June 27, 2014

June 5, 2014

Umm 'Abdullah on Step-Parenting

Umm 'Abdullah is a step-mother of one child, currently living in the USA. 

In the Sunnah we are taught that Jannah is at the feet of our mothers:

In an authentic hadith, a man came to the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I intend to go on a (military) expedition, but I have come to ask your advice." He said, "Is your mother alive?" He said, "Yes." He said, "Then stay with her, for the Garden is under her feet." (Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’i)

We are also taught that we should obey and respect our mothers and take care of them as they age. In the Noble Qur’an, Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, says:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say, “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in my childhood.” (17:23-24)

If you are a mother, then you know how much you would give up just to see your child grow to be happy and healthy and to be a loyal servant of Allah subhana wa ta’ala. If you are not a mother, you can surely think of something your mother did to help you, regardless of how close you are to her or the type of relationship you have with her. This mother-child relationship is clearly defined both in our own minds and in the beauty of the Qur’an.

However, what about step parents? How can one define this role? After much thought and internal struggle the only way I can define my personal role as a step parent is: CHALLENGING. Now this isn’t to say that being a biological parent is easy by any means, but the challenges are different. As a step parent the hardest thing to accept is that, no matter how much you love your spouse’s child, they aren’t your own and therefore the rules are different for you whether you like it or not. First let me take the most “ideal” situation for step parents: you’ve married your spouse who has an infant child from a previous marriage and his or her ex-spouse is 100% out of the picture and your spouse views you as his or her child’s mother. The child grows up viewing you as his or her rightful mother with all powers and responsibilities bestowed upon you as a mother and everyone lives happily ever after.

This situation almost never happens. Here’s what really happens: you fall in love with your spouse for the sake of Allah subhanna wa ta’ala, you convince yourself that it can’t be that hard to take care of his or her child since at some point in life you want children of your own (and you’ve taken care of your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins etc.) so how hard can it be? Oh and that ex-spouse? Well he or she will move on and we’ll all be friends and everything will be wonderful. Then, you and your spouse get married and you’ve spent lots of time with the child or children and insha’Allah they have accepted you into their family either because they are too young to understand what’s happening or you’ve spent painstaking hours explaining to them that you could never replace their mother/father, even though very deep down within yourself, that’s exactly what you want to do but you refuse to admit that to yourself. Typically, at least within the western world, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation every other week or so. That means, that as a step parent, one week it’s just you and your spouse living as a couple, and then the next week you’re a mother or father….kind of. And then the next week you’re not. And so on for the next 18 years of your life.

Now while mothers have that 1 relationship with their child, a step mother or step father has 3 relationships to worry about: their relationship with the child, their relationship with their spouse regarding the child, and their relationship with their spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. I’ll start with the relationship with the child, which for me was the easiest. My husband’s child was only 1 year old when we got married (he’s almost 3 now alhamdulilah). This relationship was the easiest because I learned to love him quite quickly and he was too young to really understand why suddenly he has “2 mommies.” The key word here is I “LEARNED” to love him. As much as I wish I could say “and then I looked in his eyes and that unconditional love took over me,” I can’t. I did not create this baby with my husband, I did not carry him for 9 months, I did not give birth to him, and I had not been around to see his first year of life. Furthermore, as much as I hated myself for thinking it, I really did not like having him around at first because he was a constant reminder that my husband had wanted to have him with someone else. These feelings continued for quite some time until the child began calling for me. Suddenly I was the only one who could put him to bed, make his food, or give him a bath. He didn’t want his daddy to do it, he wanted me….his step-mother to do it. That’s when I fell in love. When he needed me like a mother, I felt like a mother and suddenly things weren’t as difficult. I knew my role with him and I could define it to myself and I stopped introducing him to people as “my husbands son” and started introducing him as “my step-son.”

The second relationship you have as a step-parent is the one you have with your spouse regarding the child. This is very different that the relationship you have with your spouse as a husband or a wife. The hardest aspect of this relationship is trying to figure out how your spouse wants you to act toward their child. Alhamdulilah my husband was more than willing to step aside and let me handle bed time, meal time, and bath time and let me take the child out by myself or stay alone in the house with him. In time he even let me discipline his son when he was having a tantrum, as most 2 year olds do. However, this is not the case for many step-mommies or step-daddies. A type of power struggle typically evolves as a result of this complicated relationship. Some parents don’t want their spouse to discipline their child or take over certain roles because they feel they are being pushed out. A normal human response to losing control is to fight back and try to take control of everything. It is not unusual for spouses to fight over their roles in the child’s life and for the biological mother or father to tell the step-parent that it’s “not their job to do that” when it comes to a responsibility they feel is rightfully theirs as the biological parent. In this situation typically the step-parent will withdraw completely and want nothing to do with the child because they don’t want to upset their spouse. In addition, its mentally exhausting and emotionally draining to check yourself at every step and have to wonder “is this my responsibility or my husband’s/wife’s?” There is no outlined way in any psychology book or therapy manual to tell you how to resolve this issue. It normally takes an inordinate amount of patience from both sides and strong communication skills in order to overcome this challenge.

