Friday, October 8, 2010

Stand up. Speak out.

In response to the several suicides in recent weeks by young gay teenagers, I feel compelled to remind the Muslim community of our responsibilities as Muslims and as human beings. While Islam's position on the impermissibility of homosexual acts is quite clear, this does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to those individuals who are being oppressed. These young men who took their lives did so at least partially because of the ongoing bullying, harassment, and violence they faced at school.

"You should kill yourself."
"You should go away."
"Who cares about you?"

I cannot even fathom the level of emotional and psychological abuse that these young men were forced to experience. No one was there to stand up for them.

As Muslims, we are obligated to speak out against all forms oppression and do everything we can to prevent tragic events like this from happening. Prophet Muhammad (saws) is reported to have said:

A person should help his brother, whether he is an oppressor or is being oppressed. If he is the oppressor, he should prevent him from continuing his oppression, for that is helping him. If he is being oppressed, he should be helped to stop the oppression against him. [Bukhari, Muslim]

This hadith implies that regardless of whether we are coming to the aid of the oppressed or the oppressor, we are putting an end to oppression. We have to. Many people think that by doing nothing and remaining neutral they are avoiding the consequences of taking any actions. But the truth is that Allah has made it mandatory for us to do something. When we are called upon on the Day of Judgment and Allah asks us what we did when our brother or sister was being ridiculed, harassed, or physical abused right in front of our faces, how will we respond? Will our answer be to our benefit or to our detriment?

Those of us who have been blessed with the ability to speak out must do so for the people who do not have a voice. Let us be there to support those individuals who truly need our help and stop judging others when it is truly Allah who is the sole Judge. Let us be those people in our communities to whom oppressed individuals can turn because they know that we will defend their rights. And, if nothing else, let us be friends and companions for those who face difficult situations to remind them that there is at least one person who cares about them.

This world needs more people who stand up for the rights of others. We have to be these people.

May Allah make us better Muslims by giving us the courage to raise our voices against oppression on behalf of the people who cannot do so.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Think Fast!

The holidays are fast (haha) approaching! Yes, I realize that December is nowhere close to being here, but the month of Ramadan is- the month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from eating, drinking, and engaging in any marital relations during the daylight hours. By practicing self-sacrifice, we purify our souls and refocus our attention on Allah.

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." [Bukhari]

But in addition to being a time for recharging our spiritual batteries, Ramadan is a time for cleansing our bodies of the all the greasy, fat-laden junk that we eat throughout the year. In the same way that we often retreat to tropical beaches and exotic lands as a vacation from work, Ramadan is a vacation for our bodies from having to constantly digest food.

Weight-related health issues are probably the most obvious concerns that can be treated through fasting. Lots of celebrities go on weird diets involving pills and baby food in an attempt to lose weight. But these kinds of fasting only result in temporary weight-loss because the body is malnourished and in lack of the appropriate number of calories needed to maintain itself. However, during the course of Ramadan, Muslims are still meeting (or eating slightly below) their daily caloric needs and receiving the proper nutrients needed for the body's survival. But stuffing ourselves with fried chicken and cake when breaking our fasts will not help us lose any weight (which is why many Muslims gain weight during Ramadan). Instead, if we eat moderate amounts in balanced meals, we can be sure we are giving our body just what it needs to function and break down any unnecessary fat we have in order to properly maintain a healthy weight.

Anyone who has ever fasted during Ramadan knows that this month is so powerful that even the most difficult things can be overcome. Fasting benefits us psychologically by distancing the behaviors we are accustomed to from the behaviors that we aspire to. As creatures of habit, it is not easy for us to cut out harmful practices (like smoking, for example) from our daily lives because everything we do feels as natural to us as breathing. But the inactive aspect of fasting allows us to step outside of our normal routines, giving us the chance to pause, reflect, and think about our next move. It heightens our awareness and gives us a greater appreciation for the things we have. And with this unique kind opportunity, we can make better decisions and set off in a more positive direction.

The Messenger of Allah (saws) said, "Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted." [Narrated by Tabarani]

I encourage both Muslims and non-Muslims to fast during this blessed month because the benefit of doing so is just so inexplicably great. May Allah allow all of us to reach this upcoming Ramadan. May He make our fasts easy for us and may He make this month a period of peace, increasing taqwa, and total submission to His will. Ameen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

For most people between the ages of 16 and 45, our days actually begin at night. We'll find every excuse available to justify going to bed at 3:00 AM.

"I get more studying done after midnight."

"That's when my friends and I are actually free."

"I can't even fall asleep until at least 1:00."

"The party doesn't even start until 12:00!"

