Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ramadan To-Do List for Non-Muslims

Note: This is an freelance article I wrote a couple years back on Suite101.com, since Ramadan is now upon us, I decided to dust off this article for your benefit :

Ramadan is currently being observed by Muslims across the globe, but that doesn't mean someone not of the faith can't benefit from the festivities.


To Muslims, the month of Ramadan has always been regarded as a time for self-evaluation and spiritual change. Followers of the faith reflect on what they have done in the past year, their attitude, conduct and habits and try to reform themselves for the year ahead. Looking at it from a different perspective, Ramadan is like a new year's resolution where a commitment is made and then diligently practiced in the forthcoming month in hopes that one's efforts carry over to the rest of the year.

A multitude of Islamic websites and blogs, to-do articles are written to aid Muslims as they seek to make the most of the blessed month. However, the occasion also serves as a great opportunity for non-Muslims who are seeking to learn more about the Islamic culture and practices.

Learning About Islam – Read the Qur'an


The main reason Ramadan is so special is because Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad during this month. Muslims commemorate the revelation by reading the Qur’an and reciting a portion of it during prayers every night of the month. Muslims also spend time reflecting on the Qur'an's message.

The Qur'an carries a universal message and would make a great addition to a bookshelf. While reading the Qur'an, one may notice that the format is not of a normal book with the content listed out. Having an open mind is key since The Qur'an is to be read as a conversation, which is actually how it's understood by Muslims: a direct conversation of God's Word to humanity. Reading the Qur'an may very well open a new perspective on the faith which is the essence of peace and moderation, a contrast to the extreme that it is often misunderstood as being.


Understanding Islam – Practice Fasting



Want a taste (no pun intended) of what Muslims experience during Ramadan? Take a shot at fasting. As prescribed in the Qur'an, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, avoiding all food and water as a demonstration of self-restraint and devotion. In addition to the religious benefits, studies by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Intermountain Health Care have also revealed that fasting serves as an effective detox method.

For Muslims, fasting isn't just abstaining from food and water, but also a spiritual fast. During the fast, Muslims are to refrain from using profane language, engaging in gossip, losing their temper, lying and having sexual intercourse with their spouse. These actions are a deterrent from the spiritual meditation to be achieved through the recommended duties during the day of prayer, personal reflection and remembrance of God. While some may believe that one has to be quite disciplined and devoted to achieve such a feat, it can be accomplished through practice.

To properly commit to a Muslim fast, one is allowed to wake up before dawn to have some nourishment before the day's fast begins. A light meal and a glass of water will enable the individual to endure the fast in the coming hours. Many Muslims enjoy some weight loss during Ramadan, providing they can avoid the temptation to binge at night when the day's fast is complete.

Visit a local mosque or Islamic Center



Muslims frequent the mosque more than usual during Ramadan, as it serves as a spiritual retreat from the distractions of life. Visiting the mosque can be beneficial if an individual is seeking to speak with Muslims about their experiences, get information about Ramadan and develop relationships with the Muslim community.

At various universities and cultural centers, booths are set up during Ramadan which offer information about Islam and Ramadan in general. Muslims are encouraged to be extra generous during this month and most will be very welcoming to a non-Muslim who wishes to observe the festivities. This integration can create greater social and cultural awareness which promotes tolerance and understanding. This falls in line with the Qur'an, where it is stated that people were all created differently (ethnicity, tribes, nationalities) so that they may come to know one another.

Join the Muslims for Iftar Dinner


Iftar is the breaking of the fast for Muslims; it occurs at sunset. Going to the mosque for Iftar or any other dinner gathering is an ideal time to observe the sanctity and brotherhood/sisterhood among members of the Muslim community. Every night of the month of Ramadan is treated like Thanksgiving. People are sharing plates of fruits, laughing and enjoying each others company. Mosques often prepare plenty of food for observers free of charge but also generously give away free food to anyone who attends, no matter the faith.

Learning about and observing the traditional Ramadan-related practices can provide non-Muslims with a greater understanding of Islam and the Muslim community.

Sources:

Translation of The Holy Qur'an. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an (January 1, 1987).

Study Shows Fasting Holds Health Benefits. Carrie Van Dusen. UWire.com. Retrieved on August 12, 2010.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Illuminating Prayer Rug:"Alhamdulilah for Technology" or "Eww Bidah!"?



