Wednesday 23 September 2015

Hajj 2015/1436: The Day of Arafat and the Last Sermon

The 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah (the Month of Hajj) is called the Day of Arafat and this is always a very special day in our home and for me personally too. Although everyone is gearing up for Eid on these early days of the month, the mood is very different on this particular day.

The sunnah, or tradition of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was to fast on this day:

The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) was asked about fasting on the Day of Arafa. He said, "It expiates the sins of the previous year and of the coming year." ~ Sahih Muslim

This is the day the Hajj pilgrims gather in the Valley of Arafat just outside Makkah to spend the day in prayer, contemplation and finally celebration. My heart yearns to be where they are, to stand before Allah (SWT) and ask for everything I need in this world and the next and to beg for forgiveness for my sins.

Aa'ishah (radhi allahu anha) narrated the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) saying: “There is no day on which Allah frees more people from the Fire than the day of Arafat. He comes close and expresses His pride to the angels saying, 'What do these people (the Hajis) want?'” ~Saheeh Muslim

Subhan’Allah, this is the day that the Prophet (PBUH) delivered his last sermon to his Companions, with the instruction that these words should be carried to every living person. I can’t help read these words with tears in my eyes, thinking about what the Companions must have felt knowing that the Prophet (PBUH) was delivering his final message. I also feel pride at this beautiful faith and the inherent justice and mercy within its message. I feel joy at the revelation that came down at the end of the sermon:

“…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran 5:3)

Most of all I feel so very blessed to be a Muslim and a part of this beautiful ummah. Those are at Arafat today will see people from every nation and tribe, from every ethnic group imaginable, man and woman, rich and poor, old and young stand together with their arms raised in supplication as equals before Allah (SWT) and as brothers and sisters.  I have posted this before, but feel compelled to post again as I am moved and inspired by it every time I read it.

The Final Sermon

After praising, and thanking God, the Prophet, may God send His praises upon him said:

“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. God has Judged that there shall be no interest, and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn Abd’al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived...

Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under a trust from God and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and offer Zakat. Perform Hajj if you have the means.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.

Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and it may be that the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

Image of sunrise at Arafah this morning taken by Sheikh Muhammad AlShareef (from his Facebook page)

Sunday 20 September 2015

Picture of the Day: 18.09.15 - Old Games

This week I decided to treat the kids to a takeaway for dinner.  I and Little Man headed out to get out food and on placing my order and getting ready to wait, I found that I had left my mobile phone at home.

It made me realise how much I have gotten into the habit of never switching off or doing nothing for even a minute.  Every spare minute has to be filled with activity of some kind.  I wondered what to do with the 20 or so minutes I had.

I pulled out some pens and a receipt from my handbag and plotted some dots to play boxes (one of my fave games as a kid).  He beat me.  We then played two games of hang-man which he also won.  We were having so much fun that the wait was over before we knew it and our food was ready.

We grabbed our food and headed back, only to be called back when we got to the door because we hadn't yet paid.  I think we might have been having too much fun.

Picture of the Day: 17.09.15 - The Mission of Dessert with Freinds

This week I had agreed to meet some very dear friends from university for dessert.  We usually meet for a meal, but I thought this idea was good because it would give me time to get the kids fed and all of my chores done.

What actually happened was that I left work early, sneaked in some Eid shopping and got late.  I got home to pray, rushed to pick up the kids, got to listen to some more complaints about Gorgeous from his teacher.  Then I grabbed some groceries and spent the next two hours going full speed in the kitchen.  Hubby is away this weekend, so I had to cook enough for him to take the next weekend and for us to eat for that night and the next day.  I ended up making my favourite chicken curry and pilau rice with a big colourful salad. 

I barely had the food made and served by the time my friend came to pick me up, so I left without eating.  Which was probably just as well, as I felt better about having dessert and a creamy latte.

I ended up having crepes with chocolate syrup and strawberries with ice-cream on the side - it tasted like the soft stuff you get from the ice-cream van.

We must have talked for just over two hours, about life, work, children, marriage, not being married.  So many memories for the three of us to share, so many stories, we laughed so much.  We live close together, but sometimes a year or more will pass before we get to see each other.  The wonderful thing is that after we catch up, chat and laugh, we move with ease to the deeper things: anxieties, worries, disappointments.

I kept coming back to the thought that it was hard to believe it had been 15 years since we graduated, the little siblings and cousins we used to talk about then were adults and going through the rites of marriage, work and children themselves.  None of us looked or felt our age and it didn't seem so long.

I left my friends feeling inspired, light and cheerful.

