Preparing for Ramadan!

Not having fasted for the last two years because of pregnancy and nursing, I have to admit I was nervous about fasting this year. For one, the fasts will be incredibly long. Sunrise to sunset (roughly from 3am to 9pm) would be 18 hours. My second concern was not having properly participated in Ramadan for the last two years, I may have lost my ‘Ramadan spirit’.

So in search of some motivation and inspiration, this Friday I attended an event in London called ‘Your Best Ramadan Yet’ organised by City Circle. The event featured a talk by Shaikh Haytham Tamim of Uttruj Foundation, followed by practical fasting and health related advice by two medical doctors.

While for some the talk may have lacked the ‘wow’ factor, I got from it exactly what I was looking for.

The main point which the Shaikh drilled into the audience was about the purpose of fasting. Why do we fast? According to him, the abstention from our desires is a prerequisite to connecting with our spirituality. Or in other words, it is only when we silence the constant ‘I want this, I need that’ that we can connect with God.

This is the shared link between salah (prayer), haj and fasting. Through all these acts of worship, we try to create a space for ourselves (physically and mentally), where we can take refuge from the onslaught of our desires, the constant consumerism and media messaging telling us to indulge ourselves in this and that. Although this may sound like an obvious point but a lot of us forget this during our ritual prayers and while fasting. Ramadan is about the victory of the spiritual self over the material one, ultimately restoring the balance between the two.

Inspired by the talk, I vowed to keep my ‘wants’ in check, whether these are for buying things, cravings for junk food or never being satisfied with anything in life. Instead of always wanting and whining, I want to create sabr (patience) and contentment. In trying to live this ideal, I’m finding out how difficult it is.  Take a very small example: I decided to gradually cut down my calorie intake in the lead up to Ramadan. I’m ashamed to report that one day spent at the mall was enough to throw all my good intentions out the window. But I’ll persevere.

Another point raised during the talk which I really appreciated was that we should never forget the power of the mind and how resilient our bodies are. A lot of us have been grumbling about how difficult this coming Ramadan would be. But we forget that if we enter something with a negative perception and anticipation, we will most likely find the experience to be negative. However, if we create a positive mindset and send positive signals to our body, we may radically shift our experience. Positive thinking- feeling hopeful and excited about something- goes a long way in shaping our actual experience.

Finally, being a woman and a mother I also appreciated the acknowledgment on the part of the speaker that sometimes (especially in traditional families and cultures) Ramadan for women amounts to preparing and cooking food all day and clearing up at night while the men go for taraweeh prayers. We really need to take our focus away from this attitude of ‘feasting’ at iftaars and also share the responsibilities with women. He went so far as to say that during the last ten days of Ramadan (considered to be a special time of quiet reflection and prayer) women should not cook at all and families should have take aways. He may have been exaggerating his stance just to drive home the point that women should also focus on their spirituality.

The challenge for me to is to find quiet time for myself when my whole day is consumed with childcare responsibilities and in keeping my super curious 16 month old entertained and out of trouble. The only quiet time I have is the two hours of his nap during the afternoon. Generally I spend this time in mindless pursuits like facebooking and watching tv, or doing essential stuff like cooking or showering. I tend to shy away from any activity that may require me to use my grey cells. I realise that this is an excuse to be lazy.

I hope in Ramadan I can counter this attitude that ‘my day is not mine’ and take control of my time. Instead of forcing my baby to fit into my routine or being totally driven by his, I need to find a balance. For example, while he may not allow me to use my laptop (he wants it himself), I could listen to audiobooks or recitation of the Quran in the background while I perform other tasks. If you have any advice or tips to share with me on how I can achieve this balance, please do share!

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!



30 Day Challenge

Try Something New for 30 Days

I just came across this talk by Matt Cutts where he suggests taking on a 30 Day Challenge. Try something new or take on something you’ve been putting off for a while. I agree with Cutts that 30 days is just the right chunk of time. Not so long that you get intimidated and not so little that the new habit or action would be meaningless.

In my case, I’ve been feeling a bit lost and spiritually disconnected lately. As a Muslim, my prime source of ‘guidance’ should be the Quran but I never find time to read it. While praying I go through the motions and find my mind drifting, making mental to-do lists . More than ever before I find myself asking what’s the purpose of life: what gives meaning to my life. Life seems monotonous and mundane and the only way we all try to escape it is by keeping ourselves busy. And I’ve been keeping myself busy with the most frivolous and inconsequential things. At the end of the day, I still feel restless and dissatisfied.

So I’ve decided to take on my 30 Day Challenge to read the Quran and other sources of inspiration to find some answers to these questions. A quest for inner peace you could call it (Kung Fu Panda style).