During my usual frolic on the interwebs, I stumbled upon an article which touched on an interesting project currently being showcased on Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects. Get this: A prayer mat that glows/lights up when it faces Mecca. The blog on Mashable.com entitled "Holy Tech! Prayer Mats Light Up When Facing Mecca", raves about the artistic rug with its electro luminescent lights and built-in digital compass. Take a gander at the article by clicking the appropriate link. (Note: I do find it funny by the way that the creator, Soner Ozenc, initially was working on designing a flying--FLYING carpets, when this idea struck him. Cue the "Magic Carpet Ride" song.)

I have mixed thoughts about the invention, but lean towards positive. In the age we live in , technological advances is not only making our lives easier and more convenient, but is making spirituality/religion and the act of getting closer to God hip and fun as well. For Muslims, we have apps for the Qur'an and Hadith to be read in the palm of our hand, apps that remind us of our daily prayer times complete with Adhan (Call to Prayer alerts), we can listen to Arabic recitations from our phone or tablet at the touch of a button (or touchscreen). You can't help but say MashaAllah to all of this. And what this light up prayer rug, coined as EL Sajjdah, brings is technological innovation into your one-on-one conference with the Creator. It's a beautiful sight to look at to the point where on top of its primary use for prayer, it makes an excellent piece or art on your wall.





One issue that has already been brought up is how this invention could effect Islamic ettiquette when praying the salat, most notably the possibly detriment to focus and concentration required in the prayer (known to Muslims as khushoo). It is haram (forbidden) for one to be distracted by external things when trying to pray to Allah(swt). It's bad enough Shaitan jumps into our ears and tries to screw up our prayers with thinking about trivial nonsense now we have a shiny light to "ooh" and "ahh" about when we're supposed to be laser-focused on making sure our act of worship is worthy of being accepted and not chunked right back in our faces on Judgment Day for being crappy.

Some may call it an illuminating point of focus and for others a glowing distraction. I guess it really would depend on the person. But there is a good argument to make to those that would see it as a distracting extravagance. The way I see it, when praying your eyes need to be fixed onto where you will be doing the Sajdah (placing our face and forehead for prostation.). A good load of these old-school prayer rugs have images of the Kabah or a fancy domed Mosque with a crescent moon at the top to stare at. The whole reason for the images was to keep a persons eyes from looking elsewhere, darting left and right, looking up at the wall or ceiling because it would nullify the prayer.

So my question would be: What makes the glowing lights different or bad compared to the image of the Kabah or Mosque etc.? If it helps keep your eyes fixed so you can focus on your prayer, then all is good. If you're a hyper-distractable 6 year old (or Homer Simpson) that is easily astonished from shiny things, then yeah the EL Sajjdah is not for you.

I wouldn't mind buying one for my home, for the right price. The EL Sajjdah is not going to be mass-produced until it reaches it's goal of $100,000 on Kickstarter. You can pre-order or make a pledge to help them in this project by clicking here, which expires August 14th.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A PhilAsifical Review of The Dictator

The DictatorHello folks. A quickie blog here today. The wifey and I watched Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy The Dictator this past weekend. And no, I don't feel like a horrible Muslim for having went to see it. Since the initial trailer for The Dictator came out during Superbowl Weekend in January, I've heard the opinions of Muslim friends, collegues and such vehemently bashing the making of this movie and practically wanting to boycott seeing the movie as if the movie was called "Lowes: Lumber with A Vengence".

Now I've been a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen's work. He's a brilliant comedian and touches on political and societal issues that some people feel uneasy about discussing without ruffling someone's feathers. I loved him in Borat--Bruno on the other hand, not so much--the fact of the matter is SBC pokes fun at the way people act and the preconceived notions and prejudices instilled in the human psyche to the point where it makes one question the absurdity of some of their feelings toward issues such as ethnicity, nationalism, politics, societal ills and yes--religion. This film is no different.

Some people thought that the movie was going to make Arabs and Muslims specifically look bad. Now there's no question that Borat poked a little fun at Arab culture, just as he pokes fun at all cultures, even his own Jewish heritage--which he lambastes the most for the sake of laughs. But to say that the movie is bunching up all Muslims into this bubble and saying that they all are like the people in the dictator is just nonsense. There was no indication that his character was even Muslim and in one scene he denied being Arab. He was a mish-mash of all of the infamous historical dictators in appearance, dress and rhetoric. He didn't praise Allah, or pray salat, or do anything remotely pertaining to the religion of Islam. Maybe he may have diverted away from doing such because of fear of possible backlash since some Muslims have no sense of humor when it comes to them being the butt of the joke, but will happily laugh at the expense of others. I'm not sure. But I think it was handled greatly and one doesn't leave having sort of ill feelings towards Muslims, Arabs or Islam. I especially enjoyed the fun he poked at American democracy toward the end of the film being very much like a dictatorship.


