Quran Stories – Just give up: A boy’s lesson on perseverance

Please follow the link below to catch up on Part One:

http://meccastars.com/2013/08/15/quran-stories-just-give-up-a-boys-lesson-on-perseverance/

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Part Two:

“This book was meant to be committed to memory and this is overtly reinforced in Surah Qamar”, encouragingly said my Ustadh.

Wow, that’s pretty cool,  I thought.

I had always thought I wanted to become a Hafiz (one who committed the Holy Qur’an to memory). I was like Forrest Gump running with no obvious understanding of why or where. Pursuit proposed the perception of clarity and depth.

Do I really want to be a Hafiz? I pondered.

This question teleported me back to the origins of my journey. My quest began upon my mother’s return from Hajj (Pilgrimage). Hajj had revitalized her soul, which lead to her spiritual growth. The following hadith – “(the) parents (of one who memorizes the Quran) will be dressed in two garments that the world can never equal. Thereupon, they will question, ‘For what reason are we dressed in these garments?’ lt will be said, ‘This is by virtue of your child who memorized the Qur’an (Mustradak).” –  had produced a burning desire in her to make one of her sons a hafiz. She really embodied the phrase, “by any means necessary”. Hence, at the tender age of 11, I began my journey.

“Do you understand son?”, asked my Ustadh.

Then he quoted from the Quran saying, “And We have certainly made the Qur’an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember?”

History also explicitly reminds us, that this Quran was inscribed in heart of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Only after it’s revelation to the prophet (Peach be upon him) was it inscribed with ink.” he calmly reminded me.

He placed his hand on my shoulder and drew me near.

He reduced his voice to almost a whisper and said emphatically, “There is a condition… you must believe it!  It’s imperative that you know, in your heart of hearts, that you can memorize it.”

He continued his sagacious advice, “Allah is musarriful quloob (changer of the hearts). Inspiring change within the hearts is under His purview. However, He only amends the condition if we are sincerely yearning for it. Allah mentions in the Quran:

Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves 13:11

Forget about what anyone has said to you in the past or will say to you, in the future, to deter you from your goal.  That noise will be constant. Keep believing in you and striving for it… I believe in you and I certainly believe you have the intestinal fortitude to accomplish anything you set your mind to!”

His compassion and conviction overwhelmed me; tears began to trickle down my cheek.  His resolve and desire to see me succeed was contagious and I felt it envelope me. His words cocooned around my caterpillar like soul forming a spiritual chrysalis; releasing me morphed with impregnable determination and irrepressible passion.  Those kind and loving words fueled me in accomplishing the first leg of my journey expeditiously.  What I wasn’t aware of is how the wisdom of those words would parlay into my daily life and every opportunity I face. We can never justly measure the impacts our acts of kindness have.

“Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress. When you’re pissed off at someone and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you.” ~ Randy Pausch

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Yusuf Islam’s New Track “My People” is Available For Free On Amazon

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Yusuf Islam’s new track, entitled “My People”, is available as a free download from Amazon.com.  Just click the image above or follow this link to download the mp3:

http://astore.amazon.com/wwwmeccastars-20/detail/B004Q4XSKK.

 

Cheers!

MY CONVERSATION WITH AN ESKIMO

February 2008:

I was on a small cargo plane heading for the Arctic. The plane was scheduled to touch down 330 miles inside the Arctic circle on a landing strip near Point Barrow. We were told that there will not be an airport and the airfield will be next to a heated shed. After getting off the plane we will have to make a dash to the heated shed and our luggage will be transported there later. This was the only way to get to Barrow, the northern most part of Alaska and our flight back home could get delayed for a week due to blizzard conditions.

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Barrow was a small community of 3000 people most of whom were Inupiaq Eskimos. Until then, my only introduction to Barrow was through the vampire movie “30 DAYS OF NIGHT” by David Slade. The film was based on a comic book in which vampires come to haunt the Arctic community of Barrow as it is experiencing 30 days of pitch dark. Since there is no sun for a month to keep the vampires in hiding, they come out and wreak havoc on this small town with virtually nothing to stop them except for a brave on-duty Sheriff. Interestingly the Barrow shown was a made up-replica as the film was shot miles away from the Arctic in the much more hospitable terrain of New Zealand.

