Wishing You a Blessed Ramadan!

Salaam readers,

I know it’s been a few months since I’ve updated my blog. I’ve had several ideas for blog posts, but haven’t had the time to write them yet. Insha’Allah, soon! I know we’re well into Ramadan, but I would still like to wish everyone a happy and blessed month!  May this month be a time of reflection, spiritual growth, and most of all, compassion.  May it bring communities together and guide us all closer to justice, peace, and liberation. Ameen.

Ramadan is the month in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed to our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, so one of my goals this year is to re-read the Qur’an and learn more about the life of the Prophet and his family (peace be upon them). Like for a billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan holds a special place in my heart and always reminds me about the importance of self-discipline, God-consciousness, and showing kindness to all of Allah’s creation.

Ramadan is not without its challenges. The major concern I have every year is not about abstaining from food and drinks before sunset, but rather how workplaces accommodate our religious holiday. Workplace discrimination against Muslims in the United States has been on the rise in recent years and it serves as a reminder of how deeply engrained Islamophobia and racism is. Aside from Islamophobic remarks and harassment, especially during Ramadan, it continues to amaze me how workplaces do not see the insulting double standard when they treat their employees to food baskets, greeting cards, and “holiday dinners” for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah, but won’t even acknowledge Ramadan. It also shocks me when workplaces are not prepared (e.g. not scheduling enough help) for iftar time, which prevents Muslims from opening their fast on time or not being able to have a full meal.

I have left voice mail messages and written numerous e-mails to various departments of my employer, encouraging them that recognizing Ramadan in the workplace in an appreciative and non-superficial manner would strengthen the company’s commitment to diversity (I have issues with the way “diversity” and politics of “inclusion” serve to center whiteness, but you get the point). So far, no response. Meanwhile, I anticipate ignorant and even racist remarks from co-workers when I inform them about my fasting throughout the month. It can be annoying how the usual response is, “Oh my God, don’t you get hungry?” or “That must be so hard!” The sentiment seemed to always be, “Oh, I feel so sorry for you; your religion is really strict.”  It’s interesting when I reflect on how fasting became another way for me to resist Islamophobia and racism. At a very young age, I never wanted to show my white non-Muslim friends, classmates, teachers, and bosses that Ramadan was a difficult time for me. Instead, I learned to embrace the holiday and told them that they didn’t need to feel sorry for me and that it was offensive if they did. “I choose to fast,” I told them, “Ramadan is a special and joyous month for us.”

Anyway, I know the ignorance and bigotry is part of the challenge and struggle against Islamophobia at large. I don’t believe in shaming or scolding people for being angry, so when I say that Allah teaches us to be patient and steadfast, I don’t mean it in a condescending way, but rather as a recognition of struggle. As Allah teaches us in the Qur’an, the Divine presence is always close and near to us:

(Prophet), if My servants ask you about Me, say that I am near (to them). I respond to those who call upon Me. Let them, then, respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may be guided. – Qur’an 2:186

I have noticed that some Muslims can be discouraging of others by monitoring the way they pray, how they open their fast, how they express themselves, etc. Judgmental attitudes from some fellow Muslims tends to ruin the spirit of Ramadan and I think invalidating a person’s feelings is cruel and un-Islamic. There are some Muslims, for example, who are unable to fast for various reasons. There are some Muslims who choose not to fast for various reasons. As a friend told me, instead of judging and ridiculing these individuals, we should focus on our sense of community by practicing compassion and understanding without any condescension, sense of “superiority,” or arrogant and self-righteous preaching. Here is a beautiful Hadith that highlights on how integral compassion is to Islam:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would kiss his daughter Fatima (peace be upon her), talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his side, without paying attention to the remarks or even the criticisms that his behavior would give rise to. Once he kissed Hassan (peace be upon him), Fatima’s son, in front of a group, who were startled. One of them, Aqra ibn Habis, expressed his shock and said: ‘I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them.’ The Prophet answered: ‘One who has no compassion for others is not entitled to compassion (from God).’ – Sahih al-Muslim (narrated by Tariq Ramadan, Qur’anic translation from Al-Islam.org)

On a similar note, Aslan Media is currently running a Ramadan “mixtape” series where Muslim writers and artists share their favorite tunes for the holy month. On today’s post, I shared Abida Parveen’s song “Assan Ishq Namaz” because of its beautiful and powerful vocals and lyrics. Here are my thoughts about the song:

Music by Pakistani living legend Abida Parveen never fails to inspire and mesmerize me. Her divinely-inspired voice passionately expresses the deeper themes of divine love, sorrow, and longing that are often found in Islamic mystical/Sufi poetry. In this song, she sings famous verses by renowned 17th century Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. I love her ability to infuse so much pure emotion into the original poem and express how meaningful the lyrics are. The song opens with these important and relevant verses:

Parh parh ilm hazaar kitaaban
qaddi apnay aap nou parhiya naee
jaan jaan warhday mandir maseedi
qaddi mann apnay wich warhiya naee
aa-vain larda aye shaitan de naal bandeaa
qaddi nafss apnay naal lariya naee.

