zaterdag 8 maart 2014

A Creative Ramadan: Smakelijke souhours - Nachtelijk sfeerlichtje

Om het ontbijt op zo'n vroeg uur wat gezelliger te maken: een leuk sfeerlichtje voor op tafel!
* Een glazen bokaal (Bijv. van groentjes, mayonaise, tomatensaus, …) Zorg dat je deze goed uitwast zodat er geen etensrestjes meer in zitten.
* Afbeelding van een ‘moskee skyline’ (Zie bijlage)
* Schaar
* Breekmes
* Lijm
* Theelichtje

* Zoek op internet een leuke afbeelding van een skyline met moskeeën of een silhouette van een moskee. Print deze afbeelding uit.
* Knip de skyline/het silhouette uit. Snijd eventuele raampjes uit met een breekmes.
* Breng aan de achterkant ervan de lijm aan. Dit kan gewone pritt zijn.
* Kleef de skyline/het silhouette rond de glazen bokaal en druk goed aan.
* Zet een theelichtje op de bodem van de bokaal.
Lichten uit, kaarsje aan!

maandag 9 december 2013

They remain (Poem)


When you travel as much as I do and everything in your life: people, places, climate, etc. changes all the time, after a while you yearn desperately for some stability. You start looking for those little things that give you some sense of security. These things, in the middle of the chaos and the constant changes, still remain. Some of those things for me are the singing of the birds, the smell of grass and... The stars. Wherever I go: the birds still sing the same songs, the grass still smells the same way and when I look up to the sky on a starry night I see the same constellations as I used to back home. Those little things give me comfort when I tend to get overwhelmed by the speed of which everything around me keeps changing. 

They remain...

No matter where you are,
On a mountain top or amidst the desert sand,
You will see the stars,
When you’re traveling across the land.

Wherever you go those stars are the same,
High up in the sky like a flickering flame,
Such hope they contain,
            ‘Cause they do remain.            

No matter how lonely you might think you are,
Look up to the sky,
And when you see the stars,
Remember they don’t say goodbye.

Whatever you feel, those stars are the same,
High up in the sky like a flickering flame,
Such hope they contain,
‘Cause they do remain.
They do remain…

The Story of the Butterfly

Picture by Sue Blackwell

A small story that tells a great tale...

“A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared; he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body
through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the Cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What this man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting Cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.”

In life we all go through hardships, but we don't always see the bigger picture when we're in the midst of one. We find ourselves stuck in our situation, stuck in our cocoon and we try desperately to get ourselves out, but for some reason we stay right where we are and we ask ourselves the questions: "Why is this happening to me?" and "When will this struggle be over?"

But just like the man who wanted to help the butterfly, we need to understand that we need time to grow, time to develop. And in order to do that, God gives us trials and hardships. He gives us those trials to teach us something. We need those trials in order to attain new qualities. Abilities to be able to cope with what else life will bring us.

When we are feeling stuck in our cocoon it's important for us to realize that we're going through this process and that we need to remain patient. That we need to keep struggling, suffering and striving to develop, to grow.

When we are feeling stuck in our cocoon we should realize we are not being broken, we are being remade.

When we are feeling stuck in our cocoon, we shouldn't despair, we shouldn't lose hope. We shouldn't want to rush things and cut ourselves out of it when we are not ready to move on. We should instead remain hopeful that are wings are growing and that it's just a matter of time before we'll be able to fly. And fly we will, fly we will...

donderdag 21 november 2013

The Race of Life (Poem)

Originally written on the 14th of July 2013.

Money, wealth, praise and fame,
These seem to be our goals in life,
But eventually we will regret who we became,
If there’s nothing else towards which we want to strive.
Know that we weren’t put here in vain,
God created this world as a test,
It’s nothing more than a game,
To see whose deeds are best.
So let’s run as hard as we can in this race,
Let us not drop behind,
Or even slacken our pace,
And let us always keep in mind…
That no one is bound to stay
And we can leave this life any time,
No one is promised another day,
Or knows when he’ll see the finish line.
So train yourself with fear and belief, 
And never stop running, my friend,
So on that day when most of mankind is stricken with loss and grief,
You’ll be the first to reach the end…