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The actual conditions in Barrow were nowhere like what were shown in the movie. Instead of 30 dark days, Barrow would experience over 2 months of darkness. The temperature would drop to -70 degrees with wind chill and that made living conditions dangerous. If you exposed fingers for 5 minutes, they would freeze and would have to be amputated. Unlike Hollywood directors, us TV journalists do not have the luxury of arranging our shoots in more convenient locations. We are paid to go where the story is so here were on a small plane heading towards Barrow.

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Once the plane landed, we could not see much outside. I could not tell whether it was a blizzard or dark fog but everything appeared grey! There were not a lot of passengers as the plane was carrying essential cargo. Besides myself and my cameraman there was a team of scientists and the flight crew of three. We were told that once the door of the plane opens, only one passenger will be allowed outside into the cold. They will have to run straight towards the heated shelter and the second passenger will not be allowed outside until the first one reaches inside.

It was a thrill!

A few minutes later I was inside this shelter pulling my luggage. Besides our winter gear and survival essentials, we had a lot of television equipment like cameras, tripods, lights and batteries. My greatest fear was that the camera lens would crack due to the cold and this highly expensive trip would become useless. But on shoots like these, nothing is really guaranteed. Once I was fully geared up to go outside the shelter, I stepped out and looked for a transport. “So this is the Arctic.” I said to myself as I looked around for a vehicle. There was snow for miles and even in the Arctic night, I could see the white snow against the dark sky fairly clearly. The blizzard had died down into a strong wind and white snow was shining in the night. It was 4 in the afternoon.

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Every time a flight landed, the Inupiaq people would bring their cars and trucks to transport the cargo and passengers. It was one of the ways in which extra-money could be earned when you are miles away from everything else. There were some trucks and pick-up vans and I was thinking which one would be big enough to take all our gear to the Guest house. It was then that a blue truck with cracked windshield pulled right next to me. “You need a truck?” said the young man who was in the driver’s seat. I could not see his face as he wore a coat with hood made of animal skin. It was a heavy fur coat but I could not tell which animal it had come from.

“Yes. We have a lot of gear and luggage.”

His name was Abraham and over the next few days that we went around filming the stories and news reports, he became our designated transport. He was quick to learn which boxes had cameras and which ones could be thrown violently on the snow without anything breaking. This was a skill that we needed from our loader and I was glad to have him.

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I was the first Muslim Abraham had met so it was no wonder that he was intrigued. Since a Muslim and an Eskimo were communicating for the first time in history, it was an interesting conversation that was enlightening to both of us. It showed that if a man met Muslims for the very first time what questions would pop in his mind. I was visiting as an explorer instead of a conqueror or colonizer so relationship dynamic was very different.

It was in 1890 that the first Christian missions were established north of Bering Strait to Christianize the Arctic Eskimo. By 1910 the whole region had converted to Christianity but Christianity had to undergo certain cultural as well as ideological transformations to survive the Arctic. It had to tolerate ritualistic Shamanism and accept the influence of the ancient gods that took away the spirits of the dead people. These beliefs were totally alien to Christianity but they were so fundamental to the Inupiaq people that the newly arrived Christianity had to share Churches with them.

On the second day of our arrival we were driving towards the spot from where the sun was expected to come out after over two months of night. The exact hour of the run rise was communicated to us by the weather research facility but the sun was rising only for half an hour. I wanted to get the shot! It was the shot for which I had been sent in the middle of this savage winter and there was no way I was going to miss this shot. The road was bumpy and we were keeping our eyes open for polar bears since this was totally their territory. Suddenly Abraham wanted to know who was my God?

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I could get into theology and metaphysics but I thought I would give him a simple answer. I asked him, “When shit happens, who do you pray to?” He was a bit surprised because he was expecting me to get philosophical. “When serious shit happens who do you pray to?” I asked him. “Do you pray to Jesus whom you were introduced to a hundred years ago or do you pray to the Shaman gods whom you have believed in before you saw the first white man?” He looked outside as if he was thinking about an honest answer. Co-incidently we were driving right next to the Arctic ocean and it had frozen solid. The whole sea was nothing but chunks of ice for miles.

