once upon a story

There is something simply wonderful and magical about storytelling. If you want to see something truly beautiful, one of life’s simple pleasures, tell a child a story and see the wonder in her eyes. See the shine of her mind’s eye painting scene upon scene, hearing the voices and sensing the twists and turns of the story. And if you want to see something even more wonderful, ask the child to tell you a story. Then sit back and listen. Listen closely, sit close to the child, look deep into his eyes. Think to when was the last time you connected this closely to one so young. Then let the wonders of imagination and language work as the child spins his tale.

I was blessed to sit with two beautiful children the other day–my husband’s cousins, 4 and 8 years old–as we all three wove stories together. I first told a story, one I read in a story book by Rukhsana Khan. It was about a boy and Fajr prayer and as stories go, the Islamic moral or lesson was fairly obvious. I was afraid the eight-year-old would roll his eyes at such a didactic story, but he actually went along with it and when it was his turn, told his own story about generosity and sharing that was rather morally centered as well. The four year old girl told a typical fairy tale of dragons and the fight between good and evil, and I was amused to hear words such as “sneakily” and “visible” worked into her tale.

My mother used to read and tell us stories before going to bed, and it is one of the most memorable aspects of our family life. Her trademark stories about a family of rascally monkey children that coincidentally paralleled her five children have become a family legend, a source of inside jokes, and something to reminisce about long after the stories have ceased to be told. The tradition of story telling brings us together somehow, knitting our minds and hearts together as we turn language into a toy, teasing it out into enjoyable adventures and tales. It really touches me when my husband’s small cousin comes up to me and says, “Tell me a story!” and I wonder if my own son will do the same one day.

Storytelling has a way of getting to the heart in a way that mere telling doesn’t. The Qur’an is replete with stories of the people of old, “that ye may reflect” or “that ye may remember” as Allah tells us. The Prophet Muhammad would gather his companions and tell them of the prophets of the past, of righteous or ignoble people of the past and their fate. His companions would sit spellbound, absorb the lessons from those stories into their hearts, and use them to build their character.

I hope that I can build storytelling into my own family traditions. I would love to revive this oral culture and tradition and use it as a tool for living and learning……..“Tell me a story, mama…”


long abscence

Not sure if anyone actually keeps up with this thing on a regular basis or not, but in any case…

I’ve been out of town with family and hence AWOL. Of course the Eid days came, we were busy, and then myself and then Abdullah fell sick. Hopefully will get back to doing some writing in these next couple of days if I haven’t scared everyone off already. 😉

post Eid random thoughts

As have finished the days of Eid I’m thinking about all of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings on the virtues of the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah and how good deeds are multiplied in those days. I’m sad, as those days passed all too quickly with not enough of an effort on my part to do better. It’s a usual feeling, not unlike the post-Ramadan letdown.

But what bothered me was how preoccupied we get in these days in Eid preparations that I’m not so sure are necessary, like shopping for food and gifts. Don’t we realize how precious these blessed days are, rather than spending them traipsing around shopping malls? I’m talking to myself 100% here as I realized on the evening of the Day of Arafah that the whole day was basically shot being out and about. Meanwhile our brethren at Hajj were spending that whole day in intense ‘ibaadah. Ideally we are supposed to try and achieve some semblance of the “spiritual high” that the hujaaj feel in Makkah, but it’s impossible to do that if you are enmeshed in dunyawi stuff like shopping.

Mental note to self: do shopping before hand and make the day of Arafah a special, family oriented day of worship.

Nursing lounge in National Airport

I just flew into Washington, D.C. today, at Reagan National Airport. So after getting off the plane, I discovered something…they have a “Nursing Lounge”! Kudos to them. But wait, guess where the flippin’ nursing lounge is located?

In the bathroom!

Umm, let me get this straight. You want me to come feed my son in a claustrophobically small little area while all around me echo the sounds and smells of foul bodily functions? Come again?

Scratch that kudos…jeers to you, Reagan National Airport. Nursing mothers deserve a bit more courtesy. How about making that stall just outside the bathroom but in the same general area? How about having it actually fulfill the purpose of a nursing lounge by providing a quiet, comfortable place for mothers to nurse? As it is, not only is it in a dirty place, but it is loud and poorly designed–one hard bench and a changing table. As Muslims, we are furthermore taught not to dwell too long in bathrooms, for being places of excrement, urine, and other filth, they are places of congregation for the jinn (an oftentimes satanic creation from fire).

As far as nursing lounges go, fortunately I haven’t had too much of a need for them so far, since wearing large hijabs make it easy to nurse discreetly and minimize distractions. A sling is also useful for this purpose. Yet Abdullah goes through these times where he absolutely will not nurse when there are too many things to see and hear. And sometimes a mama just wants to let her guard down and nurse however, without covering up, without worrying about people staring and gaping. As a Muslimah modesty is a priority for me so I would appreciate such a lounge for those times. Otherwise I can and have made do just well, alhamdulillah.

So what then is the deal with this foolishly designed lounge? It’s totally impractical, and to be honest, offensive. It bespeaks the fact that we do not have a breastfeeding friendly culture. Nursing is such an important need for infants and yet no proper provisions are made for mothers who make the choice to do it? “Breast is Best,” they say, but then where’s the support for it? Where is the culture that encourages it and facilitates it?