The third and final relationship you have as a step-parent is your relationship with your spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. This can either be the most frustrating, enraging, and down-right painful relationship you’ll ever have, or it’ll be the easiest. If, on the rare occasion, the divorce was amicable and both parties accepted that the relationship between them did not work and have both moved on and accepted that each will most likely remarry and their child will have two mothers and two fathers, then this relationship for the step-parents is relatively simple. However, more likely than not, the divorce was not pleasant for either party and some hostile feelings remain. Since both parties are normally told by family and friends to ignore each other and just move on with their lives, those hostile feelings need to come down on someone. So why not the person that your ex-spouse marries and is trying to “move in on your child?” It’s easy to understand the logic behind it: they’re resentful of the fact that they will always be tied to the one person they don’t want to remember, they’re angry that their ex has moved on which makes them feel replaced, they don’t have the typical nuclear family and often get uncomfortable or even rude comments from others in the community, and their child is calling someone else mama or dada. I can’t say that I would feel or act any differently if the roles were reversed.

However, that justification gives little solace to step-parents. Typically in our lives if there is someone we don’t particularly care for, we can keep them at a distance and limit communication with them. This doesn’t work in this scenario. The person that is taking their frustrations out on you is the mother or father of your step-child for whom you care very deeply. In turn, you have to accept that the child loves this individual and you cannot let your own personal feelings for their mom or dad show in front of them.  Furthermore, this ex-spouse is a constant, never-ending reminder that the man or woman you married and love did not choose you first. You are second. You might be the “right one” but you will never be the “first one.” You’ll never be his or her first spouse or first mother or father of their child. Never. And their ex-spouse will always be there, either through that 6am angry text message or at pick-ups and drop-offs or when your spouse has to make that direct deposit into their ex’s bank account for child support. They will never go away and you just have to accept it.

Besides these 3 relationships you’ll have as a step-parent, there’s a whole host of other challenges. What do your parents say about you marrying someone who already has children? What does the community think? How do you comfort your spouse when they have to drop-off their child every other week to their ex-wife or ex-husband and they don’t realize that it hurts you just as much? What do you say when someone asks you if you have children? What do you do when you disagree with something that the child’s parents have decided to do? How do you reconcile having absolutely no legal authority over a child that you consider to be your own? How do you define being a step-parent?

I personally grew closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala during my journey so far as a step-parent. When things got difficult I often felt like no one really understood what I was going through. My husband had his own view of things and his own challenges with the situation. My parents were hesitant from the beginning as to whether I would be able to handle it and so I didn’t feel like I could turn to them for support. My friends alhamdulilah were very caring and always willing to provide a shoulder to cry on but I still felt very alone through all of this. That’s when I decided I really needed to turn all of my attention towards Allah subhana wa ta’ala knowing that He would hear me.

On several occasions I broke down in tears during salah and it was difficult to even know what I was praying for. Do I pray that my step-son considers me a mother? Then what about his biological mother? He already had a mom. Do I pray that my husband loves the children he will have with me as much as his son from another woman? I felt a lot of guilt about praying for things I thought weren’t “fair” or “justified.” Sometimes I would even miss salah because I felt like everything I was praying for was selfish and I somehow didn’t deserve to reach out to Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

Over time though, I began just praying that something changed; I was praying to feel better about the situation. I became closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala and I felt myself becoming stronger in my deen because on the hardest of days, prayer was all I had. Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made things a little easier for me each day and I thank Him for the small blessings as well as the big ones. With Allah’s swt help I have learned to be patient and thankful that I can just spend time with my step-son and I am in this position in my life because Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made it so, and therefore there is a reason for it. This has brought solace and comfort to me and has ultimately strengthened my attachment to Allah and all I do now is pray that He continue to guide me through whatever happens.

