Archive for the ‘Family and Friends’ Category

This year a friend of mine whose husband has MS was so kind as to organize a team for the local MS Walk. These walks are sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and benefit their programs and services. Our team was called “Muslim Support” and we had nifty matching t-shirts with our team name on the back. We made shirts for our kids as well, saying “I (heart) Someone With MS.” There were three paths: 1, 3, and 5 miles each. Needless to say, the MSers and their families in our team took the 1 mile path. The others were feeling adventurous and so took the 3 mile.

I realized afterwards that having MS is somewhat like being on that walk. You start off the day at the starting line with everyone else, but you plod through your day slowly and deliberately while everyone else goes by as if they are going twice the speed.

Then, when you both reach the finish line (we all did close together in our case), you realize that they have done three times as much as you did, but in the same amount of time.

While you go off to recoup, the rest go off rushing throughout their day through numerous other tasks, while you struggle to regain strength from the first task.

This is your brain on MS. This is your body on MS.

The more and more a person progresses through the years with the disease, no matter what fancy medications they are on, the result is that this dichotomy between “normal” and “MS” only becomes more and more pronounced.

It is part of my lack of acceptance of this fundamental truth of MS that leads me into trouble sometimes. I don’t want to accept that I can’t do fifty million things in one day, so I say “damn to hell with the MS, I’m gonna do it!” and the MS just says, “screw you,” and raises its head in vengeance. My husband said one time when I fell into an MS slump–“You knew this was coming,” and I did.

That’s why the job of the caretaker is so hard because they see us struggle with the acceptance of our limitations, with the acceptance of dependency on medications, with the acceptance of dependency on rest and people’s help. And the most they can do is advise and support–only we can wrestle ourselves into accepting the realities of what is happening to our bodies.

Us MSers on the walk were fortunate enough to have our beloved spouses with us, and our children and families, plodding along beside us, and walking side-by-side with us as we crossed the finish line. And they alone know the true triumph of being able to do that feat of walking so far–something that normal people would take for granted. So we can only hope that as we plod along and our steps get slower and slower, that we’ll have those beloved caretakers by our side, matching their steps to ours, hoping that they don’t mind taking it slow, and hoping they get the reward for sharing our struggle.


(btw, I’ll be back to the top 10 Tarbiyah Mistakes notes soon!)


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I just attended a fantastic halaqah… and those sisters who know me personally may feel free to email me and request that it be sent to them insha Allah, but the topic was:  Top Ten Tarbiyah Mistakes. Tarbiyah, as you may know, is the process of character development that we engage in with our children. So before going to the class, my thought was–Ouch!–we get to hear 2 hours of the ten biggest things we do wrong every day with our kids?

But as Allah (swt) says: “And remind, for verily, the reminder benefits the believers” (Adh-Dhariyaat: 55). Sometimes a swift kick in the proverbial arse is what we need to make a firm commitment to change, and boy was this a kick.

I really would like to take the time to type up my notes, but until then I will leave a teaser–I’ll put the ten points she mentioned, then come back with the notes as I can get them out (maybe 3-4 at a time). If you would like to get this and other blog updates straight to your inbox, feel free to add your email address in the box at the top of the right column and you will get the posts as they are published. In the future if you would like to unsubscribe, you can easily do so through the emails themselves, or just post a comment and I’ll unsub you.

Here goes, Letterman style—

The Top Ten Mistakes of Tarbiyah

  1. Choosing the wrong spouse–someone who differs with you on the fundamental issues of life and parenting.
  2. Considering tarbiyah as beginning at a later stage in life
  3. Letting the children control you and run the family
  4. Making sure that 90% of what you say is commands, prohibitions, and threats
  5. Assuming that your child thinks like you
  6. Using injurious and harmful words
  7. Never explaining anything and expecting immediate and prompt blind compliance
  8. Comparing your children to each other (in looks or behavior) and show favoritism
  9. Lying to your kids
  10. Assuming that you are the source of guidance for your children

Now…I don’t like leaving things hanging like that, because some of these are not clear in what they mean and I’m sure leaves the person scratching their head and saying, “but…”

However, the notes are long, I’d like to do them justice, so they will be back another day bi ‘idhnillah.

As a clue to some of the points of the halaqah, I’ll say that some of the topics mentioned include Steven Covey, Dr. Sears, racism, totalitarianism, family mission statements, principle-centered leadership/parenting, and punishment.

Ready? Check back soon! In the meanwhile, feel free to discuss the points so far…

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I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’t.work. End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”

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Our local masjid recently hosted Imam Muhammad Magid to do a program on how to have a successful marriage. It was a beneficial seminar from an imam who truly is in the trenches as far as helping his community members heal their own marriages. There were quite a few gems of wisdom; I’ll share some of them below.