Gossip Girl - Part I: Backbiting and slander

One month ago I was blessed to attend a course called 'Heart Therapy' by Al-Kauthar. The focus of this course was mainly around recognizing the diseases of the heart and learning how to deal with them and eventually cure them. One of those diseases is backbiting, slander and tale-carrying. Although these actions are committed with the tongue, their root can be found in the heart. Although I benefited a lot from this course and left it with more understanding and knowledge about the gravity of sins like backbiting, slandering and tale-carrying, it seems that it's easier said than done to stay away from those actions. Quite recently I was confronted with this up close when I was mingled up in a tense situation between people and I, unwillingly, got stuck in the middle. The consequences for all parties, including myself, were saddening and long cherished friendships got cracked and even broken. Upset about this whole situation and reflecting on how things spun out of control I realized that if I had known my boundaries better, things might have turned out differently. If àll parties had known their boundaries better, things might have turned out differently. So I decided to take out my course material and start reading and learning again, because it seems like the words I heard and read during that course didn't really reach their target yet: they didn't reach my heart yet. My heart was still sick. I still did not get rid of this disease. But since this disease spreads like wildfire and most of us commit this crime (Yes, that is actually what it is!) on a daily basis, I decided to share the course material with my notes and some reflections. Hoping that I will finally get cured in the process and others as well... 

I will divide this subject into two posts: in the first one I'll cover the material about backbiting and slander. In the second one I will focus on tale-carrying. May it be of benefit first and foremost for myself, but also for everyone who reads this post. All credit goes to Al-Kauthar for providing this material and giving us the tools to purify ourselves and become better muslims in every aspect of the word. 

Backbiting is translated in Arabic as 'ghiebah', from the Arabic root word 'ghayb' which means 'to be absent, hidden, remote and unseen.' Because, as we all know: when someone backites another, he or she does so when the latter is not present. From an islamic point of view we are provided with the following definition: 

Abu Hurayrah (radiAllahu anhu) said that Allah's messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Do you know what is backbiting?' The Companions said, 'Allah and His Messenger know best.' Thereupon the Prophet said, 'Backbiting is to talk about your brother in a manner which he does not like.' 

Some important notes:
* 'Ghiebah' is a truthful statement. This means that you're actually telling the truth about a person when you are backbiting. If it is a false statement it is called 'buthaan'.
* It is called backbiting when it is committed in private as well as in public. 
* Even when you're standing in front of the person you're uttering a statement about, it is still backbiting. 

Slander is different from backbiting as it is actually stating falsehood as we can understand from the following hadith: 

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked, 'Suppose that there are actual faults in the one I am talking about?' The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, 'If what you say about your brother is true, you are guilty of backbiting, but if what you say concerning him is not true, you are guilty of slandering him.' (Muslim)

This definition of ghiebah (and slander) should be something that from now on is saved on our mental hard drive and every time we feel the urge to speak about someone, whether in a negative or a positive way, this question should pop up in our minds: 'Would this sister or brother like that I'm telling this about her or him?' If the answer is no or you're not sure: restrain your tongue and don't say a word. Because if you know for a fact that the other wouldn't appreciate what you're saying and you decide to not withhold your tongue, you are actually committing a sin. And not just a tiny one, but a MAJOR sin. 

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, 'One of the greatest major sins is to stretch out one's tongue without right against the honour of a muslim.' (Abu Dawud)

The scholars agree that it is haraam to backbite without legitimate justification. The majority agrees that it is a major sin. (Read those last two words again. And again. And again until you understand the seriousness of this act.) It does, however, vary in degree: some kinds of backbiting are worse than others. F.ex.: backbiting a scholar is worse than backbiting an ignorant person. (FYI: where it's haraam to backbite another muslim, it is not haraam to backbite a non-muslim, but it is still something we should refrain from doing.)

Some important notes:
* The great scholar, Imam al-Nawawi, said in his book, al-Adhkaar: 'Mentioning about your brother something that he would dislike includes what concerns his body, his religious practice, his worldly station, his physical appearance, his moral character, his wealth, his parents, his children, his spouse, his servant, his clothing, his activities, his smiles and frowns and anything else that pertains to him. It does not matter if you mention it explicitly by word or implicitly by indication or a gesture... This includes the likes of saying 'O Allah, pardon us all!', 'O Allah, forgive us!', 'Allah keep us safe!' etc., (in fact) all of this is backbiting.' 

Especially that last sentence struck me and still hits me today. Because many of us will say things like 'You know X *Sigh*... But I don't want to say anything bad about him/her!' or looking at a certain person and saying very loudly so others can hear 'AstagfirAllah!'... How often do these things happen? Let it be clear that this is ALSO backbiting and that even by rolling our eyes or sighing we are committing a major sin. Soubhan'Allah! 

