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Category Archives: Ask Abez

Because people ask me. So I answer, InshaAllah.

April is autism awareness month!

Alhamdulillah, very excited to be on the GreedforIlm podcast for World Autism Day talking social stigma in the Muslim community and spiritual coping for special needs parents. ūüôā

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First Come, First Served; Rubina!

What is your schedule like? I have a 7 month old now, any suggestions on how to be a calm parent, how to give the right tarbiyat, how to incline them towards Islam and the spicy Desi food. – Rubina
AssalamuAlaikum Rubina. ūüôā ¬†Children are weird, sticky, lovely, quirky, fascinating miniatures of ourselves- doubly as complicated and while being only half as sensible. ¬†I don’t think I can cover the whole gamut of good Islamic parenting for three¬†reasons-
  1. I don’t know the whole gamut of good Islamic parenting.
  2. Seven month olds are still struggling with object permanence, maybe it’s a little early for tarbiyya ūüėČ
  3. I have a good recipe for Nihari.

But I can talk about patience and staying calm.  So here I goes.

On no soul…

The ayah in the Qur’an that everyone refers to when they’re about to have a nervous breakdown- about how Allah never burdens a soul with more than they may bear? It includes children.

I know right. Seriously.

No matter how many times they throw up on your keyboard, break your phone, rub jelly onto your Eid clothes or pee on Dado’s silk carpet, it is within your capability to maintain sunnah-like calm. ¬†So say this to yourself: I can do this. I can follow the Sunnah. I can teach my children with love. ¬†I can even discipline¬†them with love in my eyes even if there’s disappointment on my face. And when I mess up, I’m going to apologize to them with love and show them what a mature Muslim does when they make a mistake.

Cast yourself as the leader, not the victim:

Compare: & contrast

  1. Everything was so much easier before I had kids- I could wake up for Fajr, I even prayed tahajjud sometimes. I read more Qur’an, I attended more lectures. ¬†I was in better shape. My butt was perkier. They’ve made my life so hard, and I know motherhood isn’t easy but sometimes I really wish I could be left alone sometimes. ¬†Nutshell: Children ruined your life.
  2. SubhanAllah- I know I’m struggling right now and boy does my butt look flabby, but InshaAllah once the baby starts sleeping through the night I’m going to start easing back into Ibadah. Maybe bebeface and I can start learning some Qur’an together. ¬†Nutshell: Children are part of your life.

There’s a difference between Nutshell 1 and Nutshell 2- even though the story is the same, it’s how you perceive your role. ¬†Are you an unwilling victim of procreation? Or are you going to be a Muslim Momma Warrior? A messy, damp, tired, wild-eyed Ummi on a Mission to do the best you can with what you have and thank Allah for what you don’t?

Your words affect your thoughts as much as your thoughts affect your words. The mental story you tell yourself about being a young mother determines how it all plays out.

The Pro-Tip: No-No-Prompt

One of the best tools any parent can have in their behavior modification belt is the simple rule of No-No-Prompt. ¬†Let’s say, for example, you tell your 1 year old not to bang his cup on the floor.

You make sure you have his attention and you say, “Gimme the cup please!’

He stares at your blankly. He has such chubby cheeks.

You repeat yourself in the same tone- firm, straightforward. Not sing-songy, not scary, not begging, you just say it. “Gimme the cup please!”

When he ignores you the second time with the glint in his eye that says he just wants to see which cracks first- you or the cup- that’s the second No. ¬†You told him once, No response. You told him twice, no response. ¬†Now here comes the prompt. The third time around, you just say, Gimme the cup. Then, you take the cup and say thanks! and put the cup out of his reach.

He might fuss and wiggle and whine and cry until he blows snot bubbles, so you have two options. You can take the short way or the long way, depending on what your goal for that teaching moment is.

The short way is to maintain consistency, to distract him away from the cup because you don’t want him to have it for whatever reason. He’s not thirsty, he’s just experimenting with the limits of your patience and the durability of BPA-free plastic. You said no cup, so no cup. Do not cave. Do not give him the cup. Life will go on.

The long way might be a case where he might want a drink and you’re ok with him having the cup, you’re just not ok with him banging it. ¬†So when he calms down, you can give him the cup again and if he bangs again- lather, rinse, repeat. Use no-no-prompt to teach that drinking is ok but banging is not. It will take more than few tries. It may even take days, but if you succeed in being consistent, he will learn that if he bangs he’ll lose the cup.

