. Why? --- Well, why not?

I recently went to a mosque to attend, for the first time, an evening class that is regularly held each week. The sisters were decent, but it did not take long for the group psychology of insecurity to play out with whisperings (more than likely unrelated to the newbie) in their mother tongue followed by giggles. One, it's rude to speak in another language in front of someone who doesn't understand it; and two, it's also a pretty lousy way to welcome someone by not sharing the joke.

But here's the thing. It doesn't affect me personally. In all of the situations that I described above, I've walked away with my secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) smile that tells me there is something better than the games we play with each other, and I leave with the hope that one day she will see it too. My philosophy is this. If one doesn't want to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt and instead finds security in assuming conclusions about another, she's welcome. One is better off without judgmental company. I cannot speak for others, but I would like to take the time to know you, though you're under no obligation to welcome me or reciprocate my hopes. (Unless, of course, you're related, in which case, the rules change.)

But, o my Muslim sisters, why do we compete with each other? Is it the "husband chase" that I sometimes hear of? If you want him, take him. He is all yours. No, that's not it? You just connect better with your "own kind" who speak "your language?" Tafadhali. Do what you need to do. But then don't come back complaining when you see others doing the same to you.

I still want to tell you though, o dear sister, that if you're in pain, seek those you've pushed away. They're not your enemies. They're not your competition. You'll have what's meant for you regardless. Carry yourself with dignity. Be as the Prophet (salla Allahu 'alayhi wa salam) was and open your arms and heart. Only then, dear sister, will we all be able to embrace the sakeenah (tranquility) of sisterhood, insha'Allah.

Let's start this off with a simple smile, insha'Allah!

[Note: I hope it goes without saying that not all women are guilty of the above. I have met some really, really wonderful women who have taught me a lot about heartfelt interactions. So if the above doesn't relate to you, please don't take it to heart, and forgive me. Where you see I err, please correct me. Thanks.]

Update: 2007-03-24

Today the local Imam explained how each person in the ummah is special and needs to contribute his/her talents to the overall functioning of the ummah (especially so because there is lots of work to be done). He made the anology of a car and explained how all the parts of a car are dependent upon each other, though very different. They are all important because they all offer something unique that the other cannot offer.

His practical advice to help us develop love within the community is as follows:
1) Smile -even at people you don't know. [In the very least.]
2) [If you're stronger...] Say "Assalaamu'alaykum" -even at people you don't know.
3) Offer the person something (i.e. put some nice smelling, not-overly-strong 'attar in his/her palm).
4) Invite the person home to eat with you and your family, regardless of how much or little you can offer him/her. Open your home to as many as you can. It is unfortunate that these days we only invite our friends to share meals with us.

May the Almighty help us in our effort to unite the hearts of our Muslim community and fellow humans. Ameen.

A Child's Prayer


*I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder at the stars so bright. I dream about my future too, and the things that I will do. So the world will count on me. I'm the future they agree.*
["A Child's Prayer" from Zain Bhikha's album "Allah Knows"]

I am currently in a superb "mood." I don't like to refer to this state as a "mood" since it seems too short lived. Nonetheless, let me share it with you, if I can.

There is so much rubbish out there in this world. I spend time reading articles detailing the experiences of people who are going through so much hardship. I cannot even pretend to understand their situations. Yet all the while, I don't directly experience it. What personal grief do I, Farzeen, have? Nothing. Nothing! My life is great, praise be to God. Sure, I don't have x-y-z. And sure, I am not x-y-z. And yes, people will hold my lack of x-y-z against me. But so what?

I guess for quite some time I've fronted a nonchalant attitude towards the head-shaking attitude that people have against each other. Towards the standard of living that is set before us. And the standard of beauty. And the standard of "knowledge." It really all goes down the toilet and remains swimming amongst a sea of other grotesque waste products that should serve to humble humans.

I recognize the need to set my own standards, using truth as my guide. No, not because I think I'm better. No, not because I think I'm capable of setting these standards. No, not because I'm special. And no, not because I'm worth any more than a speck of dust. It's because the standards that people set for me are not what I want, and more importantly need, to be.

The child's prayer is my prayer. No child I am, but I hope like a child. We can do it. We really can. I can achieve what I need to be, despite what may not come my way. Even if you don't want to do it with me, o fellow children, I will do it. Why? Because it's not about you. It's not about me. It's about us. It's about our world. It's about our destiny. It's about our eternity, and a return to the truth of love.

Smile. If you won't smile for yourself, smile for the child in you. :)

Optimism at its peak, for Your sake, o my Lord. Guide us to move with swiftness under the cloak of Your mercy, wisdom, guidance, and good pleasure. Ameen.

[Note: The lyrics to the song that I've quoted above are wonderful. If you haven't heard the song (the remix version too), let me know and I'll e-mail it to you, insha'Allah. The message is strong, and you will have to smile. Trust me, if you dare.]

Unrequited Love


It took a couple of clicks before I found myself reading a very sad blog entry. I can't help but take a deep breath at the thought of what this individual may be going through as he tries to pick up the pieces of his broken heart. I can't be absolutely certain, but I would like to think that his Layla is having some heartache over this as well, though Majnoon may not realize it. After all, what can she do? Wouldn't Layla have much preferred to want to accept Majnoon?

But the heart is a fickle thing, and for this very reason it requires security forces to ensure that it doesn't drop its guard until the appropriate time. Having had at least a taste of both Majnoon and Layla's experiences, I can tell you that my sadness has never been in what did not become, but rather that the hope of one was shattered.

