Browsing Category: Ramadan

Allahu Allahu Allahu

It was a frustrating day at work. I was having a hard time fasting. I was sick of the apathy of all the Muslims around me. I am in a Muslim country. I want to feel like I am in a Muslim country. Sorry, if that makes me suck. But most, most of all, I don’t want to feel like I am defending my choice to fast every day. So, as I make my way home, I feel exhausted on many levels. I am eager to get to my apartment, to lay down and find that peaceful place that will help re-center me.

I get to my door and start the five-minute treasure hunt in my purse to find my keys. Five minutes pass. No keys. I sit down on the stoop and take everything out one by one. No keys. I hear the azaan in the background and I am desperate to open my fast. I reach into my purse to find my wallet so I can go buy some food. No wallet. I call my roommate to see if she will be home any time soon. Of course not.


I dig in my purse and find a few liras at the bottom and go and buy a “Le Cola Light” and a pide (a round bread that is sold here in Ramadan). I eat this glamorous dinner on my stoop where several of my neighbors question what I am doing.


Realizing that I can’t sit on my stoop all night, I call my friend and ask if I can spend the night. As always, she saves me. I head out to catch the bus to her house. As I walk to the bus stop I start to notice the Besiktas jerseys everywhere. It is game day. Soon the streets are swarming with Besiktas fans.


Usually this is a sight that makes me happy. But today I only see their drunkenness and how stupid they all seem. The air smells of cigarettes, filth, alcohol and machismo.


It is Laylat al Qadr in Istanbul.


Ramadan is the holiest month for Mulsims and Laylat al Qadr is the most special and holy of nights for a Muslim. On this night all the angels come down to Earth. It is the night on which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhummad. It is a night that is considered to be better than a thousand months. Whoever prays with sincerity on this night will have all their past sins forgiven. 


Around me all the drunk people stumbled around. Their cheers and chants were deafening. In front of me a huge fight broke out between the police and a bunch of belligerent drunks. I felt the chaos would swallow me before I could even reach my friend.


I longed for the homes of the Salmans, Jukakus and Fahmys; these families that I have always loved and admired and had always opened their homes on this special night.  I longed for my own family and Feraz and for the peace and discovery that always comes on this night. I felt so helpless that I just sat down on a bench and cried.


Eventually, I made it to my friend’s house. She restored me with lentil soup, tea and Nutella. She made me lay down and take a nap to erase all the bad thoughts in my mind. Her other friend joined us and we made our way to a place where we could stay up all night and pray and worship.


In this random room in Fatih I found the peace that comes from sincerely seeking Allah. Among these complete strangers I felt my frustrations melt away. I realized that you don’t have to be in your town, in your musjid or your own home to experience the power of these last ten days. Allah’s love and mercy is so strong that it can find us across the world, through booze filled streets, and even past our own hardened hearts.


“Oh Allah who removes worry, the one who eliminates grief, the grantor of the prayers of the helpless, oh most merciful and compassionate of all in this world and in the hereafter, only You will show mercy on me; give such mercy to me that I do not need the mercy of anyone except you.”

She leads a glamorous life…

The airlines lost my luggage. I have never had to deal with lost luggage before. After a long flight, there is no worse feeling than watching the conveyor belt turn and turn and turn with no sign of your things. Slowly you see all the people from your flight walk away with their treasures. You stare despondently at the empty luggage cart for which you just wasted 3 lira and have nothing to put on. Then you try with your crap Turkish to find the customer service people. 

Perhaps it is a good thing I was alone because I would probably have found some way to blame Feraz for losing the luggage had we been together. I had to wait two hours in the customer service room before they even talked to me. When they refused to do anything to help find my suitcases, I pleaded “Please, you have to find them. My whole life is in there.


On the Saturday night before I came, I was talking to a friend who asked how I planned to pack for going away for over one year. I replied, I am about to find out. I am not a great packer in the best of times. I recall one trip to Switzerland where all my friends showed up with carry-ons and I came with a massive full size suitcase. I didn’t hear the end of that for the rest of the trip. (But people did borrow the many warm clothes I brought along!!) Feraz always groans when we go somewhere because somehow I always manage to convince myself that there is a ton of crap that I have to have with me. Eighty percent of it usually goes untouched or unworn.