Remember, no kid ever died of crying. And no parent can teach a child that does not listen. Babies get off easy because they look like their faces are made of buttercream, but they’re cheeky and smart. ¬†Cheeky babies that get away with snatching toys, hitting, and screaming to get what they want inevitably grow up into cheeky toddlers that snatch toys, hit others, and scream to get what they want.

There is no magical age at which your children will suddenly start behaving properly, so you have to¬†set the standard for compliance without fear, yelling, or hitting from early on simply through being consistent in your requests (No-No-Prompt) and not caving to crying when you’re following through.

And now, Not Your Nano’s¬†Nihari:

Find some big ole beef cubes and trim the fat off (a kilo?)

Sautee’ them in the bottom of a pressure cooker with half a cup of oil and half a pack of Shan Nihari Masala. You can use a whole pack if you plan to serve dinner with a fire extinguisher.

Once the beef is brown and the oil in the pan begins to separate from the spicy, meaty, juiciness- pour in a litre and a half of boiling hot water.

Then, close the pressure cooker and try not to blow up the kitchen for around 30 mins.

Still, without blowing up your kitchen, open the pan and find a piece of beef to poke. It should be soft but not breaking into pieces. If it’s already too soft, you can actually take the beef out and put it to the side while we finish up the sauce so it doesn’t disintegrate further.

Do you have friend onions? Well you need them. Take a whole cup and throw them into your blender with just enough water to make a paste. This is not cheating, this is food science. Put this paste into your Nihari. It is yummy.

Now, to your bubbling pot of spicy brown broth- add the juice of a whole lemon, salt to taste and a handful of chopped coriander. If you’re happy with the taste, thicken it with some flour- dissolve 1/2 cup flour in a cup of cold water separately. Mix well because nobody likes lumpy Nihari.

Ok, so you should now have a hot, salty, sour, beefy pot of beefy goodness. And here’s what your Nano doesn’t know:

Serve it on french fries. Take a huge heaping scoop of Nihari, pour it over fries and garnish with yogurt, chaat masala, fried onions, fresh coriander and lemon juice. It is amazing.

And when you do, send me a picture so we can post it on twitter and see if Nihari fries go viral. ūüėČ

Dear Tired of Trying

“This made me weep today. I‚Äôve already read this post 4-5 months ago and yesterday while thinking about what I‚Äôm going through.. I got Exactly these feelings .. the forming of outer cover .. the smashing .. the shattering .. And I thought of You. This article. And then as I checked your site today I picked up some random article displayed and started reading.. And it turned out to be the Same One I was thinking of yesterday! It brought me back to Realisation. BUT, Zeba, Do you still have that ‚Äėfear/depression‚Äô after the shattering? I do.. still. The shattering did make me gain more trust .. But .. the fear of those trials or the depression still remains in a corner. I am still dangling between Hope and Fear (from the trials, Astaghfirullah).” -Tired of Trying

Dear Tired of Trying,

Do I ever still have fear or depression after having the hardened out covering on my heart smashed?  Are tears wet? Does loneliness hurt? Does the pope wear a funny hat?

There, I made you smile.  A little bit.  I hope.  And now, a side-story!

I had a muscle biopsy once- I can’t remember if I blogged about it- but it was done with only local anaesthetic on my skin because the muscle they removed needed to be chemical-free for a correct lab analysis. ¬†This was not a needle biopsy- this was a crouton biopsy- where they cut out a 1 cm by 1 cm cube of my right arm and then cauterised the two-inch hole shut. I still have a dent in my right arm from where the muscle was taken.

That is not my arm.  But that is what they did to my arm.

That is not my arm. But that is what they did to my arm.

I don’t know if I should even try to describe what it felt like. ¬†In theory, I know that scalpels are sharp and surgeons are precise. ¬†In reality, it felt like having my arm sawed open with a dull, rusty hacksaw and then carved into with a melon baller. ¬†Have you ever thrown up from pain? Me neither, but I wanted to. ¬†My brain was screaming in complete panic- every muscle in my body tensed to flee- and nothing I have ever done- no surgery, no accident, no mortal wound and no child birthed- was ever as painful as having that muscle biopsy. ¬†But I did it. ¬†And I did it willingly. ¬†And I was grateful my surgeon did it to me. ¬†If doing it again meant getting healthier, I would do it again. ¬†Would I be looking forward to it? Hell no. ¬†But I would do it again. ¬†That is pain with¬†purpose.

Pain is coming.  Are you afraid?