The hardest part for me about being a step-parent is that no matter how much I love my step-son, no matter how supportive my husband is, and no matter how well I control my feelings towards his ex-wife, I will always have to put “step” before “parent” and that will never get any easier. I make dua for all the step-parents out there that Allah subhana wa ta’ala (spelling?) makes it easier for you and that you achieve Jannah for everything you go through and everything you sacrifice as a step-parent. May Allah subhana wa ta’ala bless all the step-moms and step-dads out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Take solace in pleasing Allah subhana wa ta’ala and turn to Him when it get’s too hard.

“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust.” (Quran, 3:160)

May 27, 2014

5 Tips to Avoid Overspending in Ramadan

Umm Suzana is a Columbian mother of three currently living in New Jersey, USA. She is passionate about natural remedies and ways to save on family spending.

During the blessed month of Ramadan, our usual attention to daily house and family routines get turned towards making the most of our worship, as they should. But whether it’s a start of the month iftar stock-up or a last minute run to the store before suhoor, someone will eventually have to get some groceries. And in case that person is you, here are five tips to help keep your spending in line:

Tip #1: Never Shop When You’re Feeling Hungry
Shopping while hungry increases the chances that you will buy on impulse. Your tummy is growling, your throat is parched, and your brain is thinking: “food, drink, now!” With all of this going on, you will be much more likely to give in to purchasing food items that you don’t really need, blasting your budget right out of the water.

It’s best to eat before you shop. That way the only thing your brain has to focus on is sticking to the list. If you’re fasting, trying doing your grocery shopping early, right after your morning suhoor. Or try it in the evening after you’ve finished your iftar.  

If you have to shop with children in tow, make sure that they have been fed beforehand too!

Tip #2: Make a List
Everyone’s list will be different depending on how and when a person prefers to shop. But in general, make sure your list includes the day-to-day particulars as well as the bulk items that you know you will need throughout the month. Items like plates, napkins, dates and water can be bought early on and in bulk to help save time and money!

To save cooking time for last minute iftars or unexpected guests, stock up on veggies and herbs early on too. Once purchased, they can be chopped and frozen into small, easy-to-cook portions that you can use throughout the month.  

When you get to the store, strive to not buy anything that’s not already on your list. Buying off the list is a quick and almost sure way to overspend and come home with unnecessary items. Think of this way: If it wasn’t on the list in the first place, you more than likely don’t need it!

If you have trouble making a list on the spot, try keeping a piece of paper or a white board on the fridge where you can jot down the items you run out of, especially the items you want to stock up on before Ramadan begins. This not only helps save time in making your grocery list but also helps keep you from forgetting important items for your home.  

Tip #3 Set Your Budget
Setting a budget beforehand helps keep you in line when your impulses lean towards unnecessary purchases.

Before Ramadan begins, try to make a bi-weekly budget so you don’t have to spend time shopping every week or even every day. Our goal this month should be to spend as much of our time as possible in worship, not waiting in lines at the grocery store. Make sure to include enough money in your budget to cover any possible tax costs.

Once you have your list set, check the grocery store circulars and newspapers for current deals and coupons. Every state differs but in New Jersey, the circulars are usually released on Fridays and the store coupons on Sundays.

Mark down the sale items that match the items on your list so you know to go straight for the deals when you get to the store. If you find coupons matching your list items, clip them and use them at the register to save even more, inshaAllah!

For even more savings, check with your local stores for a free customer rewards card that you can swipe to get gifts cards, cash back, or extra discounts on the items you need.

Tip# 4: Pay Attention to the Shelves!

Oftentimes, stores place their most expensive items at eyelevel, within easy reach, while the clearance items are placed towards the bottom or back of the shelves. So if you want to save, be prepared to bend down and dig a little to find the deals.

Tip #5: Make Duaa
As with everything else we do in the deen, we should always ask Allah to accept our efforts and bless them for us.

The Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said that the dua of the fasting person will not be rejected!

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “Three supplications will not be rejected (by Allah, subahana wa ta ala) the supplication of the parent for his child, the supplication of the one who is fasting, and the supplication of the traveler. (al-Bayhaqi, at-Tirmidhi – Sahih)

MashaAllah, what a wonderful blessing! So definitely take time in Ramadan to make lots and lots of dua, even when it comes to the shopping.  

If you struggle to sticking to a budget, ask Allah to make it easy for you. Ask Him to make it easy for you to get in and out with everything you need. If you know your particular grocer isn’t coupon friendly, make duaa that Allah gives you safe travels to and from the store and gives you the patience to deal with whatever obstacles the day may bring. 

