Monday, 8 July 2013

Hard View (My Ramadan Journey)


It’s that time of year again that I find to have so much meaning and beauty. To me Ramadan is so much more than fasting from dusk till dawn or feasting during Iftar. Not only is it a time when I endeavour to increase my Taqwa/Iman, become more charitable and strengthen my knowledge of the Holy Qur'an, it is also a time that I become closer to Allah and have a closer relationship with the Qur'an.
Many of us who celebrate Ramadan take journeys at this time of the year and this Ramadan I want to take a journey on how I can get the most benefit from the opportunity Ramadan affords me and I want to encourage anyone who wishes to come along on this journey in making this Ramadan one of great triumph and blessings.
In my Ramadan journey this year, I wish to, first and foremost, give top priority to knowing and understanding the true contents and message of the Qur'an. And also, I wish to take a moment to reflect on which aspects of my life; my routine, attitude, personality or behaviour I need to improve on and what my plans are for changing for the better and bringing myself closer to the Islamic standard.
An important part of this journey for me is to be as charitable as I can possibly be. When possible, every time I see people in anguish and poverty, every time my eyes fill with tears at the sight of senseless killings, blown up bodies, devastation and displacement of innocent people, I will open my purse and give charity. I will remember to forego some of my necessities in order for provide for those who are in more need than me. I will also opt not to spend money on frivolous things and luxuries so that those who are in more need than me and my family can be helped through my charity.
Insha Allah, in my journey, I will sleep early after praying Ishaa and Taraweeh and go to bed with a clear and conscious intention of fasting the next day. Then, I will get up well before Suhoor time, thanking Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala for giving me life and then I hope to make special Du'aa for the mercy of Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala on our Ummah. From the start and right to the end of Ramadan, I will try not to sleep after Fajr, but instead study the Qur'an. In the last ten days of the Ramadan, I will go to bed with the intention of getting up early for Tahajjud prayers.
Throughout the day, for the duration of the Ramadan, I will find time to revise and re-learn the Soorahs and Aayaat I already know. Once that is completed, I will learn at least one Aayah a day from a Soorah that I do not already know.
Insha Allah, I will be extra kind, understanding, accepting, considerate and supportive to my non-Muslims friends and neighbours. I will listen to them, carry them along and find ways to have them participate in the blessings of Ramadan by sharing my food and gifts with them. I will counsel myself on my temperamental nature and strive to become calmer. I will try very hard to be forgiving to all those who have offended me, my family or my community. I will clear my heart from anger, suspicion and grudges.
For the full duration of the Ramadan, I will kick at least one of my bad habits and make a special effort to speak only to add value and to say only what is meaningful and useful. When I do not have anything useful to talk about, I will remember Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala through the beautiful and peaceful words taught by the Rasul (SAW), while paying attention to their meanings and feeling the impact of the words on my heart, my mind, my thoughts and my attitude.
Ramadan is a spiritual cleansing month not only for the soul but also for the body. It is said in a Hadith that the Prophet (SAW) said we should leave 1/3 of our stomach for water, 1/3 for air, and 1/3 for food.

Therefore, this Ramadan, in addition to my spiritual journey, I will be going on a health and weight loss one as well. While I embrace Ramadan for its spiritual benefits and all the positives that it represents, it really is an excellent opportunity to shed some extra weight. It can be very tempting to devour anything and everything edible during Iftar, but the tendency of this is putting on more weight than one had to begin with and becoming unhealthier.
When we fast, we are already resetting our metabolism by the protracted, long overnight fast, as well as the daily fasting. Our metabolism resets and our body begins to change the way it operates. There is no need to consume excess food at Iftar, dinner or Suhoor, but we usually do. And when we do that, our body thinks it is in a state of famine and will store everything we eat as fat, because it is worried about food supply.
Furthermore, eating once a day scares our body and our body starts to shut down and slow down our metabolism. A diet that is less than a normal amount of food intake but balanced is sufficient enough to keep us healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.
I know for me personally, each Ramadan in the past, I have always had a tendency to over-eat during Iftar. But this year, I want to be disciplined, eat healthy, eat slowly, avoid binge eating at night, listen to my stomach when it is comfortably full and practice constraint. I know Ramadan is not about losing weight, but I would like to use this opportunity, to address my issue of gluttony and use control and constraint on what I eat.
It is nice to have support and encouragement whilst we fast during Ramadan and as part of my Ramadan Plan, I will be sharing my plan of improving myself, my spirituality and my health and diet, which I hope to follow during Ramadan, on my Facebook, my Twitter, and my website (In the Blog section under Hanneyz Honneyz), should anyone wish to follow along with me.
On these threads and forums, I hope we can share advise, Dua’s, thoughts on how we are coping, share things we want to improve on and share the things we are grateful for in our lives.
Furthermore, on these sites, for the duration of the Ramadan, I will post the balanced diet plan and menu for the low fat, high energy healthy meals I hope to eat in order to avoid the Ramadan extra weight gain.
If anybody wishes to follow this diet plan and come on this health and weight loss journey with me, you are welcome to do so. I will try to make the menu detailed and provide alternatives and recipes where necessary on the forums. However, while Ramadan is an excellent opportunity for overweight people to lose weight, please note that underweight or marginally normal weight people are discouraged from losing weight during Ramadan.
If, like me, you have decided to make this a meaningful and triumphant Ramadan by moving closer to Allah and identifying areas requiring improvement in your life, may Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala assist you and bless you for taking this step in your life.
If one can succeed this Ramadan in living as planned by the true tenants of the Quran, one will be able to look back and rejoice and feel inner joy and true happiness knowing that their Eid day will be the day of celebrating rewards from Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'aala.
As we begin this journey for Ramadan, I wish each and every person welcoming this Ramadan a Blessed, fruitful, safe and peaceful month. Ramadan Kareem and Ramadan Mubarak!
Written By Hannatu Musawa
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 I daresay nothing in my opinion symbolises the speed at which time flies more than Ramadan. It seems to me like only yesterday we were celebrating the last Ramadan when the thirty days of fasting, reflection, feasting ...and prayer went by so swiftly. But here we are again at the commencement of this most beautiful period in the life of all Muslims. As we wake up today to the start of this blessed time of abstention, permit me to reiterate to every Muslim and those of other faiths who are our neighbours, brothers, sisters and countrymen what the ideal of Ramadan is and its significance in the lives of we who submit to it.