In conclusion, I enjoyed it and had a good laugh and don't think I need to take a new shahadah because of it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ramadan's A Comin!

Excitement is in the air folks--at least for Muslims--as the holy month of Ramadan is fast approaching (no pun intended, hope you caught it). 

For those who have no idea what Ramadan even is, it is a sacred month for Muslims because on this month 1400 plus years ago, the foundation of the Islamic faith was laid out when the Holy Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). To commemorate the blessed event as believed to be ordained by God, Muslims all over the world give charity and pursue a state of tranquility through prayers and meditation and strive to increase their Islamic knowledge and better themselves. Most of all during this month, Muslims fast from morning til night for the full thirty days which means No food and no water during that time period.

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed upon you as it was prescribed on those before you so that you may learn self-restraint [2:183] 

In this verse from the Qur'an above, God states that fasting was prescribed upon Muslims just as it was prescribed to people before us. A good number of religions hold fasting very near and dear to their hearts like Catholics do for Lent, Jews for Yom Kippur so it certainly is not a exclusive practice to one faith. And the sole reason as described from the same verse says the whole point of fasting is to "learn self-restraint". The Arabic term used in the verse is Taqwa and it really isn't something that can be so easily defined and boxed into a word like "self-restraint". Other words that attempt to capture the meaning of Taqwa is "God-consciousness" or "God-awareness". It's really all of the above. Fasting is a means to purify yourself and show obedience and reverence to God to show that He's the only one worthy of going through the task of fasting for.

Something I can't get enough of during this time of the year is the typical reaction from non-Muslims when they hear that I am starving myself, "Whoa man! You're gonna die! I can never do that." It's really not that bad when it comes down to it and various sources ranging from physicians to dietitians have declared it's actually good for your body. But of course, the cleansing and detox benefits are just a small bonus to what Muslims really would like cleansed when the month ends--their sins. During Ramadan, Muslims shut themselves out from (or should at least do their best to try) worldly matters like gossip and all channels of entertainment and do their best to try and bring themselves closer to God.

For me and I'm sure for a lot of people the difficulty really isn't in the actual withdrawal of eating and drinking, but of the "mental fasting" which is to avoid anger, envy, greed, lust, vain talk, sarcastic retorts, backstabbing, and gossip. And for married couples, no sexual intercourse (from dawn to dusk). That's right, all that fun stuff that seems impossible to stop for even one hour out of the day has to be avoided for a month. Music and trivial time-wasters like watching tv, and all that other stuff should be cleaned out or brought to a minimum.(bye bye gadgets, game consoles and uh oh Facebook!) I think people would find that more impossible then not having water and food.

All of this alludes back to the Quranic verse of teaching people self restraint and to learn to appreciate the essentials of life and not all the things people want but don't need. Avoiding all those goodies and distractions for a month I truly feel cleanses the inner soul and after the month I believe it makes one that ventures in it a better person. Muslims also believe that during the month, Satan is locked away in Hell so he can't bug any of you into doing stuff. So commiting any sin or crime during this month is done on ones own will and from their character. There's a lot people can learn about Ramadan and one measly blog can barely cover all the bases. During this time, your favorite PhilAsifer will only be on sparsely, only to possibly post Ramadan oriented blogs.

But til then folks, I'll be seein ya. Happy Ramadan and happy everything else.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mirrors for One Another

One of the most commonly misused and misunderstood terms found in daily American street vernacular is the word "hater".  Judging from the evidence gathered and research conducted, that's because people who use the term don't even know what they're talking about. 

Hater is tossed around so excessively these days and is inappropriately uttered so often--regardless of the situation--that I feel it has set the English language back 50 years. Urban Dictionary has a whopping 136 different definitions of hater ranging from the ambiguous to the just plain stupid ("someone who hates on people"). For the sake of brevity I will post the most agreed upon meaning tabulated by most thumbs up votes.

