Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Holy Month of Ramadan

Who hasn’t heard of the month of Ramadan? Well, if you haven’t and are curious to know what it is all about, I will shed light on what Ramadan is and why is it Holy to Muslims.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, and is observed by more than 1 billion Muslims across the world. It is the month in which Muslims fast during the hours of daylight. Ramadan is Holy to Muslims because it was during this month that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), in the night known as Laillat-ul-Qadr.

The word Ramadan derives from the word ‘Ramada’ which means intense heat and dryness, the feeling Muslims experience during fasting.  This year Ramadan will be in the middle of summer and is expected to begin on June 28th or 29th, depending on the viewing of the crescent of Ramadan. Muslims celebrate the arrival of the holy month by greeting each other with phrases such as "Ramadan Karim" i.e Ramadan is generous or "Ramadan Mubarak" which means Ramadan is blessed.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims in Ramadan abstain from food, drink, smoking and any physical relation between married couples from the first ray of sunlight till sunset. However, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. During Ramadan Muslims refrain themselves in many ways, every part of the body observes the fast and is restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must be restrained from looking at anything inappropriate.  The hand must be restrained from touching anything that doesn’t belong to it. The ears must be restrained from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must be restrained from going towards anything sinful.
Ramadan is a spiritual month, a time to purify the soul and refocus attention on God. It is a time for Muslims to be more submissive whereby they purify their behavior by trying to give up bad habits and attempting to be better persons. They practice good manners and speech, increase their good deeds, give more charity, intensify prayers and spend more time reading the Holy Quran.
By experiencing hunger and thirst during Ramadan, Muslims mentally and physically feel what those who are underprivileged, who have little to eat every day of the year, go through. By gaining this awareness, Muslims sympathize with them and tend to be more generous towards them throughout the year.
Just before sunrise, the Fajr prayer, it is common to have a meal known as “Suhoor’ and directly after sunset, Maghreb prayer, the fast is broken with the main meal that is called “Iftar.” This meal is a special time that Muslims often share with family or friends.
The poor and the needy are also looked after during the month. Large tents in the streets or near mosques distribute free meals to those in need. Ramadan has a special atmosphere. It is a time that brings families and communities together, through the Iftar gatherings.

In summary Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; learn patience and perseverance, a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God. It teaches lessons of equality, empathy and humility. It is a social system, which brings people together, makes people do good deeds and have more feelings for each other.

Wishing those of you who observe the month a blessed and peaceful Ramadan, and may God accept all our fasting and prayers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Painful Loss

As a blogger, I usually turn to writing to get things out of my system. Writing has helped me in the healing process in many of my most painful moments. But lately, l was hurting to the point that I just couldn't couldn't get myself to sit down and write. It is only now that I was finally able to write these words.

The last time my mother hugged and kissed me was a year ago, in April, at the departure terminal of Cairo International Airport. I had left the kids with my husband during the spring break, and travelled to spend quality time with my mother for a week. That was the last time I saw her standing and talking. Had I known it was going to be the last time she would kiss and hug me, I would have held on to that dear embrace for much longer.

It has been nearly four weeks since I lost my dear mother (May God have mercy on her soul). It is a very painful loss that I am still struggling with today, although I am very familiar with the pain of loosing a parent. Twenty years ago I lost my dear father to Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. My father was diagnosed in Cleveland Ohio and was told he had 4-7 years to live but he fortunately survived for 11 years. Although we knew he had a terminal illness, and suffered a lot towards the end of his life, it was nevertheless extremely painful to loose him. I was young then, and it felt like the ground I was standing on was suddenly taken away from me. My father was a strong man, yet a very affectionate and loving parent and twenty years later, it still hurts and I still miss him very much.

My mother’s loss was caused by a sudden and massive brain stroke, something I had hoped she would recover from. Friends told me stories of their parents getting their life back after a stroke and I was hoping and praying that would be the case with my mother too. It was an extremely painful and stressful three months which she spent most of in the intensive care unit of three different hospitals. She survived several operations and procedures that were necessary to save her life. I was beside my mother throughout her struggle and saw how strong she was enduring it all. With each hospital visit, I felt a drill was digging through my heart as I watched her suffer. My mother was gentle, kind hearted and a very devoted parent. I used to think I got my strength from my father, but I only realised then that I had learned all the patience and strength from her.