If you are, then remember this: The hammer of Qadr is going to beat you against the anvil of the Master Smith. ¬†If you’ve been burned, it’s because He’s scorching the impurities out of you. ¬†If you’ve been cooled off only to be thrust into fire again, it’s because you needed that second heating.

If you feel like your life is nothing but an incessant pounding- where you get smashed in the face by Qadr of Allah over, and over, and over again, remember- that is how steel is crafted.  Your heart was cold, hard, sin-encrusted rock.  Allah burns the rock away, heats it until it is soft, and then pounds it into what He wills. Some of us are swords.  Others of us are armor.  What better honor than letting your pain turn you into a shield for others? AllahuAkbar.

(If you thought you were done- that everything had been burned out of you and you weren’t in any danger of being mistaken for coal, remember, hearts rust. ¬†Blades dull. ¬†And that’s why life’s a grindstone, and that’s why Allah is pressing your face against it.)

Fear of Allah is part of faith, but fear of Allah’s will is opposite to Trust in Allah. ¬†Fear is a button that Shaitaan pushes so that when Allah turns the heat up, you turn away. ¬†Or when He lays your heart upon the anvil, you don’t yield- you break. ¬†Without trusting Allah and trusting in the purpose of that pain, you flee in terror and go back to being a rock with a heart inside.

Except, now it’s broken.

The pain Allah intends for you has a purpose, and when you understand what the purpose is, not only do you not fear it, you would also volunteer again to have the purpose accomplished. ¬†That is why- despite the indescribable pain of childbirth, women still have- and love- their children. ¬†This is also why I’d offer up my other arm for a muscle biopsy if there was a chance it would make me better. ¬†That is why, when the blows start raining down on your head- you can place it gently down in submission and soften your heart, making it malleable in Allah’s hands. ¬†Or you can turn to face Allah, rather than flee Him, and find yourself beautifully refashioned by the work He’s done. ¬†If you knew what beauty He was crafting you towards,¬†¬†you would miss being on the anvil when you’d been given a break ¬†And if you hadn’t been on the anvil for a while, you’d get worried that you weren’t worthy of anymore detailing from Him, and then- then you would really be afraid.

Trust in Allah.  If you find yourself being fearful, remember that He promised no burden greater than you could bear, and fear is a weapon Shaitan uses to prevent you from being turned into one against him.

Dear Not a Loser…

“Asalaamualaikum please don’t think dat i am belittling your problems but i want to kill myself but i cant as it is prohibited i feel i am accumulating sins day by day isn’t it better for me to die i am not satisfied with my life i don’t want to do engineering but for my parents sake i have to and i am not able to observe completely rules of hijab in the college i wanno cry and shriek dat i cant carry on anymore with this life which i am almost sure will lead me to hell. -Loser”

AssalamuAlaikum Sister, please note that I refuse to call you a Loser. ūüôā ¬†Now bear with me as I go off on a bit of a tangent.

Shaitaan is possibly millions¬†of years old and pretty damn sneaky. ¬†His goal, at the end of the day, is to get as many of us into hell with him as possible, and one of the ways that he does this is using the myth of what I call “Muslim Perfection.”

The idea is pretty simple.  Shaitaan says:

Do it all perfectly or just stop, because you’re embarrassing yourself.

A person as horrible as you are has no chance of getting into Jannah.  

In fact, just kill yourself now.  At least it will be over sooner.

Al-imńĀm Sufyaan ath-Thawri (161 H) is known as one of the Eight Ascetics of his age.  He was, rahimahullah, 'aabid ‚Äď a worshipper. Twenty years of Jihad by night.  No sweetness was experienced by ath-Thawri (rahimahullah) for twenty years? Nevertheless he kept the course with unwavering inspirational sabr.  He struggled in fear, campaigned in love, and toiled in hope of AllńĀh. http://muslimmatters.org/2010/04/12/jihad-by-night-yahya-ibrahim/

Al-imńĀm Sufyaan ath-Thawri (161 H)¬†struggled for twenty years to enjoy night salah- but he kept it up until he did. ¬†For twenty years.

His message¬†is ¬†straightforward and actually very insidious. ¬†People all over the world actually give up trying to be better Muslims because¬†they fall short of their own expectations for how effortless, euphoric, and impeccable their Islam should be. ¬†Shaitaan wants you to believe that there are naturally religious people, and then there’s everybody else. ¬†And the reason why you are having a hard time is because you aren’t one of the beautiful people.