The Qur'an and ahadith mention several punishments for this grave sin...
It is likely that the one who backbit another person will be punished by being ordered, on the Day of Judgement, to eat from the flesh of the dead bodies of those whom he backbit, as they will be made to appear to him as such. 

'Neither spy, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Surely you would loathe it. Fear Allah. Indeed, Allah relents and is Merciful.' (Surah Al-Hujuraat 49:12) 

Backbiting someone can lead us straight into Hellfire... 

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Sometimes a person says something that pleases Allah through which he is raised in rank; and sometimes a person says something which displeases Allah so it takes him to Hell.' (al-Bukhari) 

It was narrated in the hadith relating the incident of the Mi'raaj (Ascent) that: 'The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by a group of people with copper fingernails, with which they scratched their own faces and chests. Upon witnessing this he asked: 'Who are those, Jibriel?' and he was told in response, 'Those are the people who eat the flesh of other people and vilify their honour.' 

Now we truly understand what backbiting is and we have been confronted with the consequences it is time to be fair with ourselves and diagnose the possible causes of why we keep falling into this sin over and over again. 

* Weakness of faith and lack of piety. 
* To vent your anger against the one whom you are backbiting.
* To fit in: when the company you're in is backbiting, you'll easily join in. (This marks the importance of good company once again!)
* Personal dislike of the person you're backbiting.
* To make people believe that you don't own certain bad qualities by pointing them out in others. 
* To honour and elevate oneself. 
* Jealousy and envy.
* Mocking, joking and belittling others. 

It sometimes seems like and impossible task to restrain ourselves from backbiting and slandering and most of us will feel desperate at how easy we slip back into our old habits when it comes to an issue like this. AlhamdouliLlah, Allah did not send any disease, except with it's cure, so here are some tips to prevent yourself from backbiting and to cure your heart. 

* Reflect on the statements of Allah and His messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) regarding the speech of the Muslim. 

Of the many examples I will give only one, that actually envelops them all;
 The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him say good or be quiet.' (al-Bukhari and Muslim) 

* Knowing that forgiveness from the one who you've backbitten is essential for your repentace to be accepted. 

:-O *No words are needed here!* 

* Reflect on your own faults instead of focusing on the faults of others. 

Abu Hurayrah (radiAllahu anhu) said: 'One of you sees the dust in his brothers' eye but fails to see the crud in his own.' 

* Righteous companionship: we copy the actions and behaviour of our friends, so let us choose those friends who speak good and remind us to speak good as well. 

* Strong resolve: make a firm and determined resolution to stop.

Rasul ibn Wahb said, 'I swore an oath that for every time I backbite someone, I would fast a day. This just wore me out, since I would backbite and fast. Then I resolved that for every time I backbite someone, I would spend one silver coin in charity. Then, for the love of money, I gave up backbiting.' 

I absolutely love this piece of advice: find ways to 'punish' yourself every time you do commit this sin. Whether you fast or give in charity: come up with a creative solution to help yourself stop. 

Exceptional circumstances
Although backbiting is haraam, as already mentioned above, sometimes there's a legitimate justification for it in which case it's not a sin. I will list those exceptional circumstances briefly:

* To complain of oppression.
* To return to order or put to right things: when you want to seek assistance in correcting an evil and returning the disobedient to guidance. F. ex.: you know someone who is committing sin, but you don't find yourself suitable to advice properly, so you can explain the situation briefly to someone who may have the ability to change the evil by saying: 'So and so does such and such an act so advise him.' It's important to note that the one who says this must intend to remove the evil only, otherwise it wouldn't be permissible to speak. 
* When seeking a fatwa regarding the issue, when you are presenting the case to a scholar to ask for advice. 
* To offer counsel, advice or a warning:
- Warning against weakness in a person's hadith transmission or his standing as a witness etc.
- Offering counsel regarding the character of a person for the purpose of marriage, getting into a business partnership, safekeeping something with someone, doing business with someone or becoming a neighbour of someone. 
- To advise a student of knowledge against the innovation/fisq of the instructor if he is likely to be affected by it.
- To advise the one in authority regarding the neglect of a person 'in office' etc. in order that a replacement be found. 
* To expose an open fahishah: if someone is openly committing disobedience or innovation (Drinking alcohol in public, taking the property of others unlawfully, ...) it is permissible to mention what he does publicly. 
* In order to describe or identify an individual: if a man who has weak eyes is known as 'The cross-eyed', 'The blind one', etc., it is permissible to describe him for identification, but it is unlawful to mention these as deficiencies and if he can be identified in another way this is better. 