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Abraham was a whale hunter and he was actually the harpooner on an Inupiaq whaling boat. It was his job to shoot the darting gun with an explosive warhead to take the whale out. Earlier he was telling me how, in the same ocean during a summer whale hunt, his boat got bumped by a 45 foot bowwhale and the impact had caused him to get thrown into the sea. It was chilling water and he wanted to scream for help but the cold water caused him to inhale air so strongly that he found it impossible to exhale. Neither air nor sound would exit from his mouth. Instead he prayed to a God who was watching all this and would understand him without any sound or language. Then he was pulled into the boat by the rest of the crew.

“When you got hit by the whale and was thrown off the boat, who did you pray to?” I asked him and he just laughed.

“When shit happens we all just pray to God man.” He told me shaking his head.

“Which God?” I asked him. “Is it the God of the white man that you see in Church paintings? The God who is fundamentally a Caucasian male with blue eyes? Or do you pray to Inupiaq gods who resemble your ancestors in facial features and are portrayed wearing fur hats?” I was referring to the faces of Shamanic spirits that were carved by the Inupiaq peoples. These were made centuries ago and resembled the facial features as well as attire that Eskimos themselves had. Since Inupiaq had rarely encountered anyone other than themselves it was perfectly logical for them to make spirit-gods that resembled their own selves.

“This is all ceremony and cultural ritual but when you fall into a sea of pack-ice you pray to just one God.” Abraham told me.

“I believe you man.” I told him. “That is the God that I pray too as well. The living, the self-subsisting the eternal. The one who does not beget nor is he himself begotten. The originator of time and space and the one who will wrap up all time and space. The one who is bigger than what cultures of the world have made him out to be. The only one you instinctively call to without any religious teaching or doctrinal  when serious shit happens.”

He understood and smiled. Then he said something that has stayed with me since. He said “If all the humanity was thrown into the ice cold waters of the Arctic ocean and if they were to make a prayer at that moment of absolute desperation then they will forget culture and pray to that one God that everyone deep-down secretly believes in. The rituals and customs are what people all over the world collectively profess to in order to create acceptance for themselves among their cultures, nations and their tribal ancestors.”

I could not agree more. After all, this man was saying exactly what Allama Iqbal had said when he wrote “The purpose of religion is to convince man that he is not any less than the mute idols that he inherits.”    

“Why did it take you so long to come here? Do Muslims not travel like the Europeans? Do you not like to meet people other than your own?”

I wanted to give him an honest answer. I wanted to tell him “No because we present day Muslims are inward looking people. We build Islamic schools solely so that we can prevent our children from interacting with those outside our belief system. We are terrified that our children will grow up and marry a “GORI.” This every Muslim mother’s nightmare is enough for us to erect thousands of Islamic schools all over. Furthermore, we only migrate to cities and townships that have halal-meat shops with signs that read “100% HALAL!” If the sign does not say “100%” then we just assume that it is 99% HALAL and move to the other meat store. While European explorers could stay away from their families by eating raw whale and fornicating with the natives, we can’t do that. We have to marry within our culture and it is vital that our wives make dahi barray and biryani to impress our mothers. Since Inupiaq women don’t know how to cook cholay ki chaat and samosay we can not have them as wives. We are a people crippled by our cultural values and we are so proud of our paralysis that we rarely have the vision to see that the values we embrace is the very disease that cripples us. Given our values, Christopher Columbus is not possible. Neither is Marco-polo, Daniel Boone or Alexander Baranov. After all, it is no co-incidence that all recent exploration is done, not by the spineless, mother-obedient, arranged-marriage accepting Muslims but by the beer drinking, swine eating nations of post-renaissance fornicators. You need a different right and wrong to produce these men.” I also wanted to tell him, “We were not always this pathetic though. There was a time when we could produce Ibn-e-Batuta and those famous Muslim saints who settled in India, Pakistan, Bengladesh, China and as far east as Indonesia and Malaysia. They married native women and absorbed values from the native lands as much as giving back to them. They were armed with this divine element called ‘self’ and never needed the compromise we call “culture.” Being a Muslim today is all about killing your ‘self’ for the sake of cultural conformism. This is why the first Muslim who has ever come to meet you today is a shalwar-burning, value questioning, gharara-trampling, cultural outcast who will have no problem eating raw whale blubber.”