Some people he tricks, others- like Imam Sufyaan ath-Thawri- saw through this cheap trick and insisted on praying at night for twenty years even though he wasn’t “feeling it.” ¬†

Imagine if, one day- he had just thrown his hands up and said “You know what? I’m not cut out for this, I’ve been praying for twenty years and I’ve yet to find this whole peace and contentment with my salah. ¬†What’s the point. ¬†I’m never going to get it right…”

Shaitaan is trying to convince you that because your Islam is less than perfect, you’re a failure who should give up already. In reality, everyone is a sinner and everyone struggles. ¬†The best people aren’t those who sin, but those whose sins cause them to try even harder and draw even closer to Allah next time. ¬†For some people, major sins can be major set-backs. ¬†For others, they are life-changing events that mark the end of heedlessness and the beginning of seeking Allah’s pleasure.

Every Muslim is a combination of successes and failures when it comes to their religious practice. ¬†So as a sinner, you’re in great company! ¬†Everyone, everywhere, accumulates sin on a daily basis, and if everyone like you just killed themselves, we’d all be dead. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Join the club sister. ¬†We’re over 6 billion strong!

O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you.  

-Excerpt from Hadith Qudsi, full hadith here.

¬†Shaitaan wants you to think that the passing grade for this test is 100% and failure is everything else. ¬†But if you believe him, then you’re buying into an insult to Allah. ¬† How? Allah is The Most Merciful, Most Forgiving- Most Loving, Most Gracious, Most Kind- He alone has attained perfection and as The All-Knowing, He knows how and what we’re made of- so by what crazy logic would He mercilessly penalize us for not reaching a standard that He would best know that we could never attain?

Shaitaan might add at this point: well, ok, Allah is the Best. ¬†But you can’t think that your sorry butt will get into Jannah with *that* old sack of a soul. ¬†Have you seen the state of your nafs? ¬†Brother, it is bad.

If you think you’re too bad for Allah to forgive, then you’re grossly underestimating Allah’s capacity for forgiveness. ¬†You’re implying that your capacity to sin is even greater than Allah’s capacity to forgive. ¬†Please, don’t insult God. ¬†They don’t call Him Al-Rahman for nothing.

On the authority of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say: Allah the Almighty said:
 
O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind.
O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you.
O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it.

Related by at-Tirmidhi (also by Ahmad ibn Hanbal). Its chain of authorities is sound.

Whenever I read that Hadith, it puts a certain picture in my head, and in my primitive photoshop imagination, it looks like this:
Mountain of SinsRepentance for a mountain of sins is equal to a mountain of blessings. ¬†So, the greater the sin you’ve committed, the greater the reward for seeking forgiveness. ¬†Knowing that this is how Allah works helps us appreciate how truly generous Allah is in His forgiveness- instead of seeking forgiveness on a level -10 sin and only being returned to a clean slate with 0, we seek forgiveness on a level -10 and in response are given a +10 in its place. ¬†AllahuAkbar.

So yes, Shaitaan wants you to forget that Allah is the Greatest- even in His capacity to forgive those who sincerely ask it. ¬†He wants you to¬†think that you only have two choices; perfection or failure, and¬†since perfection ain’t gonna happen, what option does Shaitaan leave you? Killing yourself and getting it over with already. ¬†But, there’s a third option that Shaitaan doesn’t want you to forget about it:

Between perfection and failure lies your only real choice:  Fight.

Fight shaitaan’s insistence upon your failure, fight your own soul’s inclination to sin, fight your own weaknesses and no matter how hard you’ve been hit or how long you’ve been laying on the ground- get up and keep fighting. ¬†Fight shaitaan as hard as he’s fighting you, as long as he’s fighting you, and don’t stop fighting him until the Angel of Death draws your soul gently away from your body and into the safety of your grave, spacious and fragrant with the winds of Jannah, where you can finally relax a little, reassured and kept company by your good deeds until Allah raises you on Qiyama.

Just because your heart is aching right now, and you’re locked in the seemingly endless cycle of sin, regret, and self-reproach doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause. ¬†It’s actually good news, and here’s why. ¬†The human heart (or soul, or nafs) has three settings according to the Qur’an.

The Default Setting:¬†Nafs al-Amarra bis Su’

The lowest level is the¬†Nafs al-Amarra bis Su’ or the soul that is inclined to evil, and a majority of humankind lives in this guiltless, no-regrets, live for the moment mode. This seems to be the default setting for the modern nafs as well as most pop music.

