Ramadan through the eyes of a child

This year is FZ’s first Ramadan of fasting as a newly-minted baligha, or one who has reached the age of responsibility, according to Islam.

Even though we had her try some half-day fasts, and even full-day practice fasts, the month of Ramadan was a whole new thing altogether. Can someone ever really be prepared for the daily fasting, change in routine and lack of sleep? How could we help our daughter get ready for the holy month, full of its spiritual benefits, while not letting her get dragged down physically?

Fortunately my husband and I surrounded FZ with positive messages about the holy month of Ramadan. The days she fasted we treated her with her favorite iftaar, or meal to break the fast. And as a mother, I prepped myself with plans and activities for the month — things to keep her busy, occupied and not focusing on food.

Plus, there are lots of great resources out there for daily activities to keep kids entertained during the holy month. Here are just a few.

Tips on helping young ones reap the rewards of Shahr Ramadan

Too often as adults we let ourselves get caught up in the physical aspects of Ramadan – i.e. the hunger, thirst, fatigue, lack of energy, etc. But in reality we are actually doing a disservice to our young ones.

There are some ways on helping our young fasters turn the physical drain into spiritual growth, and thus redirecting our attention to the positive versus solely focusing on the negative.

  1. Plan a special daily activity: It doesn’t have to be big or grand. Even something as simple as going to the library, or taking a walk outside to discover a new flower or bird can recharge a fasting child. Even take your child’s help to prepare an iftaar snack or meal.
  2. Encouraging naps: Young kids who are fasting don’t usually understand the physical limitations of fasting and often get overtired doing their regular activities. Help them wind down and relax to not burn out.
  3. Getting closer to the Holy Qur’an: There are plenty of ways to help kids get more acquainted with the Holy Qur’an. See how many animals you can find mentioned among the names of chapters? Or learn about a new prophet.
  4. Focusing on prayer and dua: We can make prayers a little sweeter during the holy month of Ramadan. Help your child remember the poor, orphans, homeless, and oppressed.
  5. Volunteering and helping others: If there are any food banks or soup kitchens near you, try to spend a few hours a week and help out. Or even at the local masjid or center, have your child get involved with serving or clean up. This will help link the holy month to worthwhile activities.

How is your kid’s spiritual health?

We let our kids believe in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and Santa Claus without a peep, but the moment we try to get them God-conscious, all hell breaks loose.

If we care so much about our kids’ physical health, why aren’t we worried about their spiritual health? Is it because we fall victim to the propaganda that all religion is bad and pure and simple brainwashing?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen far worse brainwashing done by cable cartoon channels. So we don’t mind if our kids treat every movie like an obsession (Let it go?), but we are considered “extremists” if we try to remove the focus on material things.

I have heard this more than once from family and close friends – “You’re being too strict,” “They’re just kids,” and my all-time favorite, “If you are this hard on them, they will rebel.” I don’t think teaching my kids not to waste their time is considered “extreme parenting.”

I consider my children a trust from God. These gifts the Almighty has bestowed on me, are truly blessings. I read stories of parents losing children right after childbirth, or after an unfortunate accident, or a disease and it breaks me inside. It is right then and there that I am reminded of the beautiful blessings I have, and that I shouldn’t waste them.

Everything I am doing with my kids right now while they are still young is helping build their foundations. If I give them foam and fluff to build their foundations, their futures will be just as flimsy. But if I focus on the important things, then they will have success every step of the way.

Naturally I am not talking about sitting with my young kids and teaching them the beliefs of Tawheed (monotheism), or the philosophy behind Islam, but I do teach them that it is important to follow that which matters. I make sure they understand that the most important thing in their life is to be God-conscious. I teach them to fight the whispers of Shaitan (Satan), and to always follow those role models that have/had a vision, not a cool haircut.

This doesn’t mean I don’t let my kids be kids. They enjoy their weekends, they go out for ice cream (more often than I would like), they have friends, they run outside and get fresh air…. they’re kids, after all. But they have a purpose.