Some other 30 Day Challenges I would like to take on (after this one) would be:

– photoblogging

– call a different friend every day (I hate making phonecalls and so don’t stay as connected with friends as I’d like to)

– exercise

What 30 Day Challenge would you like to take on?

Embracing life as is

imageLife is a complicated thing. For some of us it is like a bed of roses and at the same time for others it might seem like a thorny pathway to hell. It sounds unfair but that’s life – but one thing is for sure that life is not meant to stay the same way for ever. God has promised us that difficult times are not meant to last for ever.

“So, Verily, with hardship there is relief” (Quran 94:6)

Quran also reminds us in various instances that it’s not just us ordinary human beings; all the Prophets had to go through trials and tribulations.

"Or think you that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty, ailments and were shaken." (Quran 2:214)

There is an apt French proverb that “Good fortune and bad are equally necessary to man, to fit him to meet the contingencies of this life.”

There is no education like adversity. In these difficult times is learning we mostly fail to see when we are actually are going trough it. Those who and able to positively channel these Divinely ordained pathways of development and growth with patience, their character is bound to evolves some unique qualities in them, unleashing their hidden potential.

We shall surely try you with something of fear, and hunger, and loss of wealth, and lives, and fruits; and give glad tidings to the patient ones” (Quran 2:155)

Trees that shed all their leaves in the harsh winter bear flowers and fruits in spring. The newly acquired armoury of qualities, from patiently persevering trough times of adversity, adorns the character of a person just like these fruits and flowers.

In pursuit of happiness

Mulla Nasruddin was searching for something in his garden. When his neighbour asked him: “What are you looking for Mulla”.

He replied that he was looking for his house key.

Wanting to help him, his neighbour joined him asking : “Do you remember where you dropped it?’”

Mulla answered: “Of course I do, in my house.”

“Why are you looking here?”, asked his neighbour confused.

Mulla Nasrudin replied: “Because there is much more light here than in my house.”

imageIt’s amazing how accurately this famous Sufi parable depicts our search for the “life we want to live”. Be it job satisfaction, ideal relationships, stability in financial situation or simply happiness, we always seem to be in a struggle to find that key to success.

Who likes to wait in a queue if there is a fast track to the front of the queue. Mulla Nasruddin also wanted the easy route to success but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work in life. To achieve something you need to work hard and search for the keys in the right places, irrespective of how difficult it may seem.

Sometimes we don’t even know what the key is for, or what it looks like, but we continue to search. You never know, your door to success might not even be locked or the key may already be in your pocket. Realisation of our own potential sometimes comes as a pleasant surprise to many. Rumi beautifully once said:

You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.

You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.


Two weeks ago I started a course called Self Expression and Leadership Programme (SELP) with Landmark Education. Some of you may have heard more than you want to know about Landmark from both Asim and me (hehe, you know who you are!) and others may not even know that since April of this year I’ve done various courses with them.

I used to be one of those people who thought personal development books were well-meaning but useless at best and Western new-age crap at worst. But I’ve always been self-critical, interested in ‘improving/fixing’ myself and enjoyed learning in an interactive group setting. So yes when Asim first mentioned Landmark courses to me, I was intrigued but as a student had no money at the time. He had done a series of courses with Landmark Education 4 years ago (way before I met him) and I remember the very first time we spoke on the phone, he mentioned the courses and how much he had gained from them in terms of how he communicated, the way he understood people and even success at work. Then I sort of forgot about them until this year when a friend convinced Asim to do another of the courses, the Introduction Leaders Program. I went to one of the guest events and registered.

I did the Landmark Forum in April and then the Advanced Course in July. I also attended a series of free Seminar sessions available to graduates. The courses are designed in such a way that you start with yourself and then move outwards at the level of small groups to large communities. We live in growing concentric circles of connectedness (from self to relationships to family to friends to community to country to the world). The course I’m doing now is a three month leadership course in which you design and implement a community project. The idea is that by contributing to others you also gain a lot yourself and that in a way is real leadership. I’ll tell you in another post what my project is but just to let you know I’m exploring how I can help flood survivors in Pakistan.

Landmark is one of those things, that when you’re out of it you think ‘oh who needs these courses? Why can’t people fix their lives themselves?’ or you’re slightly embarrassed sharing with others because you think they’ll think you’re messed up or weird. But guess what? Everyone is messed up and weird in their own way. Every single person out there. And that’s not weird. This really hit me while doing my Landmark courses. People are just people. Whether they are young or old, men or women, straight or gay, black or white or whatever. In the courses, we had people who you think are so successful or experienced or drop-dead gorgeous or ‘completely sorted’ and then you realize, they’re dealing with their own set of issues. Even those who think they have no issues! :) This of course doesn’t mean that we only connect with people at the level of our ‘issues’ but what this opened up for me was that I became more forgiving of others and less intimidated. Instead of building up walls between myself and others, I was able to see them as just people with their strengths and weaknesses- just like me.