I got home and felt a bit like a teenager sneaking in.  It's funny how you meet rarely, do everything to minimise the impact on others before you go, and guilt still tries to slither its way into your mind.  The funny thing was if I was a teenager sneaking in, I would have thrown my shoes off and flopped into bed.  But I am not.  So I washed the dishes in the kitchen, put the food into the fridge, prayed, shut the house down and then got ready for bed.  Even a night out for a mum can be an operation in itself.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Comfort on a Rainy Day

It was one of those days today...

...when it rained all day.
When I started to feel the cold and could tell autumn was here.
When there were major traffic jams on my commute.
when I spent all day in meetings trying to hold my tongue.
When I left work later than expected and missed my lift home.
When I took the train home and got home in 45 minutes instead of 15
When the kids have all suddenly caught nasty colds leaving them with sore throats and headaches.

It's on days like these that I am truly grateful to get home, to get through the door, get my damp clothes off and sit down quietly for a minute.
It's on days like this that I am grateful for cardigans and big blankets, and big sisters cuddling their baby sisters.
I think we have a lot of these days to come and we'll soon be used to them (or maybe we'll spend months yearning for summer to come by again), but today I decided to have an easy evening with the children, get take-away comfort food and let them watch cartoons wrapped in their blankets.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Hajj 2015/1436: Hajj and Sabr

We have a number of friends and family going to hajj this year as well as one of my lovely neighbours, so we have been busy with seeing them off.

I love to listen to friends talking about their hajj preparations and all of their plans and hopes for this journey of a lifetime.  

I send them off with a yearning to go with them and with requests for prayers including one that Allah (SWT) invite me back to his sacred house.

One thing I have noticed is that there are often some anxieties around hajj. I remember when I went ten years ago, we got to Heathrow airport only to be told my husbands paperwork was not quite right and we could not fly with our group.  What followed was a week at home whilst we waited for his papers to be corrected and me crying my eyes out.  I was convinced that Allah (SWT) was angry at me for some reason, that he actually didn't want me to come to his house.

Eventually the problem was resolved and we flew out and spent four weeks in Saudi Arabia and will now wish forever for the opportunity to go back.  I have noticed though that others revert to a similar kind of thinking when they have problems with their hajj journey, and boy can you have problems: passports not coming back in time, visa's not being issued, flights not being arranged or caught on time and that's before you even get there.  People start to question whether they deserve to go or whether Allah (SWT) is angry at them.

The thing is, they say that the meaning of hajj is sabr (patience).  This is both in terms of what it teaches you and what you need lots of.  the journey, the people you meet, the challenges you face, the time and effort it takes to get through all of the rituals of hajj require sabr.  So does the preparation and journey to the haramain (scared places).

So all of the hurdles and blockades to getting to hajj and completing it, don't mean that Allah (SWT) is angry at you, it means that you are gearing up to learn that lesson about sabr: perserving and relying on Allah (SWT).  If you are impatient and used to doing things a certain way or doing everything for yourself, then the lesson will be all the harder to accept.

It is only in accepting that things won't be perfect, that you will be tested, that you will have to let go of trying to control your life and accept and go along with Allah (SWT)'s plan for you that you will start to get the lesson of sabr and trusting in Allah (SWT) and will you really start to understand what hajj means for you.

Hajj 2015/1436: The Blessed Days of Hajj

Subhan'Allah, the month of Dhul-Hajj is upon us:

Rasulullah (Sallahu Alaihi Wassalam) said: “On no days is the worship of Allah desired more than in the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah. The fast of each of these days is equal to the fast of a whole year, and the ibaadat (worship) of each of these nights is equal to the ibaadat of laylatul qadr.” [Hadith Tirmidhi and Ibn Maajah]

I keep reading and re-reading hadith above to motivate myself to step up the quality of my worship in the coming days and I pray that we are able to appreciate how special it is and try and get the most reward out of it.

I have written about the significant rewards and benefits of these first ten days of hajj before and listed some resources here:

First 10 Days of Dhul-Hajj

My Ramadan and Eid Planner 2015/1436 also has a section called The First Ten Days of Hajj and Ten Days to Eid-ul-Adha which covers Udhiyya (Qurbani or sacrifice), some resources to learn more and the sunnan (prophetic traditions) which relate to Eid-ul-Adha.

You can also read my hajj diary from 2005 here:

Part 3: In Makkah
Part 4: Exploring Makkah

Alhamdulillah brings back so many beautiful memories.

I hope that you are all able to make the most of these special days and that Allah (SWT) gives you the opportunity to earn great reward and feel spiritually uplifted and closer to both Him (SWT) and our brothers and sisters during this time of worship and community insh'Allah.