Too often I hear the sad stories of parents who were the best of the best. They provided everything to their kids – all their physical needs were met and they were loved greatly. But they lacked in spiritual grounding. Yes, you will find success in many spheres in your life, God is Just after all. But if you lack a spiritual foundation, you will see it in your life. In relationships, in your personal growth, etc.

Here are 5 ways to help connect your kids to God:

  1. Gentle reminders: We like hanging short verses/sayings around the house that remind us about being God-conscious. The kids help me make them, and we remind each other as needed.
  2. Giving importance to religious traditions: Whether it is the daily prayers, or an evening Bible recitation, it is important to treat this worship with respect. We try to pray together as a family so that we are all connected through worship.
  3. Practice what you preach: When we as parents are conscious about our words and actions, then our kids will follow suit.
  4. Keeping like-minded company: We all need friends, but when you surround yourself with friends who also share your beliefs and values, your kids will feel encouraged. Not to mention, those relationships also provide much needed support to parents.
  5. Open communication: Whether it is through stories or conversations in the car, use those moments to talk about questions and concerns regarding God and religion. Your kids should feel free to ask questions, and you should give short, simple answers. Anything you don’t know, just say you don’t know and try to find out. Never lie to your kids. (For example: Santa Claus lives on the North Pole).

Imam Jafar Sadiq, one of the great-grandsons of the Holy Prophet of Islam, likened belief in God to this situation: It is nighttime, and you are on a boat among turbulent waters. It is pitch black, your boat is rocking back and forth, and you have no earthly idea where you are or what to do. You have nothing – no phone, no GPS, no flares. But suddenly from the depths of your heart there is a yearning, a hope, a prayer for salvation…. this is God.

I am not talking about a religion, per se, but on finding a spiritual anchor in our lives. Aren’t we facing rocky waters everyday? Look at our society. We have leaders who say they believe in God, yet they are hypocritical, arrogant, and selfish. And the bigger problem is we as a society are accepting of this. If we follow a religion, we are apologetic for our “traditions.” We treat religion like a backwards concept. We are “progressive” if we are far from religion, and “mindless twits” if we live by a religion.

I certainly do not want this for my children.

If we live by the rules of a religion we are mocked, but if we live by the rules of today’s fashion, we are OK. Without rules there is anarchy – wouldn’t you rather be tethered to something that has value? And this is what I will continue to teach to my kids. Those that lived with purpose are still living today – their values hold true today. With love and compassion, and through God’s help, I will continue to guide my kids toward God and His Love and Mercy. While doing so, I pray that I will become the best mother to them. And to me, that is the best way to honor this gift of motherhood.

 

A letter to my daughter

Dear Fatima Zahra – 

Just a few days ago you turned 9 years old (according to the Islamic calendar). While you were excited planning your big birthday party, I would secretly wipe tears away. 

She’s going to be 9, I kept thinking to myself. According to Islamic law, you would now be considered old enough to carry out religious obligations, like praying, fasting, hijab, etc. 

At first I kept hoping time would slow down. I still remember those days when our biggest worry was you sleeping through the night. Or giving up the paci. Or potty training.

Now when I see you washing dishes before I even get to the kitchen, or helping your siblings get juice, my heart beams with pride. How lucky we are to have you! What a beautiful blessing from Allah! We are so very proud of you. 

Sure, we have our rough days, those days we don’t agree, and your Baba and I are still trying to get a hang of it. You are, after all, our first baby. We told each other that not only did you start a new chapter  in your life on your 9th birthday, but so did we. We are grateful to Allah to have you in our lives, and we rely on Him to guide us as we raise you and your siblings the best way possible. 

I pray everyday for your success and happiness. I love your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn new things. You make me want to be a better mom. 

One day when you’re older and surfing the internet, you might come across this letter. Who knows where I’ll be and where you’ll be. But I pray you’ll be happy, fighting Shaitan and holding tight to Allah. 