The Key to Forgiveness

This gem was absolutely brilliant and particularly memorable for me, because it is something that just clicked and made such complete sense. To introduce the idea he put forth, I’ll first give an example of a piece of marriage advice I once came across by Muhammad AlShareef (of alMaghrib Institute). He said that when things go wrong, just say sorry. Even if you may not have been in the wrong, or were also wronged yourself, you can never go wrong by saying “sorry.”

That’s a great piece of advice, except how many times have you been in a situation with anyone and felt, as the saying goes, “sorry doesn’t cut it”? How many times has that harmed friendships, partnerships, marriages–virtually any relationship? A person gives an apology, and yet the other party feels as if a mere apology was insufficient?

Cut to Imam Magid–he offered a wonderful explanation based on a keen understanding of human nature as well as using an example from seerah. His advice is that one must be ready to forgive one’s spouse, but in order for one to do that, the one who is apologizing must acknowledge their mistake verbally and explain what they did wrong. Why? This shows the other person that the one apologizing has acknowledged their trespass and it frees up the other person to open their heart and forgive.

How do we derive this principle? When Wahshi, the killer of Hamzah, came to repent to RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam), the Prophet asked him to describe to him how he killed Hamzah. He then told him to keep away from him (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) for a few days. Even after the person has acknowledged their wrong, they should not expect instant forgiveness, for it is a process, not an instant reaction.

A Parable for the Marriage Relationship

Imam Magid described the husband-wife relationship with the following example–they are like the two wings on a bird flying to its creator, Allah subhana wa ta’aala. The bird cannot fly with only one wing, and the two wings must be flying in unison in order for the bird to stay on its correct path.


Allah says in the Qur’an: “And among his signs is this: that He has created for you spouses from yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility among them…” (Ar-Rum: 21).

A fundamental principle of the marriage relationship is that it is founded on respect, and this draws back to an aspect of our creed itself. We believe that our spouses are creations of Allah, so we offer our spouses respect that a creation of the Lord deserves. How easy it becomes for us to become used to our spouses, take them for granted, and then not offer them basic courtesy and respect? Remember that first and foremost, ones spouse is a creation of Allah, and as such is deserving of basic human respect.

Practical Advice: Go the Extra Mile

A simple way to increase love between spouses? When one spouse requests something from the other, say, a glass of water–go the extra mile and see what more you can do. “Would you like ice with that? A snack?” Little things can make the difference in a relationship.

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One year has come and gone as in an instant.

It seemed like a few months ago, when, after a day of what seemed like false-alarm random labor pain that I would go to the hospital’s birthing center “just in case” and have Z in the shower half an hour after arriving.

It seems like just yesterday that I realized with a start that she was born on a Saturday, just like her brother, and three days after her 37th week, just like her brother.

It seems like mere seconds ago that I caught her, saw my husband’s teary, exited face saying, “we have a daughter, we have a daughter…” and then walked myself over to lay down with her, never letting her go for a second, Siraj by my side, as we just looked at her, the nurse still laughing that we two had “delivered” this baby before the midwife could even arrive.

Those after-birth moments are pure magic–even the nurse was so exited and congratulatory that my wishes were fulfilled, set long before the birth, that I catch her, keep her close, and attached to the cord as long as we wished.


She is named after her father’s paternal grandmother, a woman I wish I could have met, whom I know my husband loved so dearly, and she him, that I could say nothing but “yes, of course” when he proposed we name our first daughter after her.

She–the fact that she was a girl–made the horribly long, nauseating, and sometimes bedrest-bound days of her pregnancy so much more worth it.

Her birthday and my life with MS share the same timeframe, because I first started having symptoms shortly after her birth. I feel sorry for her that her early months were clouded by my own health issues, but it led to her having such a strong relationship with her father. Every time I climbed into an MRI tube or went to physical therapy, there she would be, playing with her baba. Even though she wouldn’t take a bottle and so he could not feed her, they bonded so closely and so well. A blessing in disguise from the lemons of life, indeed!

She was my comfort baby, along with her brother of course. When I would feel discouraged at my own health and well-being, when I would wonder what on earth was happening to me, I would just look at her, look at her brother and think–ah, but I have this!

IMG_7134She gives me strength, even as I will count my years with this disease by her years, it is a reminder of why I fight it every day. My mental battle is won when I look at her, look at her brother, and think, “I will be well for you two.”

I love the fact that as her early months passed, she became crazy over her brother. I love that spark of connection that exists between them two alone, and pray that it lasts like that forever.

I love that she has the best father a child could ask for, and the best brother a sister could ask for.

I love, I love, I love, and I thank Allah for the love we have, for it is what makes us human–“Whoever does not show mercy, shall not be shown mercy” (hadith).

I pray that we are blessed with a long life together, as a family, and that Allah brings us all closer to Him, and reunites us in Jannah, Aameen.

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I’ll admit it: It was my idea.