Monday 14 September 2015

Finding Community

This Friday we were invited to a sister’s lunch with other ladies from the area. The host was a sister who moved here from the other side of London about three months ago. I always love these occasions mainly because they involve good food and we get to wear something nice. Now that I have my five children, I tend to dress practically and my nicer outfits get less of an airing.

I found something to wear and some bangles to match:

It was really nice to meet my friends from our sister’s circle and spend time in the company of good down-to-earth, women. One thing that always makes me smile is how well dressed they always are. The first time I went to one of these gatherings I dressed simply and kept my hijab on thinking that as most of the ladies wore niqab they would be fairly conservative. In fact they were dolled up beautifully – hair done up, make-up and dressy outfits. They may be conservative, but they are still feminine women who enjoy fashion and appreciate beautiful things. Wearing niqab meant that when they found a safe environment to dress up they took full advantage.

The sister who was hosting prepared a beautiful lunch for all of us with lots of dishes, some Pakistani style and some Gujarati style.

I have now and again received e-mails from sisters saying that they are isolated or new to a place and have struggle to make friends and find a place in their local community. The sister who hosted has been a virtual master class in how to do this. She moved to this area with her family about three months ago after her husband made enquiries locally about the area and particularly the masjid and what the environment was like for practising Muslims.

Once they had moved here, she made an effort to attend the sister’s circle linked to the masjid. She got to know the sisters and always took time to say salaam to us even though she is about my mum’s age. When a jamaat/dawah group visited she would cook for them and where they were women, she would come to meet them and join in their halaqah’s (study groups). She hosted a meal for all of the brothers for the masjid and the lunch that I attended was for their wives.

Within the space of a very short time, she became quite beloved to us. Of course it help that she is humble and always smiling, you feel safe with her knowing that she would never be rude or saying something unkind (I really do like good natured people).

If all this sounds like hard work, it can be. It take some effort and coming forward rather than waiting for others to make the first move. But Alhamdulillah this sister made the effort and I have nothing but love and admiration for her. May Allah (SWT) accept her good efforts, multiply the blessings from them and reward her copiously insh’Allah.

Trip to Kew Gardens 2015

We visited Kew Gardens a few years ago and enjoyed our visit so much but never got to see everything we wanted to in one day.  Since then the older two children have been there on school trips but I thought it would be nice for us to go as a family and I remembered it as being a fairly easy, family-friend place to visit.

By the time we got our stuff ready and food packed, we were pretty late getting there and so we decided to start with what we missed the first time we went, the Xstrata tree-top walk.

This is a structure built amongst the trees with a long platform at the top that lets you walk amongst the treetops.  Sounds wonderful?  It was.

There was a fairly long set of steps to the top which the kids raced up.  Being very unfit right now, I took the lift for disabled people, which was full of other non-disabled lazy people like me.

I am terrified of heights, so normally would be put off something like this, but the platform at the top was fenced on both sides and I felt safe.  The platform forms a ring of sorts that snakes round the trees and makes its way back to where it started.

It's surprising how high the tree-tops are, I didn't look down too much because it was so far down.  About half way across the walk, the platform started shaking.  A group of ladies in front of me starting panicking a little.  Without looking back I asked the kids if they're dad was shaking the bridge.  Of course he was.

The walk from Xstrata to the next bit we wanted to see passed through a little Bamboo grove.  I love these plants, there's something so neat about their smooth stems.

Getting anywhere in the park takes a lot of walking, I think we managed to go round in circles a few times despite the maps and signs.  The Gardens offer wheelchairs at the various entrances, which we asked for my mum-in-law because she wouldn't have manage to get round the park herself.

The next place we wanted to go to was the greenhouse which houses  tropical plants (Temperate House).  These are surrounded by areas of formal gardens and a rose garden with a lake behind it and Kew Palace beyond that.

The greenhouse houses tropical pants, palms, ferns and tropical flowers and fruits such as bananas and mangoes.

I was pleased to spot this rather unassuming looking henna plant:

Underneath the greenhouse there is a small aquarium, which is a nice little bonus.

By the time we finished at the greenhouse and aquarium it was 5pm and the rest of the greenhouses including one with giant lily pads were closed.  We spent another hour or so with the kids playing in the outdoor play area as the indoor play area had also closed.

This is easily one place where we would visit every summer.  There is so much to do and it is so child/family-friendly.  I did notice though that the last time we visited there seemed to be much more in the way of flowers, so I would recommend going in early to mid-summer.

You can see pictures from our previous visits of: Pagoda and Japanese Gardens, flowers, orchids and the marine life.