In this day and age of transgression, sacrilegious entertainment, profane pop culture, venal individualism and the attractiveness of non-conformity, it is easy for the ideal and message of Ramadan to get shrouded by the lurid articulation of an alternative value. This also happens during Christmas, Easter or Lent when Christians all over the world are expected to continue embracing the message of love, peace, patience and honour that Christianity represents.

While the ideal of Ramadan is one and the same for every Muslim and almost identical to the ideals of the fasting rituals of Christianity and Judaism, the meaning and lessons one derives from it is, in the main, unique to each individual. Apart from the fact that it is the most important month in the Islamic calendar, it is also a most remarkable bequest from the Almighty. A gift that signifies the dawn of the day in the landscape of Islam when the morning breaks, sun rises, cocks crow and God’s creatures emerge bright and refreshed.

Ramadan, together with every other form of fasting in other religions empowers us as human beings because it teaches us that life is about both the body and especially the soul. What establishes man’s worth lies within the soul, not the body. The fact that we deny our body food in the spirit of faith only means that we are enriching and fortifying our souls. A person can enrich their souls not only by being tolerant and determined in the face of struggles but by being resolute in steering clear of sin despite the enticements. Being able to withstand hunger and thirst during fasting and being able to keep the hands, ears, eyes and minds away from sin provides a training ground for the important quality of patience and perseverance that Ramadan also stands for. One can understand the importance of restating the message of Ramadan if one keeps in mind that the avaricious and epicurean ideals of the times we are living in are in direct conflict with the ideals of fasting in any faith.

Almost everything in this life and in this world navigates us towards the satisfaction of our bodies. Day in, day out we seek ways of fulfilling the unappeasable desires we feel, be it through the consumption of food or adorning ourselves with trinkets of beauty in a quest for perfection. Such worldly aspirations, generates limitless desires which subsequently lead to limitless conflicts. In a bid to meet up with those unbounded desires, all manners of intrigue are put into play. Such infinite aspirations create vast dissatisfactions because it is impossible for any living soul to completely fill the gap between their desires and achievements. In effect, the lack of fulfilment gives way to a plethora of pandemonium, unhappiness and repression. The gift that Ramadan and other forms of fasting gives us is that it allows us to let go of all those worldly pleasures that are so addictive and, in effect, this helps us to distinguish and focus on worldly responsibilities as opposed to the pleasures.

Fasting allows us to take a break from the material things we enjoy in life to reflect on what truly is important in our existence. By depriving ourselves in the name of our spiritual beliefs, we are voluntarily bidding farewell to the vain quest of happiness in all forms of corporeal hedonisms and reflecting on the direction of our lives and the hereafter.

I have come to learn and appreciate the beauty of what this holy month means to me as an individual. From the beginning to the end of Ramadan, I see it as a complete overhaul of my life; I feel inspired, encouraged and have faith that any situation can be resolved with the strength of the prayers offered during this period. That is a far cry from my perception as a very young girl when I used to think of Ramadan as a period of pure starvation and a small alteration in meal times. Now, apart from Ramadan symbolising spiritual empowerment to me, it is a time of enhanced charity and kindness. We are told that whosoever feeds people of lesser means or gives another person food to break his fast shall be blessed and rewarded by God. With the level of suffering, poverty and hunger in Nigeria and all over the world, this ideal of fasting to embrace and perform charity cannot be overemphasized.