I sincerely hope that this post serves as a reminder for all those who read it. I hope that me, you and all others who have read it, will have found the tools to stop backbiting and slandering once and for all and that we inspire others to stop doing so as well. May Allah give us the strength to remain steadfast in staying away from this sin and forgive us for the numerous times we've committed it. Ameen.

Source: Al-Kauthar, Heart Therapy course, The Purification of the Soul, taught by Sheick Abu Abdissalam, p. 32-39

woensdag 13 november 2013

The Halal Police: Learning to accept advice

We all know ‘The Haram Police’: sisters (and brothers) who present themselves as sincere advisers, but seem to point out only the mistakes of others. They are found especially on social media and often ‘give advice’ in an offending way. Because of their actions and words ‘The Haram Police’ has been mocked on You Tube video’s and advised in numerous articles. Giving advice is a tricky business and not everyone has the skills to give advice in a productive way without offending others or coming across as judging others. Although there’s a lot to write about giving advice properly (Without turning into a seemingly angry Haram Police Officer), that’s actually not what I want to write about.Since many before me wrote about it. What I do want to write about is learning to accept advice.  Because that’s not just tricky business, it’s plain difficult. 

I’ve noticed that people focus so much on the people who give advice and the way they should or should not, can or cannot give advice, that something very important has been left out: accepting advice and reacting to it properly. 
We actually have a problem: because of ‘The Haram Police’ everyone who does try to give advice sincerely and tries to do so in a nice, calm and polite manner immediately gets silenced because ‘They are being judgemental!’ and ‘You can’t judge, because only Allah gets to judge us!’ Okay, wait a minute. Let’s stop right there. Pause and rewind. Who said anything about judging? Since when does giving advice imply that someone’s being judgemental? It actually doesn’t! But because we think it does, we are not able to accept advice anymore and we’ve come to be an ummah in which even 'The Halal Police' has been shunned and silenced: those who try to call for what is right and try to lead us away from what is wrong. 
As I mentioned above, some people don’t really have the skills toadvise others properly, but they will take any opportunity to do so. I’ve encountered several sisters like that who tried advising me and after both encounters I ended up crying and once even doubting my choice for Islam.(Aoedhoe billah!) But… Even though their way of advising me was upsetting me,their words did linger and they triggered my search for more knowledge and understanding about my faith. And eventually they ended up changing my ways. Soubhan’Allah. Now, years later, if I would be able to meet those sisters again, I would thank them for having pointed out my wrongs. If they hadn’t,maybe I wouldn’t have changed them into rights… (But I would slip them a book about properly giving advice too. ;-) )
My experiences actually helped me to understand why we find it so difficult to accept advice from others. Even if it’s phrased in the most gentle way. What is standing between us and accepting the advice, is our nafs. Our ego.Our soul. Because when I look back at the times when I was advised by others,whether in a good or a bad manner, and I felt sad, upset, even angry, I realized it’s because my nafs felt threatened. Only afterwards when I was able to swallow my pride (Silence my nafs), I was able to see my wrongs and gradually turn them into rights. You see, our nafs doesn’t like to be told what it can and cannot do, should or should not do. It likes to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. And that means it doesn’t always inspire us to do what’s right. If our nafs is in control and not our intellect, when we are advised about something we’re doing wrong, our nafs roars, yells and screams. (Because it knows very well that it’s actually doing something wrong,it just doesn’t feel like changing its ways.) That results in us feeling sad,upset, insulted, offended. And Shaytaan is right around the corner, whispering to our nafs: ‘Sister X is just being judgmental and she can’t judge you, what you’re doing is not so bad… She should mind her own business!’ Sounds all too familiar? 
You’re not alone, unfortunately many of us don’t have their nafs under control. It’s actually their nafs that is controling most of their actions. The sad part is: most of us don’t even realize that our nafs has that much power! So we don’t try to tame it and will discard others’ advice if they are trying to direct us towards something good… 
The key to being able to accept advice and to eventually change yourself for the better is to understand that your nafs is nothing more but a wild beast that needs to be tamed. Tazkiyat al-nafs, the purification of the soul. To FORCE it to listen to your intellect, to FORCE it to listen to other’s advice without jumping to conclusions about whether the adviser is judging you or not. That is hard. That is extremely difficult. But if we want to be successful in this life and the next we MUST learn to tame it. 
In Surah al-Shams, Allah took 11 oaths (The biggest amount in the whole Qur’an, so that says something about it’s importance! :-) ) before stating that the one who purifies his soul will be successful: 
By the sun and its brightness;
By the moon as it follows it (the sun);
By the day as it shows up (the sun’s) brightness;
By the night as it conceals it (the sun);
By the heaven and Him Who built it;
By the earth and Him Who spread it;
By the nafs, and Him Who perfected him in proportion;
Then He showed him what is wrong for him and what is right for him;
Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself
And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself.
So, next time you’re being advised about something, hold still (Imagine yourself trying to tame that wild, roaring beast inside of you), reflect about what the other person is advising you about and ask yourself the following questions: Is what that person telling me islamically correct? Is what I’m doing islamically incorrect? Why do I feel upset or angry when someone’s advising me? Is it because I know I’m doing something wrong/islamically unacceptable and feel ‘caught’ for doing so? Because my nafs is feeling threatened? By asking yourself these questions you’ll gradually learn to discern what your nafs is trying to tell you to do and what you actually should be doing. (And those can be two completely opposite things!) Then starts the enormous task of trying to purify that nafs, that soul of all its diseases. (Oh yes, you’re nafs is ill, just like mine.) Purifying your soul is a life’s journey. But once you embark on that journey, a lot of things will become easier for you to do. And suddenly you will notice that accepting advice is actually not that hard anymore. :-)