My sweet child, always remember there is no power greater than Allah. He is always near to you. Remember Him in good times and bad, and be grateful to Him. There is nothing you can’t do with Him by your side. 

May you always aim to follow the footsteps of your namesake, Fatima Zahra (sa). And may the Almighty bless you with all the best of this world, and the next.

With love, 

Mama 

Breastfeeding is best, but formula is not poison

Parenthood needs flexibility. There needs to be room for error. And room to grow. There is no way to know everything about parenting. Ever.

Yes, you might get a good grasp of certain things. Especially after you have more than 1 kid. Essentially the more you have, the more your view of parenting will be expanded. (And, really, can you ever have enough kids? *crickets*) Parents will tell you that no two kids are exactly the same. But you still can’t know everything about raising kids.

Recently I came across this article that has been making its way around social media. You have probably already read the tragic story of a woman whose little boy died five years ago from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation, cardiac arrest, and hypernatremic dehydration. Landon was solely breastfed at birth, had a great latch, yet never seemed satisfied, according to mom, Jillian.

She had given birth in a “baby friendly” hospital – a hospital aimed at promoting a good bond between mothers and baby, and encouraging exclusive breastfeeding.

According to Jillian, at that time a first-time mom, whenever she raised an issue about why her son was always crying and why he was losing weight, she would just be told to keep on nursing.

Now experienced moms who have breastfed will tell you how it is that first time. Oh, the questions! Oh, the pain! Oh, the frustration of latching! Now, add into the mix – a c-section, or a previous medical issue, like a hormone disorder. And it might get harder.

Andy Bernstein, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said most pediatricians agree it is acceptable for newborns to lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight during this transition. But, he added, physicians must also consider any factors that could put mothers and babies at risk, such as being a first-time mother; having a long, complicated delivery or a C-section; or suffering from certain health issues, including some hormone disorders.

I remember my first time becoming a mom. I had an emergency c-section. FZ was born blue and had trouble taking her first breath. I hardly just glanced at my firstborn and she was whisked away. I didn’t see my daughter until a good 6-7 hours after being cut open. I was miserable, in pain and tired. I wanted a normal delivery. You know, the one we dream about and write in our birth plan. And I was really set on nursing her right away. But FZ was given formula.

When I finally saw her, I didn’t know what to do. But I had really good nurses helping me. I also have a really great supportive husband and family, who encouraged me and guided me.

Sure there is a push from hospitals to formula feed – I got the free bottles, coupons and diaper bag, too. But there is a similar push from pro-breastfeeders to not even glance at formula. While no one can deny that breastfeeding is best – heck, even the formula companies themselves say it – formula is not a poison. It’s OK to supplement. It’s OK to reach out during those trying days. I remember my nurse telling me – “You’re doing really well, and just remember to make her latch on first, but if you need formula, it’s OK.”

Those are really magical words to a first-time mom getting used to nursing.

Maybe if we reached out more to moms about the benefits of breastfeeding and the options they do have, like topping off or supplementation, instead of just scaring them from formula, more moms wouldn’t quit nursing so easily. Nursing isn’t easy. It takes willpower, practice and stamina. It’s like exercising – that first day of working out is hard, but you keep doing it, and it gets easier. And like exercise, it is so rewarding.

I remember one mom telling a friend who was about to have a baby – “Once your baby takes one sip of formula, they will NEVER nurse.”

Good grief. Scary, much? I personally supplemented with formula, and then within 2 weeks of progressively decreasing formula intake, my firstborn was solely nursing. Disaster averted.

Let’s help moms instead of hurting them. They already have so much on their plate, do they really need this fear factor, too? And it’s not just with breastfeeding. We cut a lot of parenting into black and white spheres – pacifiers? cloth diapers? crying it out?

If we all agree that as parents, all we really want are happy, healthy children who have good moral values, then why can’t we help each other reach that goal together? Don’t forget happy, healthy kids are raised by happy, healthy parents. Let’s reach out to each other and stop being each other’s worst enemies.