[Yes, you have read thousands of books,
but you have never tried to read your own self;
you rush in, into your Temples, into your Mosques,
but you have never tried to enter your own heart;
futile are all your battles with Satan,
for you have never tried to fight your own desires.]

This message of self-reflection, humility, and holding one’s self accountable captures the compassionate heart of Islam and is conveyed so powerfully when Parveen sings it. Bulleh Shah reminds us that when we judge others or perceive ourselves as “more pious” or “superior,” we fall into arrogance, hypocrisy, and failure to see our own faults. I believe these lyrics are relevant to social justice struggles as well and how self-critique and accountability is needed so that we don’t reproduce oppressive forces in our own movements. It is respect and compassion for every human being that makes Bulleh Shah’s message so beautiful and Islamic.

May Ramadan guide us to bettering ourselves and the societies in which we live. Ameen. I end this entry by sharing another amazing song by Abida Parveen, “Soz-e-Ishq.” I listened to it one day after sehri time and fajr prayer and it was such a soulful and soothing moment. The vocals, the lyrics, the music composition and arrangement – everything about it is so incredibly beautiful and spiritually moving (click on “cc” for the English translation). Enjoy!

Muhammad


O’ Prophet,

Tonight, I feel the fullness of your soul,
the miracle of your blessed existence
from so many centuries past,
it transcends all barriers of space and time
and like a sudden, mystic fire that I cannot name,
I feel your eternal memory
burn this heart of mine.

I want to find you somewhere
maybe in a dream, an alternate reality,
perhaps in those secret places
that mystics often pen about
in their impassioned poetry,
or sing in ecstasy about
in whirling dances.

I want to hold your gaze
and imitate your expressions;
I want to watch the way you walk,
I want to emulate your smile,
I want to talk the way you talk,
I want to give the way you give,
forgive the way you forgive,
kneel as you kneel,
bow as you bow,
mimic every detail.

I want to kiss your hands
and listen to those sweet words
that descend from the Heavens
and flow through your spoken lips;
I want to hear those words sing
and put ease to all of my fears;
I want to feel their light
like hot breath
blowing into
my ears.

I want to live in your presence
and that of your family’s;
teach me friendship, companionship,
guide my longings to patience,
show me the vastness of your soul,
the universe that is inside you,
let me see the infinite beauty
that makes you the beautiful Lover and Friend
to all of humanity
and to the Supreme Being
that brought us here.

O’ Prophet,
You change the whole world
and then say you are an ordinary man.
You spark this burning in my heart
and cause tears to stream down my face
even though so much time keeps us apart
and still, you say you are ordinary.

No, beloved.
You are not like the rest of us,
you are Chosen,
the veil through which starlight shines
Zeb-un-Nissa said,
‘You are the very torch Divine.’

I believe her.
Because someone like you
is too humble to speak so highly of himself.

But we know, ya Muhammad, we know
how special you truly are.

Peace be upon you.

~ Jehanzeb

Fatima

002

I dreamt of being awake,
traveling through dust and sand
of an unknown desert realm.

Lines on my hands
turned to the alien sky
as my weeping blood-tears
left flooded trails
across the crimson dune sea.

Darkness and its caravan
passed me a thousand times
striking my body
with sword and arrow;
trying to batter me
into ungodly submission.

The horde dispatched a one-eyed creature,
a satanic beast hungry only for flesh and blood,
its charging feet pounding the earth like meteor-blasts,
claiming to kill in the name of God.

The dark army lingered behind
“We are the hounds of heaven!” they barked.
“We are here to purify you of your transgressions!”

My weak soul trembled in fear
I am unable to hold my ground.
One more pass
And death will be near.

I recited my kalimah
And suddenly felt the desert wind;
The zephyr’s calm whispered enigma
to my mourning soul.

I turned in the direction of mystery
and saw a green-robed warrior,
galloping on her heavenly steed;
my words became lost to beauty,
my mind lost all sense of logic and reason.

Her weapons were Star-lit flowers
thrown onto the battlefield;
thorns burst out of roses,
and like raining daggers
they pierced into the hearts of the enemy;
beneath them, the sand opened like a tunnel,
I watched the desperate army
sink into the nameless abyss
darkness fell into emptiness:
non-existence, nothingness;
and like a dragon’s breath
a violent fire-storm erupted from below
and launched into the sky.

Heaven’s fire
set the new garden ablaze;
flowers in the desert,
jade blossoms coiled on the gates;
I watched her bless this place.

Beneath her feet
I saw the seven heavens
unfolding like solar blossoms;
I felt my soul fainting
at the sight of this surreal vision.

Before I awoke to transitory reality,
I said:

You are our infallible queen
Daughter of the apostle –
Muhammad, the Chosen one –
May Allah’s peace and eternal blessings be upon you

For you are Fatima,
Rose of the Empyrean