I prayed hard to God to have mercy on her, grant her recovery and put an end to her suffering. I had so much hope she would pull through, or perhaps I was in denial that I would loose her too. My husband and sister kept advising me to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I certainly did hope for the best, but I wasn’t able to prepare for the worst. I admit, the child in me wasn't ready to let go of the only parent I had left. As a Muslim, I accept and believe that death is the ultimate truth and that this life is just a journey and short one too, yet my heart would skip a beat, the few times when I was back home, every time my sisters called, dreading to hear the sad news. It would have been extremely devastating had I been away and got to know of my mothers loss through a long distance call, but luckily I was there by her side too when the moment came. God had answered my prayers and I got to give her the last wash, wrap her in her shroud and give her the last kiss before we prayed for her and put her to her final resting place. I was blessed and that gave me great comfort and peace.

No matter how old or young you are, there is nothing that can prepare you for the loss of a parent nor the pain that follows. It is a pain that you have to learn to live with. I pray that God has mercy on both my parents and hope my hurting eases with time...until I am reunited with them again.

"I thought of you with love today, but that is nothing new.
I thought about you yesterday, and days before that too.
I think of you in silence, I often speak your name.
All I have are memories and your picture in a frame.
Your memory is my keepsake, with which I'll never part.
God has you in his keeping, I have you in my heart, forever and always"

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Birthday Thought

I keep wondering what is special about a birthday and why celebrate it? I understand when you're a child, your parents are excited to see you grow and throw you a party so you can blow the candles with your little friends. But as you mature I see it pointless.
A birthday marks the day you are getting older, wiser sure, but why celebrate it? Isn't it bad enough that all your friends and acquaintances, some of whom you might not have heard from during the year, remind you of that through a call, a message or a post on your Facebook wall?! 

On a more serious note, I personally think that birthdays are a time to think how have we spent the days of our lives. How much time have we wasted? How many opportunities did we miss to learn and improve ourselves? It is not a time to regret as much as it is to reflect and reach self awareness. How many changes do we need to make to be better people? How has our life benefitted others or made a difference in their lives? How has our journey been so far and how are we preparing for our final destination?
I don't want to sound like a party pooper, I just wanted to share my thoughts. Having said all that, I wish to sincerely thank everyone who wished me a happy birthday (including Google) and I wish you all, a life full of health, hope, happiness, and above all humanity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

كل يوم هو عيدك يا أمي

أمي الحبيبه،

يا آعز من روحي، اكتب لك اليوم هذه السطور بينما الكل يحتفل بعيد الام و كأن كل يوم ليس عيدك يا أمي. وجودك في حياتنا هو العيد بعينه. في كل عام في مثل هذا اليوم اتصل بك عبر البحار و القارات لأسمع صوتك الحنون واطمئن على صحتك و استمع الى اخبارك كما افعل كل بضعة ايام.

 آه يا أمي... كم هو صعب و مرير بعدي عنك كل هذه الاعوام، و بالأخص الاسابيع الماضيه، فقد كانت هي الأصعب.
 أحمد الله عز وجل الذي كتب لك النجاة و بفضل بركة الدعاء رد القضاء وادعوه في كل سجده ان يبعد عنك كل مكروه و يمن عليك بالشفاء.

اكتب لك هذه الأسطر يا أمي لأبوح لك ما في قلبي ولا أعلم متى ستتمكني من قرأتها بينما انت طريحة الفراش وعين الله ترعاك.

سامحيني ايتها الغاليه اني مقصره في حقك و لست بجوارك و انت في هذه الحال. مهما حاولت جاهده في رحلاتي الاخيره ان اكون بجوارك واقضي اطول وقت معك فلا زلت مقصره فهذا كله لا يساوي قطره مما قمت به من أجلي.
 سامحي بعدي عنك يا أمي بسبب ظروف الحياة، يعلم الله كم انا متألمه و ممزقه و اعد الساعات والدقائق و الثواني لأكون بجوارك مجدداً لأقبل رأسك و يديك و قدميك و اطلب رضاك. 
سامحيني يا امي ان كنت قد اغضبتك يوماً عن عمد او غير عمد. سامحيني عن كل يوم تمنيتي او طلبتي شيئاً و لم احققه لك، سامحيني يا أمي ان كنت يوماً قد خيبت لك رجاء أو رديت عليك بجفاء، فلا اطلب من هذه الدنيا سوى رضاك التام عني.