My baby is turning 9

It’s come up way too fast. God willing in just a couple months, my eldest will be 9 years old.

Where did the time go? I still remember those funny conversations and fears of balloons popping. But when I open my eyes, I see a beautiful girl who loves to read, who always wants to help me in the kitchen and asks thoughtful questions.

With the coming of age, comes responsibilities. In Islam at the age of 9, a girl becomes baligh, or capable to undertake religious duties, like praying and fasting. We have been preparing FZ for this day for a while now. Slowly we started her praying once a day, and fasting for a half a day. While it was hard at the beginning, now she has approached these responsibilities with maturity and grace.

My husband and I are keen on communicating the importance of these obligations first and foremost. Instead of talking about all the “rules,” we talk about why and what these duties mean to us as Muslims. Sure there are times I just don’t have the answer, but I am grateful to God for helping us ease our way through this transition. I have found that if I keep it real, instead of dodging the question, my kids understand.

I am proud of being Muslim and while many things in life are difficult, I try to show my daughter that there is a certain beauty to working hard for God’s pleasure. Because our existence is owed to Him, these acts of worship bring us closer to Him, especially when we undertake these obligations purely for Him.

We are looking forward to celebrating this big day with our daughter, and we will definitely be doing it up big. When you take time to care about the things that matter, then your child will also give it priority above everything else.

Watching our children grow up is hard. With growth comes independence, and for parents, that means learning to let go. Learning to let our children make their own decisions and mistakes. It means standing on the sidelines and secretly cheering them on, and if they fall, it means lovingly giving them guidance to continue on. But through it all, we must stand firm and communicate with love and understanding. Sometimes tough love is necessary for helping mold our children into successful adults. But if we don’t keep the doors of communication open, we only stand to create barriers between ourselves.

Here’s to a new milestone, and praying for many more wonderful memories, under God’s protection and mercy.

My dear daughter, it has been a pleasure watching you blossom into a beautiful, mature young woman. May He protect you always, and guide you.

Don’t take a break from your kids

I’m not going to deny it. Some days being a parent can feel like someone drilling a jackhammer into your skull. With no off switch.

But it is some days. There are those nice moments, too.

Often you won’t get a break from your kids. And, I say this with a big sigh, you really shouldn’t want one.

I don’t mean one of those 10-30 minute “me time” breaks. We all need those. And by need, I mean like a how fish needs water.

When I say break, I mean turning off the “parent” switch and being “you” again. Once you are a parent, and blessed with a little one, you are always a parent. You can switch gears, change the topic, enjoy a new hobby, but you will always be Mom. Or Dad. Or Mama. Or Baba. (Fill in with your name of choosing).

Should one really want to turn off the “parent” switch? Some might argue, but I was “me” first. I should be able to enjoy those simple things and hobbies without a diaper falling out of my purse or finding play-doh in my shoe.

Yes, I see your point. But once you had a child, this new duty fell into your lap and to embrace it with dignity is your responsibility. To complain and run from it, is really quite immature.

I know that for my kids I am the person (along with their father, of course) responsible for turning them into healthy, well adjusted adults. Do you really want to throw that away?

I see some parents who have to work and when they finally come home, they want nothing to do with their children. In essence they want a “break.” That’s fair enough.

But what about your kids? Isn’t it fair for them to want their mom or dad to play with them? To love them? To snuggle with them? To be there for them?

Instead of taking a break from our kids we need to start considering children our priority and putting our hobbies/work/leisure activities on break.

When tired moms and dads come home from work, each should give the other a 5-10 minute space to regroup before resuming parental duties. There should not be a “blame game” or “who worked the most hardest today?” competition.

These kids are ours and a gift from God. Today they are 2, tomorrow they will be 12 – do you really want to think back to their toddler years and only remember how you stuffed food down their throats so you could send them to bed so they could wake up early for daycare?