Hope, by its nature, is a very positive emotion. When hope is lost, nothing can be achieved. If it was not for hope, no mission would be worth executing, no journey would be worth taking. Challenges would have no appeal, and thus the progress of a people would be stagnant. If it was not for hope, we would become the walking dead. Hope carries us; and when absent, we fall into a bottomless pit of despair and ungratefulness. With hope, we have confidence in God's inexhaustible ability to favour us when He chooses.

So why is it that when I read the concluding words, "..and you hope. You hope." my heart clenched?

When hope goes outside the boundaries set by the security forces of the heart, hope becomes a lethal weapon. Prolonged hopes in people, in naturally ephemeral situations, and in limited things is a toxin that breaks down the barriers securing the heart, leaving the heart dependent on the object(s) of hope. It is a very vulnerable situation to be in, and it necessitates a loss of some part of the individual.

Majnoon's situation was sad because his heart was blinded. His hope for Layla exceeded hope's natural confines, and it damaged him. Majnoon wasn't wrong to love, but he was wrong to give his heart to the one who didn't deserve it. The heart deserves a home where commitments are secured - a natural place for hopes to flourish. Until that is sought, all hearts are potential enemies.

It really isn't much of wonder, given the above, that marriage is so sanctified.

Glory be to God who guides us with His infinite wisdom and sets limits for humanity.

The Faulty Candle


A poet once said, "Knowledge without action is like a wick, it gives light to others yet itself dies out burning."

It was during the first few days of Dhul Hijja that I learnt that Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah had travelled from Saudi Arabia all the way to Toronto, a journey that took him over 30 hours, in order to convey sacred knowledge to the attendees of an Islamic conference. I imagine the journey must have been especially arduous given that he is elderly. But the most astonishing aspect of his decision is that despite the general difficulties of travel, he had every intention to perform Hajj (the greater pilgrimage) which would of course have required him to travel right back to Saudi Arabia within a few days of arriving in Toronto.

Another wonderful speaker at the conference, whose words this year touched my heart and provided me with the fruits which I sought, was Dr. Tariq Ramadan. In one of his lectures, he mentioned that there is a recent sickness in the ummah which takes the form of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself. We do this to such an extent that we actually worship knowledge instead of using it as the means to improve our relationship with our Creator.

As I reflected on the example of Shaykh Abdullah and the words of Dr. Tariq Ramadan, it immediately hit me how easily I belittle the worth of knowledge, beneficial knowledge at that.

My other guilt lies in books. I love books. In fact, for the last few years my most precious books were in boxes while I was playing the nomad between three homes. Now that I've settled myself again, I've taken out all my books, and just looking at them makes me smile. At least they used to... until now. Now I realize that I've transformed a thing of beauty, books, into a potent poison. The ironic part of this sad story is that for the longest time I have attempted to exercise caution in an effort to prevent myself from taking anything at face value including books, classes, and any chance that I get to learn. The story of Imam Ghazali and the robbers was enough to teach me this, yet I have still stumbled.

This all becomes especially problematic as I am now presented with a slight opportunity to convey some of my passions and thoughts to young and impressionable minds. I can only try to teach them what my mind acknowledges as haqq (truth) but that which my nafs has unfortunately made a mockery of.

I don't deserve anything that I have, not even for a second. But, I have it. It's right here. How can I change you, O stubborn soul? Let's change, please. Let's not go to the grave as a loser.

Ya Rabb, forgive me. Guide me, my family, my loved ones, and the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Preserve our beloved teachers, and cause us to benefit from the knowledge that they convey to us. Guide us, cause us to draw nearer to You each day, and save us from leading self-destructive lives. Ameen.

The Barren Oyster


There are moments, brief moments, of clarity when all the residue of life's pettiness just disappears. The tide washes over the shore and nothing remains except clarity. The temptation to inhale the refreshed air is unbeatable. Subdued, you allow it to hit you - crisp, clean, and with just a pinch of sugar for the added sweetness in it all.

And then, there is everything except these moments. Its volcanic ashes are a combination of wasted respect, failed trust, ghoulish envy, and continued drama. The preservation of which amounts to relevant factors in quality control.

But can they be surpassed? Must all situations amount to some twisted combination of these factors, choking the necks of those who dare engage their surroundings? Seemingly, yes. It must occur because it is a great way to teach us appreciation. It inspires gratitude in the one who forgets. And it is in our nature to forget.

Like the pearl hidden amongst a collection of barren oysters, there lies a precious gem, the rarity of true friendship. To have just one makes you among the privileged. To have two makes you among the eternally indebted. To have more than two is currently unimaginable. Such is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

So while we play the game of interaction, while we pretend to care, while we pretend to respect, and while we pretend to trust, we can only hope that the tide will come by, washing upon the shore the oyster that sings the song of truth and sincerity.

I want not to hold onto anything else that the ocean may lay on the wet sand before me. I want not to tread on the pebbles of disappointment. If the oyster of companionship never arrives, I'll remain waiting; for my contentment is in the movement of the tides, and my happiness is in the breath of sweet air.

A friend cannot be considered a friend until he is tested in three occasions:
in time of need, behind your back, and after your death.
- Ali bin Abu Talib [may God be pleased with him]



Generally, I like to believe that with some time spent reflecting on certain things, eventually the situation becomes clear. But maybe that's much too simplistic.

I know the problem. I also know the solution. But the second problem becomes filling the shoes that will take the steps necessary to move from the first problem to the solution. Currently, there are no shoes, but only shovels making what was once a timid hole into an annoying crater of nothingness.

Eight hundred steps backwards and the hope of moving a mere inch forward.

I never enjoyed shoe shopping.

Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest. - Quran
"Do you think that you will enter the Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: 'When (will come) the help of God?' Ah! Verily the help of God is (always) near!" [2:214]



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"Be mindful of God, and God will protect you. Be mindful of God, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of God. If you seek help, seek help of God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if the whole world were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God has already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried."
--Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]