Before I left the US Feraz and I were driving and I said to him, “I can tell you the story about every piece of clothing and jewelery I am wearing. I can tell you who gave it to me or the thought process I had when I got it, who I was with and what price I got it for.”


I guess my point was that although I have more clothes than any human should, almost everything I own has sentimental value of some sort. I love shopping because I am materialistic but I also love shopping because I like hunting for a good deal, making plans with friends, walking around seeing all the colors and sparkles, finding a fabric that feels like magic against my skin, putting outfits together like an art project and then finally sitting down completely exhausted and spent from shopping and eating a big meal that almost always includes a chicken burger, fries and coke. It is an experience. In some ways it is even like a sport. In other ways, it is just really sad. 🙂


But how do I look at my masses of clothes and decide what I will take with me? At one point when I was deciding to pack a shirt I thought, this is too hippie-ish, you don’t really dress like this anymore. Then I thought, but think of all the hippies you will meet this year. Who knows, you might need it come next year. Eventually, I sorted out all the best of the best. I picked my very favorite things and packed them up into two suitcases with a dismal 50 pound weight allowance for each.


Then the airlines lost it all. My life. Gone.


It seems appropriate that as I am back in Istanbul, my magical place of discovery and self-improvement that God sends this challenge to me. Lately, I have been spending a great deal of time reflecting about materialism. I am a materialistic person and I am a recovering shopaholic. (Feraz may disagree with the recovering bit.) I love things. I especially love nice things. I have no shame in saying that I hope to one day have a full Burberry wardrobe. It is classic and timeless. It is fashion perfection. Those silks and cashmeres, the perfect cuts, the fact that you can never put a price on a dress that makes you look ten pounds thinner.

But as I try to become more socially aware and more sensitive of my role in the world, I have to acknowledge the realities of consumerism, capitalism and superficiality.


Islamically I feel there are conflicting views sent about materialism or wanting the ‘good life.’ There are various accounts that stress that we should ask for the best of this world and the best of the hereafter. The Believer does not take an oath of poverty, and in fact one of the most famous and respected imams was said to wear a new garment each day. On the other hand our own Prophet lived by very humble means. Was he applauded because as a leader, it was more relevant for him to live humbly so as not to alienate himself from his followers? That he had to sacrifice first because he was asking others to sacrifice so much for this new religion? Or was the humility in his lifestyle the lesson itself?


Allah says in the Quran, “If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight – are dearer to you than Allah, or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious.”


It is the most holy of months, the most blessed of days. And so I lost my things. But I have my life. I have my lips with which to worship Allah, to ask for His mercy and for His help. Blessed are we who get to see another Ramadan. Who are given another chance at redemption. It is ok for us to want the best of this world, to want that which is material. But when things happen that take away some of our wealth or health or happiness we must strive to remember that nothing can be more dear to us than Allah, that we should cherish nothing more than guidance and truth and with that knowledge we must find peace.


Surely, we are only travelers in this world. We are bound to lose things along the way. I am grateful that it is only luggage that I have lost this Ramadan.

Yippie! Obama’s remarks from the recent White House iftaar dinner. I was so happy to see some of my old DC friends on the attendees list and particularly happy to see that Karamah was represented! I am really happy to see this speech after reading so much against Muslims in the media and after seeing so many ignorant remarks regarding CAIR’s actions against the judge in Michigan. Thank you Barak Obama and the White House for affirming that there are many, many Muslims like myself who sincerely love this country and consider ourselves a part of the fabric that makes it so beautiful.

THE PRESIDENT: Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you. Well, it is my great pleasure to host all of you here at the White House to mark this special occasion — Ramadan Kareem.
I want to say that I’m deeply honored to welcome so many members of the diplomatic corps, as well as several members of my administration and distinguished members of Congress, including the first two Muslims to serve in Congress — Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Where are they? (Applause.)

Just a few other acknowledgements I want to make…(I cut this part out)

And most of all, I want to welcome all the American Muslims from many walks of life who are here. This is just one part of our effort to celebrate Ramadan, and continues a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House.

For well over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. It’s a time of service and support for those in need. And it is also a time for family and friends to come together in a celebration of their faith, their communities, and the common humanity that all of us share. It is in that spirit that I welcome each and every one of you to the White House.
Tonight’s iftar is a ritual that is also being carried out this Ramadan at kitchen tables and mosques in all 50 states. Islam, as we know, is part of America. And like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity — with families that stretch back generations and more recent immigrants; with Muslims of countless races and ethnicities, and with roots in every corner of the world.

Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.

So on this occasion, we celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan, and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture — in ways both large and small. And with us here tonight, we see just a small sample of those contributions. Let me share a few stories with you briefly.

Elsheba Khan’s son, Kareem, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life in Iraq. Kareem joined the military as soon as he finished high school. He would go on to win the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with the admiration of his fellow soldiers. In describing her son, Elsheba said, “He always wanted to help any way that he could.” Tonight, he’s buried alongside thousands of heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. A crescent is carved into his grave, just as others bear the Christian cross or the Jewish star. These brave Americans are joined in death as they were in life — by a common commitment to their country, and the values that we hold dear.

One of those values is the freedom to practice your religion — a right that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nashala Hearn, who joins us from Muskogee, Oklahoma, took a stand for that right at an early age. When her school district told her that she couldn’t wear the hijab, she protested that it was a part of her religion. The Department of Justice stood behind her, and she won her right to practice her faith. She even traveled to Washington to testify before Congress. Her words spoke to a tolerance that is far greater than mistrust — when she first wore her headscarf to school, she said, “I received compliments from the other kids.”
Another young woman who has thrived in her school is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. She’s not even 5’5 — where’s Bilqis? Right here. Stand up, Bilqis, just so that we — (laughter) — I want everybody to know — she’s got heels on. She’s 5’5 — Bilqis broke Rebecca Lobo’s record for the most points scored by any high school basketball player in Massachusetts history. (Applause.) She recently told a reporter, “I’d like to really inspire a lot of young Muslim girls if they want to play basketball. Anything is possible. They can do it, too.” As an honor student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls — she’s an inspiration to all of us.

Of course, we know that when it comes to athletes who have inspired America, any list would include the man known simply as The Greatest. And while Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight, it is worth reflecting upon his remarkable contributions, as he’s grown from an unmatched fighter in the ring to a man of quiet dignity and grace who continues to fight for what he believes — and that includes the notion that people of all faiths holds things in common. I love this quote. A few years ago, he explained this view — and this is part of why he’s The Greatest — saying, “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams — they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do — they all contain truths.”

They all contain truths. Among those truths are the pursuit of peace and the dignity of all human beings. That must always form the basis upon which we find common ground. And that is why I am so pleased that we are joined tonight not only by so many outstanding Muslim Americans and representatives of the diplomatic corps, but people of many faiths — Christians, Jews, and Hindus — along with so many prominent Muslims.

Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that’s one of my fundamental commitments as President, both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I’ve sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season.

So tonight, we celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress. We honor the contributions of America’s Muslims, and the positive example that so many of them set through their own lives. And we rededicate ourselves to the work of building a better and more hopeful world.

So thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here this evening. I wish you all a very blessed Ramadan. And with that, I think we can start a feast. I don’t know what’s on the menu, but I’m sure it will be good. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)

The picture above, unfortunately, is summing up my Ramadan so far.


Ramadan began on Friday as the sun set and the first fast was on Saturday. Every year, for one month Muslims fast every day. They do not eat from sun up to sun down. This is the most base level of the fast. Additionally Muslims do not engage in other sinful activities being especially mindful of refraining from hurtful language, lying, backbiting, and a variety of other things.


I came into this Ramadan with very high hopes. It seems I may have expended much of my excitement in the lead up and am already somewhat drained. Part of the difficulty of this Ramadan also lies in the very long days. Fasting until 8:30 is a much different story than fasting until 6:30. By the time the fast opens it feels like your whole day has escaped while you had little energy to do much.


When I was younger fasting helped me understand how hard it must be for people who don’t have enough resources to attain basic things like food to get out of their desolate situations. While you are fasting you can observe the heightened difficulty in concentrating, in being motivated to push yourself or even just accomplish your basic daily tasks. Through our daily struggles Muslims come to be able to better empathize with the poor, hopefully motivating them to give more in charity and to have more compassion for their brothers and sisters.


I will try to write a little bit about Ramadan every few days to help me stay conscience of my personal progress and also to provide some basic information for people who might not know much about Ramadan or understand what some of the Muslims they know are going through this month. I also hope it can be an open forum for discussion or questions that anyone might have.