Instead of this brutally honest reply, I chose to give him a dishonest and politically correct answer. I told him, “Muslims are a new minority in USA and we are still in the process of reaching out to other communities in America.”

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The rest of our time was well spent. In four day period we filmed sixteen hours of Arctic footage, took over 400 pictures and conducted twelve television interviews. When I was about to fly out, Abraham gave me a small Inupiaq boat. It was made in China. “I am not going to tell you that I made this. We do not make small boats like this anymore.” He explained. “Most of the Alaska stuff you see being sold in Anchorage airport is actually made in China. It is easier for us to give it to visitors instead of making it ourselves.”

I left the Arctic thinking there really is no such thing as culture. These are imagined communities that exist nowhere else except within our minds. People are the same everywhere and they have always done what they needed to do to survive. For those who disagree, I still have that Eskimo boat that says “Made in China” and it was presented to me by a real Inupiaq whale hunter.

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Regards –

Abdul Aziz Khan

 

 

Download “The Big Game” – A Rumi Bear & Friends Story

“The Big Game” – A Rumi Bear & Friends Story

Dear Friends and Readers,

I invite you to download my short story, entitled “The Big Game”, from Amazon. This fun story features Sami, his bear Rumi, and friends. A rainy day brings Sami, Rumi Bear, Fareed The Frog & Pearl The Squirrel together for a fun baseball game in the park. This short story is intended for a young audience and is easy to read. The cover art is by Fahad Qadeer (Fedd Khan), a master artist who has graduated from NCA in Pakistan. You can view more of Fedd Khan’s work here. “The Big Game” is only 99 cents, and will be a free download on 9/23. Please leave some feedback after reading it. Thanks!

You can download “The Big Game” here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FCCCMPC

thebiggame

Enabling Minds: Educating Children with Intellectual Disabilities

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As a supporter of non-profits and community outreach programs, I wanted to highlight a very dynamic and unique grassroots start-up that is raising awareness and focusing on educating those with intellectual challenges

Enabling Minds (EM) began with a group of friends who shared a common interest in helping the less fortunate around the world. Many of the friends in this group were involved in providing on-the-ground medical assistance to those affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and had developed an affinity for the people and the culture of Haiti. After much thought and deliberation, many in the group realized that they shared a common passion for working with those with intellectual disabilities, and the group explored opportunities to work with this population.

In May 2012 representatives from EM (Enabling Minds) embarked on a trip to Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti to do a fact-finding mission on the status of people with intellectual disabilities. The group traveled to the Scalabrini mission where one of the members had previously stayed to work on a humanitarian project. During the trip, the group learned first-hand about the harsh realities for people with intellectual disabilities in Haiti. These hardships included higher rates of malnutrition, abuse, and discrimination. After some research, the representatives learned that these conditions, unfortunately, are not unique to Haiti. Many children with intellectual disabilities across the world are not in school for many reasons including a lack of resources and stigmas associated with disabilities. EM believes that everyone has a right to an education, and has developed a plan to enroll 11 children with intellectual disabilities into a wonderful private school on October 1, 2013! As part of this effort, EM is teaming up with the Special Olympics Haiti to coach these children in a sports program two days a week. The school has never previously hosted children with intellectual disabilities, and the children EM has identified have never previously been in school. This will be a new and exciting experience for everyone involved, and hope it will be a constructive and positive learning experience for students, teachers, staff, and administration. The cost to fully fund an academic year for our 11 students is $8,500. This will include educational expenses, as well as transportation, meals for our project, which will fully fund these children’s education, and will cover transportation, meals, and the salary for their teachers and Special Olympic coach.