علمتيني يا امي بحنانك و دفئك و عفوك و عطائك الدائم المعنى الحقيقي للأمومه. علمتيني بعزيمتك وجلدك و ايمانك و صبرك كيف اكون انسانه قويه.

 لا ادري ماذا اهديك اليوم مقابل كل ما فعلتي من اجلنا غير ان ابتهل الى الله بالدعاء و الرجاء ان يشفيك و يعافيك ويحفظك لنا. لوكان بمقدوري يا أمي ان اقدم لك صحتي كهديه لفعلت و ما ترددت للحظه.

كل يوم و انت بخير يا أعز الحبايب، حفظك الله ورعاك دوماً يا أمي و شفاك من كل داء أو ألم و البسك ثوب العافيه. 

*رجاء لكل من يقرأ هذه الصفحه ان يدعوا لأمي و كل الامهات الاتي يصارعن المرض. شفاهن الله جميعاً و حفظهن.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Day in Jebel Amman

I lived in Amman for two years and a half and have since visited it several times, so it was nice to be back once again for the Arab Bloggers Meeting. I spent my first day with a close and art loving friend in the part I missed most, Jebel Amman. Our first stop was at Sufra Restaurant, one of the best restaurants in Jebel Amman, which offered a wide variety of jordanian appetizers and main courses accompanied with freshly baked bread just out of the 'tanour'.

The making of the bread in the 'tanour'

Traditional tea with miramieh (Sage leaves)

It was a nice sunny day, not too cold, so it was perfect weather for us to enjoy an afternoon walk in the quiet streets of Jebel Amman. Our first destination was to the art gallery Nabad.

A side street of Rainbow street
A lovely orange tree at the entrance of  Nabad
Artworks by Architect and Designer Jamal Joucka
An illuminating artwork by Jamal Joucka
A beautifully crafted piece by Artist Abeer Seikaly
Metal artwork by Iraqi artist Himat Mohammed Ali

We stopped to enjoy the view from one of the roof tops before entering Wild Jordan. The beautiful structure was built by architect Ammar Kammash.

Wild Jordan is a socio-economic and eco-tourism division of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, it has a gift store and a cafe offering light and healthy snacks overlooking Jebel Amman.
Most of the material present in the building is eco-friendly and recycled
A graffiti on the staircase leading to the Soap House
Our third destination was to the Soap House, which was set in a beautifully restored old house with a great view of Jebel Amman. The aromatic soaps and creams were made from all-natural ingredients ranging from olive oil, orange, lemon, honey, lavender, rosemary, sea minerals and salts.

A beautiful display of the range of products
A colorful and aromatic range of soaps

Jordan River Design and Bani Hamida are a landmark in Jebel Amman and one of my all time favorite desitnations, so I couldn't miss it. The embroidery project was set up in 1988, offering women in the area an extra income to embroider traditional and contemporary home furnishing, gift items and artifacts preserving the local heritage.

Hand made baskets and artifacts
Hand made bed sheets with traditional and contemporary designs
Bani Hamida hand made rugs
Hand embroidered cushions reflecting the heritage

Um Kalthoum themed cushions
Our last stop was at the Jacandra Art Gallery, where I fell in love with the photography work of Charlotta Sparre, Sweden's Ambassador to Jordan, who was re-assigned recently to Egypt. With an exquisite style she produced a beautiful collection of photos from the Arab cities she had visited. I added Cairo and the East and West Bank to my art collection.

The East and West Bank (Palestine)

I hope you enjoyed the walk by reading this post and hope you get to visit Amman, if you haven't already and experience it yourself too. 