When the designers of aforesaid nursing lounge are ready to take their sandwiches in that small stall amid the echoes of flushing and eat their lunch, I will be ready to take my son in there to feed him his food. Until then, I’ll just stick with my lovely hijabs and slings and and feed him anywhere and everywhere, thankyouverymuch. 😉

Learning Not to Cry

Learning Not To Cry

Serb soldiers terrorize a family by dropping their three-year-old
down a well. Hours later, she’s rescued from a ledge. But after months,
the child won’t stop her day-long wails

                                    From a review of a book on tears,
                                    SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, October 1999

Smart tears, fleeing down her cheeks’
soft slope, the nursery’s vintage terror hides
inside the skull you leave, its darkness riddled
with secret holes where drops fall
like palpitations, plinking far below, openings
the leering faces can slither through.
The ledge was smaller than her body
so even a puff of air trembles with
disaster. No wonder, tiny refugees,
such a constant stream of you rolls down.


In time, in the forest, power shifts and the witch
dies in an oven so hot metal sags. Gretel
saw her hair go up, black locks
above the straight orange screams.
And yet, they say, the crone survives.



At last the child sleeps, years going by
before she wakes to a kiss, or
to a foul breath — They say the way
to cease to cry is to feel something
else. So, savage tears, you shrink
back into her skull to become
the yellowed lens she sees through,
biding her time in the blue flicker
of nightly news, clicking
the channels — click click
the chamber mapped and loaded.


Jacquelyn Malone
Volume CLXXX, Number 6
September 2002

a beautiful verse

“And ordain for us that which is good, in this life and in the Hereafter: for we have turned unto You.” He said: “With My punishment I visit whom I will; but My mercy extends to all things. I shall ordain it for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs.”

Qur’an: Al-A’raaf: 156

I love this verse, for a few reasons:

  • The du’aa: We ask for goodness in both this life and the hereafter, and to seek goodness in this life does not imply a lack of spirituality. Of course for one to only focus on this world would be blameworthy, but the believer seeks goodness everywhere.
  • It gives us an example of making du’aa by our good deeds. We ask for good in this life and the hereafter by virtue of the fact that we have turned to Allah: “Innaa hudnaa ilayk.”
  • Of course if we fall short in turning to Allah, when we recite this, we feel somewhat ashamed that we are claiming to have turned to Allah. In order to make one’s recitation truthful, one feels compelled to actually enact the seeking of guidance in one’s life.
  • Allah speaks to us in the first person–what greater honor is this?
  • Allah reminds us of his punishment, but describes it as something limited to those whom He wills. However, his mercy is described in bountiful terms: “My Mercy extends to all things.” It sends a ray of hope into the life of the believer.
  • Lest the reader become too complacent with the notion of Allah’s mercy automatically extending to him regardless of his actions, Allah explains who is most deserving of mercy: “I shall ordain it for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs.” Thus, our receiving this mercy is predicated on our belief, taqwaa, and acts of goodness. The verse serves as an encouragement for us to perfect these matters in our life.

a look at “Unconditional Parenting”

I’m reading Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting. It’s thought provoking and challenges our assumptions about parenting (which, when you get down to it, often times translate into ASSumptions, but I digress…). Often times our disciplinary tactics send the message to children that we only love them when they do what we want. Haven’t got through much of it, but this comment by Dr. William Sears on the back cover was rather interesting: “This book underscores an important parenting principle: Discipline is more about having the right relationship with your child than having the right techniques.” Got me interested already.

One gripe I have about gentle discipline as it is perceived in the world today is that it’s often times confused for permissiveness and namby-pamby, lassiez-faire parenting where these new-agey parents spout some psychobabble over lattes as their progeny run amok, creating all sorts of havoc in the well-organized world.


Anyway. In an interview with Alfie Kohn he was asked if he wasn’t just advocating permissive parenting. His response?

First of all, the real problem today isn’t permissiveness. It’s the fear of permissiveness. We’re so afraid of spoiling our kids that we err in the opposite direction. I mean, sure, I’ve been annoyed by screaming children in restaurants whose parents don’t lift a finger to intervene, but for every example like that, there are hundreds of examples of children who are restricted unnecessarily, yelled at, threatened — basically bullied by their parents. Spend some time at a playground or a birthday party, you’ll see what I mean. The real parenting epidemic in our society is the tendency to overcontrol children. And, by the way, liberal, educated parents tend to use techniques that are less crude but no less controlling. My second point, though, is that I’m not arguing for more permissiveness. Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them. That’s a false dichotomy, and I reject both options. The real alternative to doing things to kids is to work with them.

(emphasis added)

That last bit is just brilliant: “Kids don’t need us to back off and let them do whatever the hell they want, any more than they need us to control them.”

I also like that parting shot at “liberal parents” too because I have seen some parenting books try to come off as being gentle and anti-punishment, etc. etc. but are really just more refined forms of the same thing. Call a spade a spade, please.

I’m looking forward to see what practical ideas Kohn has for parents in the trenches.