Muslims all over the country should use this Ramadan period as a route to rediscover their inner beings while dedicating themselves and time to the Creator. Apart from reading the Holy Scriptures, voluntary worship, engaging in prayer and conversing to God, Muslims must remember that every action we take as representatives of the Deen reflects on the perception of Islam. With accounts of people in the country killing each other in the name of religion, personalities supporting inept political candidates on the basis of religion and much older men marrying 13 year old minor girls young enough to be their grand-daughters in the, so called, fulfilment of religion, it is a blessing that a period of reflection is upon us. This period of Ramadan, without doubt, is the perfect time for such Muslims to reflect and ask themselves whether their actions were truly done in the interest of Islam and what effect it is to have on the Deen. If they truly care about Islam and put the best interest of Islam above their personal whims, then they need to earnestly ask themselves that question.

In a sermon to prepare people mentally for the sacred month of Ramadan, The Rasul (PBUH) once said; “Oh people! A great month is coming to you. A blessed month. A month in which there is one night that is better than a thousand months. A month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as is there for performing an obligatory deed at any other time. And whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience and the reward for patience is Heaven. It is the month of kindness and charity. It is a month in which sustenance is increased...”
One hopes that throughout the month of Ramadan and long after its conclusion, people will do whatever they can to imbibe the essence of such a sermon and the spirit of the season so that their actions and ideals can be informed by the ideal of Ramadan. An ideal, that preaches peace, sharing, love, patience, respect and understanding towards us and our Christian and other faith based brothers and sisters. May all the religions in Nigeria live together in mutual harmony, understanding and appreciation.

Whether one is embarking on ‘itikaf’ or seclusion in a Mosque to devote their full month of Ramadan to remembering the Creator, devoting the last ten days of the fasting to worship or taking it within their stride to meet the basic obligation of fasting, I take this opportunity to wish everybody that is participating in the Ramadan a very blessed, fulfilling, and rewarding worship; Ramadan Kareem.

Written By Hannatu Musawa
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 Nelson Mandela is ageing and his ‘spirit and sparkle’ is fading, his wife has said, as it is disclosed that South Africa’s former president is hospitalized on life support, suffering from a recurring lung infection. Mill...ions all over the world yet again hold their breath at the news that the Madiba, one of the greatest moral and political international heroes of our time, is ill and fighting for his life.

Nelson Mandela feels more like a father than a famous figure to the likes of myself, who throughout our lives recognize him as the central persona in one of the most gripping and moving political dramas in the world. His story has been one of strife, great effort, obstacle, new hope, and the ultimate achievement. And even in the midst of his darkest days, he demonstrated with vigor the task of a great leader, by leading his country from the shallow hole it was in, to the elevated heights of freedom. He did this with the spirit of a saint and a perception of strength, bravery, generosity, courage and forgiveness. Nelson Mandela is a true freedom fighter whose love for his people has no end and whose life and personal success will be remembered long after the world has forgotten the evils of the oppression that once engulfed his people. He is a star who has brightened the lives of many and set the ultimate example for all leaders in Africa, because he is one who will not compromise his people’s cause for self-interest. The radiance of his personality has touched the lives of many over the years and we hope to continue drinking from his river of humanity as we pray he pulls through.

In a role seldom witnessed in Africa, he selflessly dedicated his life to fight against one of the most powerful systems of oppression ever conceived, and today he stands as a decisive testimony to the victory of nobility and hope over desolation and odium, of forgiveness and love over revenge and hate. His life personifies what a true patriot should do and how they should behave under the most trying of circumstances. The spirits of all the revolutionaries and freedom fighters of this world, past and present, surely would smile blessings upon him because he always stood fair against all kinds of domination and was willing to give his life for it. In his own words, Nelson Mandela once said, “I have fought against white domination and against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a free society in which all live together in harmony, with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Growing up in South Africa as a young black boy in the first half of the last century must have been a real ordeal as a result of apartheid. Blacks were segregated, abused, persecuted and treated little better than animals. The apartheid regime enacted laws that regarded them accordingly. But despite such adversity, Nelson Mandela was always a fighter from a young age. Instead of accepting this unreasonable system of government, he made the decision to resist and began his lifelong journey to free South Africa from the shackles of repression. Little did he know that his resolve back then would lead to the demise of apartheid, pave the road to the presidency and the ultimate honor of a Nobel Peace Award. Today, thanks to the personal effort and sacrifice of men such as Mandela, South Africa is a free state with equal opportunities for all its citizens and the pride of Africa.