It might seem like you have no options, but there is almost always an option. It might take some sacrificing on your end, but there is always an option. It takes some real meditation and prayer but more than anything, it takes honesty. Be honest with yourself/your spouse and your family.

Yes, we have been ignoring each other. We have been ignoring the kids. We have been ignoring our home. To build a successful society we need to realize that our future generations are here ready to be groomed. Where are we? Why are we lost behind making money and making appearances?

The children we have are in the here and now. What they will become is how we raised them while they were young. How much attention we gave them, how much love we showed them, how much time we spent with them. I know I have been guilty of not slowing down for my children, but I realize now that if I don’t make it a priority, I will lose this time in an instant and regret it for the rest of my life.

Please take a moment and really think – what matters to me? What would I do if it was all gone?

Life lessons from Imam Hussain (as)

Far away from the turmoil in Yemen, the sectarian killings in Pakistan, and from the new questions arising in North America regarding Imam Hussain’s mission, I am trying to keep Imam Hussain and Karbala alive for my children.

It really bothers me when I read about youth in the West now raising questions about whether Imam Hussain “failed” or “succeeded.” Did it ever occur to those same youth that the only reason you are able to talk about him at all is because he succeeded.

But my children are young, and I try to teach them the basic life lessons that Imam Hussain taught us while fighting Yazeed and his army in Karbala 1,400 years ago.

  1. Importance of prayer – While Imam Hussain and his army were fighting, time came for the noon prayers. Imam and his followers asked for a break in fighting to pray to Allah. Yazeed’s army did not pay heed and continued fighting. A few of Imam’s comrades guarded him and the others while the rest prayed. No matter when the going got tough, Imam Hussain taught us that remembering to show Allah gratitude is of utmost importance.
  2. Importance of faith/Tawheed (oneness of Allah) – Imam Hussain taught us to do everything purely for the sake of Allah. His mission, his stand against Yazeed, his inviting others towards good deeds and telling them to refrain from bad deeds, his traveling to Karbala – it was for Allah and all to save Islam. For this faith, he and his companions were rewarded with shahadat.
  3. Loyalty – It is said that Imam Hussain had the best companions. There is hadith that he claimed “I have the best followers, even better than the ones my grandfather, the Holy Prophet, and my father, Imam Ali, had.” The night before Ashura Imam Hussain sat with his camp and told them that by coming this far and intending to fight with him they had already been assured Paradise. But since Yazeed’s army was really after him, they could leave now and save their lives. He blew out the lanterns so as to save anyone from embarrassment. But when the lanterns were lighted again, everyone remained.
  4. Sacrifice – In their own ways, each member of the camp of Imam Hussain (as), even the women and children, sacrificed something near and dear, with the understanding that this was all for a higher purpose. If not their lives, then their peace and comfort, children, were sacrificed to keep Islam alive.
  5. Standing up for what is right, no matter what – When Qasim, nephew of Imam Hussain (as), was asked how he saw shahadat, he replied “I find it sweeter than honey.” When Hazrat Zainab (sa) faced the enemies of Imam Hussain and was asked “What do you see in how Allah treated your brother and your family?” She replied: “I saw nothing but beauty.”

I don’t have to indulge my kids in the horrific details of the Battle of Karbala. Unfortunately most of the time we mostly dwell in these issues – how Imam Hussain was killed, how Imam Hussain’s brother Hazrat Abbas was slaughtered, how the enemies shot an arrow through the 6-month-old Ali Asghar’s neck, how the tents were burned after the battle, etc.

While it is important to know about these tragic details, I like to focus more on the lessons. I like to reiterate important concepts with my children, like the importance of living with dignity and not selling away our beliefs for material gain. Or the importance of sacrifice, be it small even. Learning how to live for the higher purpose. I want them to see how the actions of those in Karbala saved Islam.

In the end, I want my children to see the same beauty that Hazrat Zainab (sa) saw on that fateful day, and be confident in their beliefs.