let them in

Look to those who love you and have your best interests at heart, and let them in. Let them see you–the unfiltered you; the one without the mask; the one who is hurting; the one who is rejoicing. Lower your walls for them. Invite them in.

Those who love you–they want all of you, brokenness and all. Those who love you–they want the true you, not the one that hides behind false smiles and says, “I’m fine.”

The greatest gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of your true self, unhidden.

The greatest display of trust you can give to your loved ones is to speak your truth to them.

clasped-hands-541849_960_720The greatest act of daring you can do is to is to allow your loved ones to see the parts of you that lie in shadow and darkness. To courageously be you, while trusting that they will embrace your whole self.

To do this, you will need to be brave. You will need to allow yourself to feel; to be vulnerable; to be broken. You will need to let go of your shame, of your sense of unworthiness. You will need to draw upon stores of strength that you never knew you possessed.

If you do this, you will find that eventually, you will feel an incredible lightness of self. You will find that the love you share will multiply. You and your loved ones will see each other with eyes that see more keenly, and love more deeply. You will wonder how it is possible that this love you share could have grown so much, and you will realize that it can grow even more still.

Not all deserve this side of you. Look to those who truly keep a part of you in their heart. Draw these special ones in. For we are all suffering in some way, and after Divine help, it is these dear souls that help us, share the load with us, as we walk hand-in-hand on the long journey home.

 

–Merium, The Muslim Educator

Dreading the Sex-Ed Talk? Try this instead

#MuslimSexEd

So many parents dread “The Talk.” They will do anything to ignore it, delay it, and outsource it. I have had parents tell me, knowing that I am a teacher and rather open in the way I discuss: “Can you just explain this to my kids so I don’t have to?”

Forget the idea of “The Talk.” Think of it as “The Ongoing Conversation.” It starts at birth and continues through adulthood. It is a dialogue that is woven into everyday life as something frank, matter-of-fact, and not shameful.

It starts with respect for the body of the child in infancy. It continues into toddlerhood, when you use anatomically correct names.

It’s the matter-of-fact answer that you give to your four year old when he asks what makes his sister a girl: “She doesn’t have a penis like you do,” you say.

”Whaaaat??” he will say, “You mean everyone doesn’t have a penis? That’s crazy!” Then you think to yourself, “Freud would get a kick out of that comment.”

The conversation continues when your children don’t see their mother praying. You explain that there’s something called menstruation, and you will tie it into reproduction and tell them about how every month, there is a window of opportunity for a woman to become pregnant, and if she does not, she will shed her uterine lining during menstruation.

When your children go to the science museum and see an exhibit on skeletons, you point out that the female skeleton has wider hips to accommodate a baby during childbirth.

As your children read science books and watch documentaries, they will come to know that animals “mate” in order to have babies. They will hear about mating behaviors. My son will often point out: “See that bird? They usually fly like that when they are looking for a mate.” This is a great opportunity to talk about how animals engage in mating behaviors to attract potential mates. “Even humans use mating behaviors as well to attract others.” More conversation ensues.

These frank conversations mean that your kids don’t have a problem talking about these issues openly. My 8 year old daughter told me that her friend saw on the TV show “Anne With an E” that the girls were making fun of Anne because she was the only one who didn’t get her period. What a great conversation starter!

Another time, my son got confused and said, “Since you are not praying this week, does that mean you are having a baby?” Time for more conversation, this time explaining that no, menstruation means a woman is not pregnant.

After years of this type of frank openness, do you think it will be hard to explain the actual mechanics of reproduction? Everything ties in together, and the idea of sex is not something that exists in a vacuum–it is part of this beautiful conversation about our bodies, our feelings, gender, physiology. Honestly, after all these conversations, an astute enough child would probably intuitively figure out how humans reproduce.

All of this openness serves to create an environment that is free of shame regarding the body and sexuality. I do not mean by this that it is free of modesty–what I refer to is the toxic sense of shame in one’s body, thinking that the privates are dirty, or that sex is a crude, dirty act borne of necessity.

When children see our discomfort in talking about the body, or about sexuality, it can give them the message that these are sordid, shameful topics. They think that “good boys” and “good girls” don’t talk about these things. And in their marriages, it can lead to a relationship where sexuality is not cherished and respected.

How do you handle these conversations in your home? Do you have any advice to share regarding how to address sex ed in an open and inviting way? Please let us know in the comments.

Another “dear mom on the phone” post…

Dear Mom at the Park on Her Phone,

Wait, why are these things always addressed to the moms? Oh, that’s right, because mothers are the only ones expected to parent perfectly; we get so happy at park daddies that we don’t bother to judge them.