A few months ago, Abdullah managed to learn surah al-Fathihah by osmosis, as it were: he heard it recited in prayer and at night so many times that he just learned most of it. A little work on our end, and he had it down pat. My father encouraged me to work more closely with him because he obviously had a knack for memorization, and off we went.

After we had a few surahs down, we set a goal of 10 by his third birthday. And somewhere along the way, even though he was doing perfectly fine without any extrinsic rewards attached to his learning, I dangled a carrot: “If you learn 10 surahs, we’ll do a ’10 Surah’ party for you!” It seemed innocuous enough–our culture is so saturated with this type of carrot-on-a-stick style of motivation that we never question it.


I, on the other hand, am probably the last person to dangle such a reward because I have always found this type of motivation distasteful, especially for Islamic pursuits. Instead of drawing our children’s attention to the rewards of Allah for their deeds, we try and hoodwink them with worldly rewards. I have seen many justifications for this, especially when the issue of Qur’an competitions come up, but I still cannot shake my dislike of the idea. When a Qur’an competition came up in the community where I was teaching at an Islamic school, a particularly astute and sincere young student told me she would not be participating. “I want to learn the Qur’an for Allah,” she said, “not to win a competition.”

“SubhanAllah,” I remember thinking at the time. What blessed parents she must have–I want my children to have this same sincere attitude towards Allah’s book.

I’ve taken great interest over the years, especially as it relates to my teaching, in the astute observations of Alfie Kohn on this issue. He is adamant that rewards are harmful because they take away a person’s intrinsic motivation to do a task, which is innately damaging to them as a student or even an employee. In an interview he noted:

Rewards are most damaging to interest when the task is already intrinsically  motivating. That may be simply because there is that much more interest to lose when extrinsics are introduced…

Mea culpa–because this is exactly what happened with Abdullah. It was a difference like night and day–the day after his party, he was utterly disinterested in learning surahs, whereas before, he did it naturally without question. He had, in the weeks prior, some deep fitri (innate) inclination towards memorizing Qur’an and it was noticeably less present after the party.

Kohn, in the same interview, when asked if this was his opinion or supported by research, countered that it was indeed well established in social science research:

There are at least 70 studies showing that extrinsic motivators— including A’s, sometimes praise, and other rewards—are not merely ineffective over the long haul but counterproductive with respect to the things that concern us most:  desire to learn, commitment to good values, and so on. Another group of studies shows that when people are offered a reward for doing a task that involves some degree of problem solving or creativity—or for doing it well—they will tend to do lower quality work than those offered no reward.

How potent is our own inner desire to do something, and to do it well! When we try and ignore that innate desire for goodness (Ihsaan as it were) and offer external motivations, then it’s natural that the work that is produced then will be sub-par. We no longer care for goodness, we care only for the carrot dangling in front of us.

People often argue that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’aala) offers us rewards for our actions, therefore we are merely paralleling this when we offer people rewards for their work. This is a faulty analogy. Allah’s rewards are not here in the dunya, there is no “instant gratification” associated with them besides the tranquility of heart that a believer receives when she obeys Allah. The believers must wait patiently for the true reward and recognition of their work in the aakhirah. If anything, the promises of Allah teach us that we must exercise patience and restraint when doing good, for the results do not come quickly and physically in front of us.

I went back and talked to my father again, because he too agrees with much of Kohn’s ideas on rewards and learning. He stressed that we underestimate children’s ability to develop intrinsic motivation for learning Qur’an. We can indeed develop their innate desire to learn by discussing Allah’s rewards and emphasizing that when they memorize Qur’an, Allah will love them.

I don’t regret the party, because I think it is beneficial to celebrate accomplishments, especially to “rejoice” in the blessing of memorizing Qur’an. In the Qur’an itself, after Allah describes His book as an admonition, a healing of the hearts, and a guidance, He says:

“Say: In the bounty of Allah and in His Mercy, in that let them rejoice; it is better than all they amass.” (Yunus: 58)

I love this ayah, for it calls us to celebrate the wonder of the Qur’an. I hope to impart a small bit of that enjoyment and excitement to Abdullah on his level by throwing him a small party. I wonder if perhaps celebrating his accomplishments after the fact, rather than dangling them as enticements to work, would better serve this purpose without undermining his innate desire to learn.

The other day, Siraj and I were doing some damage control as we discussed with Abdullah memorizing future surahs. Rather than focusing on future rewards, we encouraged him by developing activities related to the memorization of the surahs. He’s finishing al-Ma’un and going to go ahead to al-Feel, so we worked up his excitement by discussing the meanings of Surah al-Ma’un and what it was calling him to do, and then we planned for a project showing the events in Surah al-Feel. Later, he came up to me and said, “Mama, I want to learn Surah al-Feel!” And that, dear friends, was like “music” to my ears.

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