Hater [heyt·er] noun

A person that simply cannot be happy for another person's success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.  Also can mean a person that is pessimistic and negative and just points out the negative attributes of a person, overlooking any positive qualities the subject of hate may have.

Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesn't really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ballin' On A Budget: BOB in Action

I found a funny clip from the vault of the interwebs recently that I just needed to share with ya'll in regards to my oft-praised credo, Ballin' on a Budget. For the past couple of parts I've stressed that BOB is a state of mind. And it's something that when implemented, is always on. You don't just throw caution to the wind when it comes to your hard-earned funds. Whether your out hanging with friends, taking your lunch break, thinking about what you want to do this weekend, it is imperative to stick to your guns and be wise with your money. And to make the most of any "fun money" you happen to gather, you have to milk it for all it's worth. You gotta bargain, keep your eyes peeled for deals. Yeah, I know you're not a 43 year old housewife but you make coupons your best friend. You EMBRACE frugality and show no shame. Sure, you're friends and even family may laugh and crack on you. But if they are doing that, then a BOB'er is doing the right thing!

The following clip below is from the Dave Chappelle movie Half Baked that he not only starred in but co-wrote. Chappelle's writing credit in this flick demonstrates my fellow Muslim brother from another mother Dave as being skillfully aware of the BOB concept. Heck, from this scene alone he deemed himself a BOB extraordinaire! In the clip, Dave's character Fillmore is on a date and has very little money, but not a problem. Watch and revel in how Dave cleverly and hilariously makes the best of it with the chump change he has. I'm not condoning stealing money from the homeless or dealing drugs by any means but just from the essence of the scene, it's Dave Chappelle making Ballin' on A Budget look easy. I hope you have a pen and pad handy. (Caution: NSFW due to language)




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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ballin' On A Budget: The Saving Game - 6 Saving Tips to Help You Swag Smart

See? Pigs aren't completely useless and haram!

A Little Backstory


Before diving into the lesson of this article, I just want to clarify something in case it wasn't comprehended from the Ballin' On A Budget Introduction. I didn't coin the phrase, nor do I have it trademarked to sell T-shirts (good idea though), none of that. "Ballin on a budget" is not a novel concept. In fact, the phrase--if I can recall correctly--was primarily used in a derogatory manner to people on the streets. Yup. People used "Ballin on a Budget" in a joking manner to crack on someone that was trying to fit in and flaunt his goods but did not have the name brand, top-of-the-line crap. (Example: "Yo, look at Tony rockin' those New Balance shoes and that $4 bottle of champagne. He's ballin' on a budget.")
 
What I'm trying to do here is take the negative connotations attributed to the phrase in its original state and roll it up into a positive. I want to make it good to ball on a budget, admirable, respectable. Using what I've learned from great financial gurus like Dave Ramsey and his "Total Money Makeover" book, I want to modernize and convey his message in a way that today's generation can click with. I want to put those words "Ballin on a budget" into action by presenting practical ways one can properly do so. Prepare your mind to be illuminated with 'da knowledge! Let's proceed shall we?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Interfaith Ministry

Note:The following is a fiction story I wrote a while back that has never before been published online. Seeing as PhilAsify 101 is my own personal hub for not only benefiting you all from reading my thoughtful content but also to motivate and put on display my love of creative storytelling and fiction writing. So sit back, relax and take 10 minutes out of your day to read this short piece. And if you're feeling extra generous, share it! :)


The dreaded workweek has finally taken its final breath. For some this would signify movies, surfing, club hopping and plenty of other unadulterated fun— especially in the peak of the blistering summer heat. But for an elite group of individuals, the ministry would once again commence. The ritual has been a long celebrated tradition that originated during Rashad’s senior year of high school and has lasted all the way through the pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree.
 

Rashad Ahmed had recently earned a degree in business administration but his passion—and minor— is creative writing. Ever since he was younger, rather than just simply play with toys, he’d orchestrate full-length feature films with members of the Justice League and the X-men. Rashad would create hysterical sitcoms and riveting dramas which consisted of oddball pairings like his Hulk Hogan action figure and his younger sister’s Barbie doll. His most successful series was a sitcom entitled “We Are Family” starring a Darth Vader action figure, Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Chompers, the Beanie Baby shark. Rashad could construct a story out of anything yet his parents wanted him to focus his energies on skills that would actually generate revenue and allow the family to live comfortably. That was the reason why Rashad’s folks had immigrated to the states from Egypt in the first place.