I digress. Dear mother on her phone: thank you. Thank you for taking the moment to yourself. Thank you for trusting your children’s competence enough to tear your eyes away from them and allow them to play while you decompress. You’re nailing this parenting thing.

You’re making a solid choice here to relax on your phone while your kids are playing, because as we all know, chaos will erupt the second you leave. 

20170725_113850

Heck, give yourself a pat on the back for even making it to the park. I’m typing this at the park right now and I had no desire to be here. I was grumbling a little bit as I was taking them, so my husband deadpanned, “If the kids want a park, tell them we have a park. It’s called a backyard.”

So here I am, on my phone, proudly engaging in some benign neglect of my offspring. Maybe I can increase my street cred by surreptitiously using my phone inside of a copy of a Jane Austen novel. 

Much love to you, fellow phone swiping mother at the park–I feel you. I am you.

Our dear Nabra, why do bad things happen to good people?

#Nabra

“Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

In the face of tragedy, it is this question that burns in many a heart. The youth are especially vulnerable, and find that it is all too easy for their faith to crack under the strain of the world’s heartaches.

You see, that same God gave us a precious gift of free will. It’s the same free will that led Nabra to choose to be a giver, a helper, one who fed her friends and spent her nights praying to her lord. And it’s the same free that her murderer used to make the choice to take her precious life.

These tragedies are consequences of our free will.

The angels understood this, for when they heard from Allah that He would create generations of humans on earth, they immediately questioned why He would create beings that would sow seeds of corruption and shed innocent blood. So it has been a given that we would misuse this free will.

But what did Allah say?

He said, “I know that which you do not know.”

You see, He knew that for every human that used their free will to cheat, steal, maim, and kill, there would be many more humans of beauty and faith. There would be humans like Nabra, who would use their free will to fast by day, feed her friends, and pray by night.

Without that opportunity for us to actively choose to do good, our free will would be a farce.

But Allah doesn’t just leave us here on this earth to fight it out, kill and be killed, suffer and toil, and have that be an end of it.

He’s “maaliki yawmid-deen.” The Master of the Day of Judgment. The word “deen” means that it is a day of recompense. A day where justice is served. A day where the evil ones will get only the amount of punishment that is justly due to them, not an ounce more, but where the good ones will get a reward that is infinitely beyond their deserving.

Not only does he amply recompense and care for those victims like Nabra, but his mercy is so gloriously vast that every second of pain her loved ones feel will also be recompensed. Every tear of her mother. Every ache of her father. Every fear, sorrow, and hardship of her friends and community will all be recompensed on that Day.

His Mercy is so vast. We are grieving, we are weeping as we reap the consequences of a world in which humans have been given free rein to make choices that can build or destroy.

Don’t think that He has left her, that He has left us.

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ اللّهَ غَافِلاً عَمَّا يَعْمَلُ الظَّالِمُونَ

“Do not think that Allah is unaware of what the evildoers do” (Surah Ibrahim: 42).

وَلَدَيْنَا كِتَابٌ يَنطِقُ بِالْحَقِّ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

“And with us is a record that speaks the truth; and none shall be wronged.” (Surah Muminoon: 62)

Dear Nabra, may Allah give you a reward that will erase every second of your pain. May He give your family and community ease and healing. May you be now rejoicing in peace in His Gardens of bliss. Aameen, ya rabb.

my Lord–my dear, dear Lord

After reading Surah al-Anbiyaa, I noticed The Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) as well as other prophets quoted as saying, ربي “Rabbee” (my lord) in their prayers. It’s such a simple yet lovely phrase: My Lord. ربي Rabbee. Here in this moment, it is just me and You. You are *my* caretaker, nourisher, supporter, sustainer. I love you so much that I call You mine. A deep, enduring, touching phrase we can take and use in our own private munajaat–discourse– with Allah.

Podcast–The Ramadan Intention Multiplier Machine

Before Ramadan, we had a small halaqah where we (the adults and kids present) discussed the idea of intentions for fasting. My husband pointed out that one way to maximize rewards in Ramadan is to stack up your intentions. So a person intends to fast because Allah ordered it, and because he seeks Bab ar-Rayyan, and because she wishes to distance herself from the fire, and, and….

The next day, I asked the kids: what if we could create an Intention Multiplier Machine? You take a simple intention: “I am fasting,” and then add on any number of variations.

20170502_145914You do have to be careful not to have conflicting intentions. So for example: “I am praying for Allah,” and, “I am praying because I want others to think I’m a good Muslim.”

The discussion about rewards came up: what if you are promised a reward like some money for fasting or for completing Qur’an reading?

That led to me to discuss my concerns with the idea of rewards–I dislike them for this very reason: that they lead divided intentions and can detract from iklaas (sincerity).

The recording of our discussion can be accessed here at this link: Intention Multiplier Machine Podcast.