"Dude, I can't miss Jim-Kim!"

These days, there just seems to be more happening in the hours after midnight than there is in the hours before noon. Our bodies have adjusted to such an irregular sleep pattern that no matter how hard we try to be in bed by 11:00, we can't seem to fall asleep until after 2:00 AM.

We've all heard the golden "6-8 hours a day" rule, and while most of us could totally answer the question "The amount of sleep recommended per night" if it appeared on Jeopardy, not many of us actually follow it - about 72% of us get less than 6 hours of sleep a day. Research shows that getting too little or even too much sleep poses a significant health risk to our hearts and livers, while also making it virtually impossible to maintain a healthy weight. People who don't hit the 6-8 hour mark are likely decreasing their longevity of life. Insomniacs need to be particularly cautious because their lack of sleep is not only affecting them physically, but mentally as well. People who don't get the appropriate amount of sleep each night do worse in school and at work than those who do and are also more likely to develop serious psychiatric disorders. And what could begin as serious (but treatable) disorders can lead to severe depression and anxiety.

And then there are those who go to bed at 3:00 AM, awake at 11:00 AM, and use the math to argue in favor of their sleep habits. But what they do not realize is that sleeping after midnight, even if we are getting our recommended 6-8 hours, is also detrimental to our health. Studies have shown that people who go to bed after midnight are throwing off their bodies' circadian rhythm and potentially inviting death at an earlier age. For one, significant weight gain (which could lead to obesity) can be prevented or brought on by the times that we sleep. Our metabolism slows down at night (when we should be asleep) so any food we eat or activity we do after dark is throwing off what should occur like clockwork. By eating large meals late at night, we are feeding a body that is not prepared to handle it- so it stores the extra calories as fat. And when we are too active when we should be asleep, our body's metabolism increases during those times and, thus, slows down later on- during the day when we are eating. So what does out body do? Again, it stores the calories as fat. So what do we do?

The sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) with regards to sleep is incredible. He slept immediately following Isha prayer, awoke at night to pray tahajjud, returned to sleep, and woke up for the day at the time of Fajr prayer. On average, this probably amounted to about 5 to 6 hours a night. He went about his day until Dhuhr prayer, after which he would take a nap, awaking before Asr prayer. In total, he would be getting roughly 6-8 hours a day.

It's hard to pick my favorite thing about Islam, but the sunnah nap is definitely up there. Almost all Americans run on a 9:00-5:00 schedule, so, for most of us, the sleep we get at night is all the sleep we're going to get for the day. It's unfortunate that this schedule strictly dictates our lives because it is also affecting our health. Research shows that you can make yourself more alert, reduce stress, and improve cognitive functioning with a nap. Mid-day sleep, or a ‘power nap’, leads to increased patience, less stress, better reaction time, increased learning, more efficiency and better health overall. The prayer times in Islam, in addition to being a time guideline for the obvious, is the perfect guideline for sleep. Sleeping directly after Isha, awaking at Fajr, and napping between Dhuhr and Asr is most certainly a schedule to adhere to for optimal health.

For anyone having significant sleep issues, whether it be not getting enough sleep or not being able to wake up for Fajr prayer, I definitely encourage you to try following the sunnah as closely as possible, if not exactly. Who better to imitate than the Prophet (saws) himself? He reminds us in a hadith that "Your body has a right over you." [Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7]. And if this isn't reason enough, the science and research further support his actions. May Allah guide us further in our deen, reminding us of our obligations to our bodies and of the importance of being healthy for ourselves as well as for our loved ones. Ameen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hijab Awareness

In response to having been fortunate enough to see Hijabi Monologues a few weeks ago, I decided to shed some light on the psychology of hijabi women and dispel some common stereotypes and judgments often associated with us. Many non-Muslims come at us with the misconception that hijab is not a woman's choice but, rather, a constraint demanded upon her by some domineering male in her life. Being the only Muslim in my family, I can pretty accurately say that no one at home is forcing me to wear it. But even many of the young, Muslim-raised hijabis that I meet are often the only ones in their family to have chosen to wear the hijab. And because many people do not truly understand the beautiful role that hijab plays in a woman's life, they cannot fathom why any woman would choose to do that to herself.