Anyway, every time I go to Landmark I’m reminded of who I say I want to be in life. And sometimes it’s good to get that reminder. We’re all so busy with our lives, who takes the time out for personal reflection and evaluation? How many times do we sincerely make promises that we actually know how to keep? Why do we break our word, especially to ourselves? And when we do, how do we restore integrity so that others, and especially we ourselves, can believe in the person we say we are? Sometimes it can be trivial things like resolving to sort out your cluttered drawer or over-committed calendar. And sometimes it can be something more significant like being there for a friend who needs you but you don’t know ‘how’ to help her or making an effort to speak to a family member who you just don’t know what to say to or when the love isn’t there.

Being at Landmark allows me to feel inspired and motivated to do something with my life. It makes me want to connect with family and friends. It pushes me to get organised, punctual and be true to my word- to others and myself. And what that results in is a peace of mind, freedom from resentment or regret, and happiness. As Ina Garten says when something is particularly yummy, “How bad can that be?” :D


It seems like ages since we last published a blog. It was great to be able to write a blog every single day in Ramadan. The work commitments were the same and we probably had more social commitments throughout the month.

Ramadan is a month of blessings and so is the rest of the year. Its amazing how so many good habits end with the month or even if they don’t the discipline somehow does get tainted a bit.

During the month of Ramadan I gave a word to myself that we will publish a verse we get inspired by, everyday for the whole month and it wasn’t that hard to be my word. What I want is to continue writing and sharing our thoughts and ideas with people with integrity. As they say nothing works without integrity. So, in Landmark terms, I create a “possibility” of being consistent in blog writing i.e. my commitment towards being consistent.

Which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?

هَلْ جَزَاء الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ

فَبِأَيِّ آلَاء رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ

Is the reward of goodness anything but goodness? Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny? (55:60-61)

Sometimes it feels as if nothing is going right. No matter how hard we try negativity showers from all around us. Terrorism, corruption, natural calamities is all what we hear and see. Why? Have we played a role in this? We certainly have not attained the reward of goodness.

In such times we should bring positivity in our life, in our actions. The verse emphasises that goodness attracts goodness.

We have been given the responsibility, the potential, the knowledge and yet…

Which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?

Why are we here?

God made us his ‘Khalifa’ i.e. vicegerent on earth. In chapter 2 God relates a very interesting conversation with Angels regarding our role in this world.

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلاَئِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُواْ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاء وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ

Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” (2:30)

The term ‘vicegerent’ is defined in the dictionary as “someone appointed to exercise all or some of the authority of another, esp.. the administrative powers of a ruler.” Our appointment as “vicegerent on earth” is a very powerful one, and sounds daunting if you look at it in this way.

Most of us fail to recognise this responsibility and most importantly the potential we have to fulfil this responsibility.

The verse also highlights our weaknesses that, Angels warned God, would hinder us in fulfilling this responsibility. We know well, how to do mischief and bloodshed on earth.

The verse made me think how well informed the Angels were, about this new creation and it’s characteristics. The second part of their statement that “whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” hints to the fact that they were also very disappointed by this appointment and were probably expecting themselves to be given a chance.

But there was something they missed out on. The role probably required a lot more than just praises and glorification. The verse ends with God’s response: “I know what ye know not.” – mention of the term “Knowledge” and that is exactly what got us in this role.

Among us there are many who represent our weaknesses and we see this in wars and destruction all around us but at the same time we have this amazing potential to do God’s work on earth. That mean a lot.

Everything that happens on Earth is within our remits, even the natural disasters I would think. If we are God’s vicegerent on earth, are we doing justice to this role? why are we subservient to the wrath of the earth? Something to think about!

Speak mildly no matter what

The following verse has been taken from Surah Ta-Ha. “Both of you” in this verse refers to Moses and Aaron who are instructed by God to approach Pharoah.

اذْهَبَا إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَى

فَقُولَا لَهُ قَوْلًا لَّيِّنًا لَّعَلَّهُ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَى

“Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds;

“But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (God).” (20:43-44)

What I find amazing about this verse is that while admitting that Pharoah has transgressed all bounds and was perhaps the meanest biggest baddest ruler, God still instructs Moses and Aaron to speak to him mildly. Two things strike me about this: First that no matter how bad someone is, we still need to keep our own tongues (and manners) in check and secondly, we should not give up on people. Even knowing how bad Pharoah was, this verse still points to hope and gives him a chance in case he repents.


وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

“And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for God loveth not any arrogant boaster.” (31:18)