donderdag 25 juli 2013

7 * Sadaqa Jar

Sadaqa. Liefdadigheid staat centraal in Ramadan. Projecten om minderbedeelden te helpen schieten tijdens deze maand als paddenstoelen uit de grond, bedrijven zetten zich in voor goede doelen en ieder probeert op zijn eigen manier een steentje bij te dragen om iemand die het minder goed heeft, uit de nood te helpen. Mijn *sadaqa jar* krijgt dan ook een vaste plek in huis deze maand. Ons eigen spaarpotje voor een goed doel.

* Glazen bokaal (Van spaghettisaus, mayonaise, …Zorg dat je op voorhand de pot goed uitwast, zodat er geen etensrestjes of restjes van het etiket aan de buitenkant meer zichtbaar zijn.)
* Schaar
* Breekmes
* Lijm
* Plakband (Liefst een fleurige plakband)
* (Gekleurd) papier
* Om je *sadaqa jar* mee te versieren: stempels, glitter, stickers, …

Van deze bokaal maken we een spaarpot. Bovenaan moeten we de spaarpot dus dichtmaken en een gleufje vrijlaten, om via die weg geld in onze *sadaqa jar* te stoppen.
* ‘Deksel van de spaarpot’: teken met potlood op (gekleurd) papier een cirkel uit met dezelfde omtrek als die van de opening van je bokaal. Knip de cirkel uit. Maak een rechthoekige gleuf in de papieren cirkel met je breekmes. Bevestig de cirkel aan de bovenkant van de bokaal over de opening met plakband.
* Bokaal: de bokaal zelf kan je versieren naar keuze, laat de kindjes (of jezelf) maar prutsen! Op mijn *sadaqa jar* heb ik op de bokaal zelf een etiket van papier gekleed waarop ik met stempels de woorden SADAQA JAR heb gedrukt. Mijn *goede doel* heb ik vermeld op een kaartje dat ik met een lint rond de hals van de bokaal heb gestrikt.
* Hoe te gebruiken? Kies met het gezin een goed doel uit waar jullie dit jaar tijdens Ramadan centjes voor willen verzamelen. Zet de *sadaqa jar* op een zichtbare plek in huis, zodat iedereen in huis, maar ook bezoekers de spaarpot kunnen zien. Spreek met iedereen in huis af wat jullie in de pot willen stoppen: je kan een vast bedrag per dag/per week afspreken dat mama en papa of elk lid van het gezin in de pot stopt. Of je kan afspreken dat teruggegeven centjes van bij de bakker of het boodschappen doen deze maand niet in de portemonnee, maar in de pot verdwijnen. Ook bezoekers (voor iftar) kan je wijzen op jullie *sadaqa jar*, zodat als zij willen, ze ook een bijdrage in jullie potje kunnen stoppen. Na Ramadan wordt het bedrag geteld en overgemaakt aan het goede doel.