There was a brother at the Hijabi Monologues event who used the opportunity to gain participants for a social work study he was conducting. After having filled out the survey myself, I asked what exactly he was out to prove by surveying a bunch of hijabi sisters. He told me that he was examining the effects of hijab on a woman's self-confidence. Thus far, the results have shown that hijabis have more confidence in themselves than sisters who don't regularly cover. As fascinated as I was to hear this, it makes perfect sense that that would be the case. A woman who chooses to begin wearing the hijab must have high self-esteem and confidence in herself to do so in the first place. This is not to say that those who don't choose to cover are not confident women, but that those women who do are most assuredly not victims of low self-image. Allah says in the Qur'an:

"O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known [to be Muslim women] and not be abused [or approached by men]. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful." (33:59)

Allah prescribes the hijab as a protection for women. When you want to preserve the value of something, you cover it. If it is socially acceptable for someone to put a case on their new Blackberry or a tarp over their convertible, why, then, do people have issue with a woman who covers herself to protect her worth? It doesn't make sense to me.

In conjunction with the Islamic Center at NYU, there will be an event on Thursday, April 22nd that I encourage all women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to partake in. To promote hijab awareness and understanding, I invite you all to wear hijab for the day and discover your own personal experience with it. For those of you who will be in the New York City area, there will be a dinner/discussion later that night (7:45 PM at NYU's Islamic Center) during which anyone is welcome to come and share their thoughts and feelings. I also ask those who cannot attend the discussion to e-mail me about their experiences at as I would be very interested in hearing about it. Men are encouraged to attend the discussion as well and share their own opinions about hijab as well :)

Here's the facebook event

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Unique Smoking Experience

Shisha (a.k.a. Hookah) has rapidly become the newest social fad among today's youth. We've all seen the Facebook pictures of our friends blowing out billows of smoke into various shapes or passing it into another's mouth. Most people who engage in this phenomenon are under the misconception that shisha is a harmless alternative to smoking cigarettes.

But the reality of it is that shisha is actually even more detrimental than the ordinary cigarette. In just a one hour session, the average user will have consumed 100-200 times more smoke and 70 times more nicotine than they would have from a typical cigarette. The nicotine concentration of shisha smoke cannot be measured due to packing differences, but is estimated to be the equivalent of smoking between 7 and 10 cigarettes, and with each inhalation, a shisha smoker breathes in 2 liters of smoke- 4 times as much as a cigarette.

Many people are under the false impression that the water in the container is being used to filter out the noxious tobacco substances. Actually, the water merely acts as a barrier, allowing for the air pressure towards the bottom of the tank to be lower in order for air to pass through. The damp, enveloped structure of the vessel makes it a breeding ground for bacteria and a medium for cooling the smoke. This dark, moist environment and the sharing of the mouthpiece heavily contribute in spreading infectious diseases such as herpes, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

I'm not here to declare whether it's haraam or halal, but arguing that shisha smoking has any health benefits or that it doesn't cause any physical harm is almost impossible. Surely no one in their right mind would intentionally drop a bowling ball on their own foot because they are aware of the painful consequences. Then why do we deliberately cause harm to ourselves by smoking shisha? While the pain and damage from shisha may not be as apparent or immediate as that of the impact of the bowling ball on your foot, it is significantly more life threatening. Allah states in the Qur'an:

"And spend of your wealth in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loves those who do good." – The Holy Qur'an 2:195

The Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said

"Whomsoever drinks poison, thereby killing himself, will sip this poison forever and ever in the fire of Hell." (Bukhari, Muslim)

It is evident from the words of Allah and his Messenger (peace be upon him) that this is most certainly not an issue that should be taken lightly.

Allah is our Creator and we belong to Him. We therefore have no right to intentionally harm ourselves. May Allah grant us the strength to overcome our shortcomings and may He guide us to surround ourselves with only those things that will make us better. Ameen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Relief

While in the process of writing my newest blog post, I decided to take a break in order to focus on the disastrous earthquake that recently struck Haiti. For anyone who may not have heard, an earthquake registering at about 7.0 in the Richter scale hit the island nation of Haiti earlier this week. The country was left completely devastated and in ruin, and while the exact number is not yet known, the death toll is estimated to exceed over 140,000. In addition to its already poor healthcare and decaying infrastructure, Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and most definitively lacks the appropriate resources to accommodate victims. As a result, the people there are in desperate need of food, shelter, and medical supplies. We should take it upon ourselves to support the country's relief to the best of our abilities and the easiest way for us to do so is by donating funds to the various groups that are part of this effort. The following groups have pledged to aid in the cause:

Islamic Relief
American Red Cross
The Salvation Army

These are just a few of the many organizations that are involved. I strongly encourage everyone to contribute if able and to raise awareness about the tragedy by encouraging others to donate as well.
May Allah bestow patience and steadfastness upon all those affected by this catastrophe. May He allow us to help to the best of our abilities and may He continue to guide us. Ameen.

"Verily with hardship comes relief." - The Qur'an 94:6

Watch DawahAddict for another perspective on the situation.