To ensure EM can realize their goal, they will be hosting their first ever fundraising dinner on Thursday September 26th 2013 at Camden Roosevelt in Washington DC. I encourage you to come out and join us on this momentous occasion. The tickets for the fundraising dinner are only $20. If you cannot make it, please support us as a virtual participant. Secure your tickets to the event by clicking the link below:

https://enablingminds.eventbrite.com/

Follow the link below if you would like to read more about EM’s project:

http://www.gofundme.com/enablingminds

Like EM on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/enablingminds

And follow them on Twitter: @EnablingMinds

Please assist EM as they begin to change the status quo for the intellectually disabled population in Haiti!

And spend [in the way of Allah] from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, “My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous.” But never will Allah delay a soul when its time has come. And Allah is acquainted with what you do. (63:10-11)

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O’s Place: Authentic Pakistani Food in Baltimore, Maryland

If you are like me, you like authentic, great tasting food, even if you have to search a little for it.  O’s Place is a hidden gem in the Baltimore, Maryland area that serves a mix of Pakistani/Indian and Chinese cuisine.  Located at 6901 Security Blvd., in Seoul Place behind Security Mall, O’s Place offers a variety of food that will leave the foodie in you satisfied.  Owned and operated by a long time member of the Catonsville community, Shamim Rana, O’s Place provides authentic halal Pakistani food, a clean environment and great service.  Call them at 410-960-6951 or find them online at www.osplace.net.

Here are some photos from dinner last night, so you can see what you will get at O’s Place to provide you with some motivation:

The friendly waitress started our buffets out with some samosas and freshly chicken.  Yummy!

The friendly waitress started our buffets out with some samosas and freshly chicken. Yummy!

Fresh rogani naan, without having to ask for it.  Not bad... not bad at all.

Fresh rogani naan, without having to ask for it. Not bad… not bad at all.

The owner Shamim Rana greeted us with warmth and hospitality that defines Pakistani culture.

The owner Shamim Rana greeted us with warmth and hospitality that defines Pakistani culture.

We were offered kheer and warm ghulab jamun that melt in the mouth as dessert.  Exceptional.

We were offered kheer and warm ghulab jamun that melt in the mouth as dessert. Exceptional.

At the end, we did what Pakistani's do best, sip dhoodhpati chai... and let me tell you... it was worth it.

At the end, we did what Pakistani’s do best, sip dhoodhpati chai… and let me tell you… it was worth it.

 

 

 

The State of T-Shirts At ISNA 2013

Here is a look at a selection of the panoply of creative t-shirts that were exhibited by an array of new and fresh young designers at the ISNA convention this weekend in Washington, DC.  Thanks.

Here is a t-shirt by new fashion company Sidikii Clothing Co. (http://www.sidikii.com).

Here is a t-shirt by new fashion company Sidikii Clothing Co. (http://www.sidikii.com).  They offer high quality t-shirts with messages like “Just dua it” (Just pray for it) and other classy styles.

Islamic Swag (http://www.islamicswag.com/) offers a variety of t-shirts with cool messages like “Stop Wars”, “Keep Smiling It’s Sunnah” and “I’m fly coz my iman is high”.

Islamic Swag (http://www.islamicswag.com/) offers these  handsome varieties of t-shirts that were a hit with young hipsters.

Islamic Swag (http://www.islamicswag.com/) offers these handsome varieties of t-shirts that were a hit with young hipsters.

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My Qays (https://myqays.com/index.php/qays-clothing-tpc/graphic-tees) offers printing services as well as a selection of Islamic themed shirts and apparel made from high quality material that will last.

NMBT.org

The National Muslim Basketball Tournament (http://www.nmbt.org/) came out and brought their basketball skills to the table with a panoply of colorful t-shirts and jerseys.

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The Return of the Strangers brought a unique and eclectic selection of t-shirts, many of which touch upon poignant currents in society. Check them out at http://www.returnofthestrangers.com/.

Saleem Safdar and friends at ISNA 2013.

ISNA is a great place to make new friends and learn about Islam in America. I am on the far left and am rocking the Muhammad Shirt by by Sidikii Clothing Co. You can see the Muhammad shirt at http://www.sidikii.com/MHMD-PBUH_p_35.html.