My First Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14

I wrote these lines on my flight back home after an amazing week in Amman, reflecting back at the inspiring group of people I spent the last couple of days with, the activists, artists, bloggers, editors, journalist, visual tools and digital security experts along with all the organizers, sponsors, and facilitators.

It was the first time for me to attend an Arab Blogger's Meeting and although I hadn't met many of the participants physically before, through our interaction over the years our virtual connection had been well established. There was an air of familiarity, comradeship and solidarity which laid the basis for new friendships. Sadly, there were activists and bloggers who were absent either due to unjust incarceration or shameful red tape which prevented them from being physically there, yet their presence was very much felt amongst us.

Unfortunately, I caught a cold in my first day in Amman which I spent catching up with close and longtime friends and walking through the old streets of the city I lived in and loved. Ironically I developed laryngitis and started my first Global Voices event, which I looked so forward to, without a voice! 

The circle time with our remarkable MC Mohammed Alqaq was a fun time which we all looked forward to, for warming up and getting energized for the long day ahead. I had never thought about the advantages of being cloned until I was faced with the tough choice of determining which track I wanted to follow for the next 3 days of the closed sessions.

On the first day, I chose the digital security track and through the afternoon clinics offered, we learnt about internet security, how to choose a strong password, how to protect the hard drive and were given a list of other valuable tips. Some of the very helpful team of experts even extended their offer to be in touch to guide anyone through the process, if needed.

On the second day, I switched to the Visual Tools track. As a writer I always appreciated the power of words but the visual tools team taught us ways to pair that with strong visuals to make our storytelling more impactful. Through one of the fun and creative exercises we did, we learnt that Palestinians love having eggs for breakfast and hence "Palestine Eggsists."

In the afternoon tracks we sought help from experts in fields we needed advice and tips in. Dina Elhawary from Midan gave us tips on news fact checking and verification. We also learned more about the struggle in Syria from the personal recount of the brave Marcell Shewaro from Aleppo and more stories were shared by Laila Nashwati's "Syria Untold," Ahmed Jedou briefed us about the ongoing struggle and multiple challenges facing Mauritania. Abir Kopty and Ramzy Jaber among others were fine examples of Palestine's dedicated youth using their knowledge, expertise and resources to champion for the Palestinian cause. The artists amongst us were the positive and creative vibe, and their spontaneous performance was always welcomed.

The brainstorming sessions, discussions, interactions, inspirations and the overall motivational boost the meeting gave us was among the many things that made it outstanding. We plan to keep that momentum by developing a platform for more concrete and consistent collaboration among us. 

I was humbled by the experience and knowledge, inspired by the dedication and determination, and touched by the human interaction and solidarity that were shared in the Arab Blogger's Meeting, all of which can not be captured in words. All I can say to conclude is that it was an enriching and extraordinary experience and I look forward to be invited in future Arab Bloggers Meeting, hopefully in a country where all Arabs are welcome.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Another Year is Ending

Once again we have reached the end of the year and about to begin a new one. It is that time of year where wishes of happiness, heath and success are exchanged. It is a time to recapitulate the events of the year, the happy and joyous ones as well as the sad and tragic ones. It is also a chance to reflect on our personal journey. As Muslims, we believe that this life, no matter how comfortable or short, hard or long, is but a journey to the eternal one, the Hereafter.

In the Holy Quran, Surat Al'Ana'am, Chapter 6, verse 32, Allah says:
"And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion; but the home of the Hereafter is best for those who fear Allah, so will you not reason?"
وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَلَلدَّارُ الآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لِّلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ أَفَلاَ تَعْقِلُونَ

Therefore, no matter what faith you believe in or what calendar you follow, one thing is for certain and that is at some point, this journey will end just as this year is ending. What we do in the coming year and the rest of our life will determine our final destination. Worldly matters or personal ego often sway us but we should not loose sight of what matters. We are all humans, created equally and must live together on this earth peacefully. We should struggle to improve our character, be better human beings, strive to help one other, reach out to those in need and try to make a difference in someone else's life. We should try giving without expecting anything in return. Most of all we should try our best to make the world we live in a better place for all of us.

On that note, I wish you all blessings and peace in the coming year and in everyday of your lives.