This is a good example of a type of discussion I will have with my kids after we have learned some material. A first session would include the discussion of the topic using the relevant verses from the Qur’an or statements of the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam). After that, we will have a session like this one where we mind-map the concept or come up with some other graphic organizer for the content.

In an activity and discussion like this, I am looking for:

  • the ability to use what they have learned in the past and apply it to novel situations
  • the ability to synthesize their knowledge and come up with ways to organize it and relate it to other areas
  • the ability to “think outside the box” and expand their thinking on a subject

I was touched by how my son came up with the point in the bottom of the picture. He was reflecting on the fact that I could not fast due to my health, and so he said that one intention he could make was to be grateful for the ability to fast, since others could not do so. So the actual act of fasting in itself is done out of gratitude and appreciation for one’s health.

Do you have any other ideas for intentions to add to the list? If your kids listen to the discussion, please share their feedback!

our faith, our feelings, our hearts

When you think of eemaan (faith), think of “heart-sense.” The foundation of our emaan begins in the heart–with the speech of the heart, and the actions of the heart. The speech of the heart is it’s acknowledgement and affirmation that there is none worthy of worship but Allah. The action of the heart is the next step–it is when the heart overflows with submission, love, hope, and fear of Allah. From this starting point, when our tongue speaks or our body acts, they do so with this “heart sense” already in place.


So many times we live our lives on the surface level only. Our tongues speak, our limbs act, and yet the heart is silent and still. We do this with our friends and family, when we interact with them absent-minded and distracted. We do this with our lord, when we stand and bow like empty shells, lacking any sense of heart during our worship. We weren’t created this way. On the contrary, we were created with hearts that were pure and full of instinctive connection with Allah and with others around us. We came into this world truly feeling and embodying every moment from the depths of our heart. We quickly learn to shut down that heart-sense and create a shell of insincerity around us.

Here’s the amazing thing about kids, though: they are still pure and so their heart-sense radiates forth in everything they do. When they gaze with wonder at the heavens, their heart knows that this is the mark of their Creator. When they put their arms around you, those are not only arms holding you; it is a clasp that starts out from the depths of their hearts.

I realize this when my kids settle in for bed every night. I’m worn down and wanting to shut the light, offer a half-hearted “Love you!” and be done with it. I’m old and jaded, and my body is used to acting on auto-pilot without the heart-sense to guide it. Not for the kids.

When Abdullah hugs me, it’s with a hug so deep and an “I love you mama, sooooo much” that is so earnest it can’t be faked. And on cue, Zaynab calls out from her bed and there is always a catch in her voice, a crack. “I love you, Mama.” It’s a feeling so big she doesn’t know what to do with it, so her body shows her heart on it’s sleeve with that tremble in the voice as she speaks it.

I think about this now. How often do I ask my kids to betray their heart-sense and live inauthentically? It might be the time they are upset at something seemingly trivial and my response is to distract and deny: “Oh, come on, that’s not something to worry about; let’s do this instead.”

What if instead, I responded by going deep down to the heart-sense? “That really upset you. You are shaking. You must have been really hurt by what your friends did.”

If we abandon engaging the heart-sense with our children, it becomes harder for us to engage them in issues of faith. Over time, as we push away real feelings and anything that seems uncomfortable or awkward, our kids become jaded just like us. You see this when they start to not show the same enthusiasm that they did when they were younger, preferring instead to give a shrug and nod of the head. When you try to talk about virtues like courage and love, empathy and eeman, they are often hesitant and out of touch with these feelings. Often times, children don’t have the words to describe how they feel, because they haven’t been given ample opportunity to name and identify feelings in a non-judgmental way.

Eemaan is deeply tied in with emotion and feeling–in fact, true eemaan is rooted in a deep love for Allah, a fear of his punishment, and a hope for his reward. You can’t choose to ignore the heart-sense in some areas of life and then expect it to blossom in others. We need to encourage a heart-sense in both areas of life: in our dealings with our Lord, and in our dealings with our fellow humans.

Questions to ask ourselves would be:

“Am I focusing on outward appearances here, or on the khushoo’ (humility) of the heart?”

“Is my tongue the only thing moving, or is my heart being moved?”

“Am I comfortable talking about my inner life?” This includes eemaan, love, hope, and fear of Allah, as well as the myriad human emotions that we experience regularly.

You see, when you shut down any discussion on internal feelings with your children due to your discomfort, it becomes hard to discuss eemaan and taqwa. These things are deeply personal aspects of us that require great trust and courage to be vulnerable enough to share this inner life with others. If you are consistently brushing off, invalidating, and shutting down the conversation regarding feelings in your home, you simply can’t expect to have an open discussion regarding faith.