And I do not free myself from blame.¬†Indeed the human self is inclined to evil,¬†except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Indeed my Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah Yusuf: 53)

Knowing that it’s possible to have varying levels of soundness to your heart/nafs- Muslims don’t rely on the soundness of their heart to provide a compass to morality. ¬†It is not your heart’s job to point you towards what’s right, it only points you towards what it wants. ¬†So in a sense, you don’t follow your heart as much as your heart follows you.

Have you seen the one who takes as god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? Surah Al Furqan: 43

The Medium Setting: Nafs al-Lawwama

“I do call to witness the Resurrection Day. And I do call to witness the self-reproaching Soul.” Surah Al-Qiyamah: 1-2

This is a soul that battles with its desires, that commits sin and then reproaches itself and tries harder next time. ¬†It has awareness of its shortcomings, but despite its imperfections, it hasn’t given up. Your guilt and self-reproach about the shortcomings in your Islamic practice are evidence of having made progress on your spiritual journey. ¬†The bad news is though, is that Shaitaan is trying to knock you down a notch so that instead of trying harder, you just stop trying altogether- whether because you’ve killed yourself, or because you’ve decided that you’re a hypocrite and you’ve written off as ¬†Muslim.

Alhamdulillah though, Allah has good news for the Reproaching Soul.

“And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous-¬†Who spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good;¬†And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allah and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah ? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.” Qur’an 3:133-135

The very fact that you are aware of your shortcomings, even pained by them- is reassuring proof that you have a Nafs al-Lawwama. ¬†If you didn’t care, didn’t want to care, and didn’t even want to hear about why you should try to give a care- well, that would be worse. ¬†Sure, you’d probably be happier and more “at peace with your self,” as many modern proponents of self-worship would say, but you’d actually be wallowing in heedlessness.

The Highest setting: Nafs al-Mutma’inna

“O you satisfied soul. Return to your Lord pleased with yourself and pleasing to Him. Enter among My servants. And enter My paradise.” (Surah Al-Fajr: 27-30)

You might not be here yet, but that’s ok. ¬†You can still strive to accomplish this. ¬†The Contented Soul, or the Satisfied Soul, is the highest setting for your heart. ¬†It is a place of happiness, peace, acceptance, and sweetness of faith. ¬†It takes hard work to get there, and Allah has good tidings for the Contented Soul but get this- not even the Contented Soul is a perfect soul. ¬†It’s just a very happy one, and very close to Allah.

So, in a nutshell:

  1. No one is perfect except Allah
  2. You’re not the only one accumulating sin every day that you’re alive
  3. The difference between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim is not that one sins and one doesn’t- it’s that one seeks forgiveness & tries harder, and one doesn’t.
  4. Shaitaan’s the one trying to trick you into thinking you’re a failure
  5. Believing him is the only way to lose
  6. Fighting him is the only way to win

There’s one more thing that we need to remind you of:

On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.  

No SoulThat means that this situation- where you’re stuck in a major you don’t like, being prevented from doing hijab, and being teased by Shaitaan that nothing you do will ever be good enough to get you into Jannah- you can overcome this. ¬†You can succeed. ¬†You can find a way- either out or through- that is pleasing to Allah and perhaps even terribly frustrating to Shaitaan.

There is nothing coming that you can’t handle, not because you’re great, but because Allah is the Greatest. ¬†He knows what you’re capable of, and He promised your challenges would never exceed your strengths. ¬†Allah sets us up for growth, not failure. And Allah never, ever breaks His promises.

Shaitaan, on the other hand, has been lying to you. ¬†He’s saying that anyone who’s struggling with deen shouldn’t even bother to try, whereas Allah gives double the normal reward to those who have difficulty reading Qu’ran. ¬†The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said “The magnitude of the reward goes along with the magnitude of the affliction.” (Tirmidhi)

The more you’re afflicted now- whether it be with stress, illness, financial difficulties, emotional turmoil- the more you will be rewarded, and the fact that you’re struggling right now isn’t a sign that you should just give up and kill yourself, it’s an invitation from Allah to come closer to Him.

May Allah make it easy for you to recognise and spiritually drop-kick the suggestions of Shaitaan, even when they come disguised in the form of avoiding hell.  May Allah make His religion easy for you, and increase you in faith, and surround you with people who lift you up and help you draw nearer to Allah is this world and the next.  Ameen.

Muslimas’Oasis: Autism Awareness interview with Abez

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Click the image to go to the full interview, or read it here.