Of all his sacrifices, the most heart-wrenching is without a doubt the sacrifice of his private life and youth for his people. I once read an interview with one of his daughters in which she described the solitude of growing up with a father that was incarcerated and branded terrorist by the government, and the loneliness of having to share him with the whole of South Africa upon his release. But even before his incarceration, Mandela was forced to live apart from his family. In an attempt to survive and evade the authorities, Mandela moved from place to place and adopted a number of camouflages. He became so good at avoiding the authorities that were stationed in every nook and cranny that at a point he was labeled the ‘black pimpernel’.

His childhood and upbringing could not have been more apt for the life-role he was to play. He was born in the South African town of Qunu, Transkei in 1918. His father, Henry Mandela, was chief councillor to the acting paramount chief in his town. When his father died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the chieftainship. From a young age he and his lifelong friend and fellow freedom fighter Oliver Tambo were driven to participate in the fight to free their people. As a student he was said to both be extremely studious and ambitious and eventually ended up starting a BA degree. However in 1940, during the course of his degree, he was expelled from University for actively participating in a student strike. He went on to complete his degree by doing a correspondence course after which he enrolled to become a lawyer. After joining the ANC, he helped found the youth league of the party in 1944. He put in many years of dedication to his cause and eventually became head of the defiance-campaign of the party. This empowered him to travel across the country to organize a resistance to discriminatory legislation campaign. During this period he was arrested and confined a couple of times but that didn’t stop him from forming individual underground cells of the ANC upon his release.

In addition, he and Oliver Tambo proceeded to open the first black legal firm in the country and even though the Law Society was petitioned to strike Mandela off the roll of barristers, his law firm and career survived. In 1960, after the Sharpeville massacre and after his release from yet another detention, Mandela as leader of the military wing of the ANC went underground to lead a campaign for a new national convention. By 1962 he went to Algeria for military training and to build a militia but upon his return he was arrested. On a charge of leaving the country illegally and incitement to strike Mandela conducted his own defence but lost and was convicted for five years in November 1962. It was during the service of that sentence he and seven others, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Mosoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada, were charged with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

During this trial Mandela’s resolve never faulted and he continuously told the court; “I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor for the love of violence but as a result of a sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.” But despite their defence the judge remained convinced that their behaviour was not borne out of a need for the attainment of equal rights for the African people but out of a warped desire for revolution and personal ambition. Luckily for the world he stopped short of imposing the supreme penalty of death and instead opted for life imprisonment. While in prison, Mandela never compromised his political principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners.

The apartheid government numerously offered Mandela the reduction of his sentence as long as he abided by certain conditions, but every time they offered, Mandela would refuse on the notion that “prisoners were not able to enter into contracts, only free men could negotiate”.

Decades into his struggle for the liberation of black and colored people in South Africa, Mandela, together with Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Mosoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada, was charged with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. While in prison, Mandela never compromised his political principles. The apartheid government numerously offered Mandela the reduction of his sentence as long as he abided by certain conditions, but every time they offered, Mandela would refuse on the notion that ‘…only free men could negotiate.’

After decades of prison labor, Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were eventually released on February 11, 1990. On that bright day, at 4:14pm, almost an hour late, a jubilant Mandela, dressed in a light brown suit and tie and holding Winnie’s hand, appeared at the gates of his prison, smiled at the ecstatic crowds and punched the air in a victory salute before taking a silver BMW Sedan to freedom. With his tenacity unblemished, he went back to his life’s work, determined to end the struggle he and others had set out to do almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa, Mandela was elected president of the party. On May 10, 1994, he won and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. And, unlike most other African leaders, even though he was at the apex, he retired in June 1999 and relinquished power with no fuss after only one term in office.

Before being admitted to hospital, he was known to peacefully reside in his birth place with his third wife, Graca, where his most private moments were filled by his greatest pleasure: watching the sun set while listening to classical music and reading to his grandchildren. Accounts suggest he usually got up by 4:30am, exercised by 5am and took breakfast of plain porridge, fresh fruit and fresh milk by 6:30am while reading the days newspapers.

Despite severe provocation, Mandela never answered racism with racism but symbolized the triumph of the human spirit over man’s inhumanity to man. His life has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation. He has never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and justice.

Words cannot describe how blessed this generation is to have lived during the times of a man like Mandela. I and millions of people around the world who love him dearly have learned so much from him and will continue to cherish him. If the world can have more people like him, it, indeed, would be a much better place to live in. He reminds me of a late woman named Hajia Wowo that I loved so much. But more than that, when I think of him, I do not see a person; I see an institution of goodness and a beacon of strength…I see my conscience!

In his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’ Mandela describes his struggle as a journey, and of that journey he says, “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

And indeed, as we pray for his fast recovery or peaceful passing, for the great Madiba it has been, for the last nine decades, a walk well walked!

Written By Hannatu Musawa
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