May 9, 2014

Daily Deeds: Cleansing Power of Wudu

This post was excerpted from Healing Body and Soul by Amira Ayad

Allah, subahana wa ta ala, says in the Qur'an: "O you who believe! When you intend to offer the prayer, wash your face and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and wash your feet up to the ankles..." --Surah Al-Maidah, 5: 6

"Ablution is not a mere physical act; it is a sign of the purification of the soul, driving away evil thoughts, clearing the mind and preparing one to concentrate only on the glorification and worship of Allah. Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, taught us that ablution washes away sins, purifying and cleansing the soul."

In a Sahih hadith narrated in Muslim and Tirmidhi, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was reported to have said: "If the Muslim performs ablution and washes his face, any offense he overlooked with his eyes will come out with the water; and when he washes his hands, any assault he commited with his hands will come out with the water; and when he washes his feet any misdeed to which he walked with his feet will come out with the water, till he concludes (the ablution) free from sins." 

April 24, 2014

Exceptional Umms: Asma' Bint Abu Bakr

This post was compiled from multiple hadith found in Sahih Bukhari and the book Great Women of Islam, written by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar.

Qualities That Made Her Great
Courage, Piety, Patience, Sacrifice

Her Family
She was the sister of ‘Aishah bint Abu Bakr, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. Her father Abu Bakr, her husband Az-Zubayr, and her son, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr were all famous companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. After her parents accepted Islam, Asma’ and her siblings were raised in an atmosphere of Islamic faith and practice.

The Woman of Two Waist Belts
When the time came for the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, to migrate from Mecca to Medina, a plan was devised for him to migrate in secret with his great and loyal companion Abu Bakr as-Siddique. Though she was just a young girl at the time, it was the courageous Asma’ who gathered food and water for the great journey her father and The Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, were about to make. 

In Sahih Bukhari, Asma’ related:I prepared the journey food for the Prophet and Abu Bakr when they wanted to migrate to Medina. I said to my father (Abu Bakr), "I do not have anything to tie the container of the journey food with except my waist belt." He said, "Divide it lengthwise into two." I did so, and for this reason I was named 'Dhat-un-Nitaqain' (i.e. the owner of two belts)”

In another narration, Aisha said about this time: “…One day, while we were sitting in Abu Bakr's house, someone said to Abu Bakr, "This is Allah's Apostle with his head covered coming at a time at which he never used to visit us before." Abu Bakr said, "May my parents be sacrificed for him. By Allah, he has not come at this hour except for a great necessity." So Allah's Apostle came and asked permission to enter, and he was allowed to enter. When he entered, he said to Abu Bakr. "Tell everyone who is present with you to go away." Abu Bakr replied, "There are none but your family. May my father be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle!" The Prophet said, "I have been given permission to migrate." Abu Bakr said, "Shall I accompany you? May my father be sacrificed for you, O Allah's Apostle!" Allah's Apostle said, "Yes." Abu Bakr said, "O Allah's Apostle! May my father be sacrificed for you, take one of these two she-camels of mine." Allah's Apostle replied, "I will accept it with payment." So we prepared the baggage quickly and put some journey food in a leather bag for them. Asma’, Abu Bakr's daughter, cut a piece from her waist belt and tied the mouth of the leather bag with it, and for that reason she was named Dhat-un-Nitaqain (i.e. the owner of two belts)…

Her Patience in Poverty
It’s related in the Sahih of Bukhari that when Asma’ was married to Zubayr bin ‘Awam, he was a very pious but poor man.

Asma’ narrated: When Az-Zubayr married me, he had neither land, nor wealth, nor slave, nor anything else like it, except a camel to get water and his horse. I used to graze his horse, provide fodder for it, look after it and ground dates for his camel. Besides this, I grazed the camel, made arrangements for providing it with water and patching up his leather bucket and kneading the flour. I was not very good at baking the bread, so my female neighbors used to bake bread for me and they were sincere women. And I used to carry on my head, the date-stones from the land of az-Zubayr which the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam had endowed him and it was a distance of two miles from Madinah.

One day, as I was carrying the date-stones upon my head, I happened to meet Allah's Messenger, sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, along with a group of his Companions. He called me and told the camel to sit down so that he could make me ride behind him. I felt shy to go with men and I remembered Az-Zubayr and his ghirah (ghirah is the sense of pride that a man has which causes him to dislike his wives, daughters or sisters from being seen or heard by strangers - it is this ghirah which makes a man protective about his women) and he was a man having the most ghirah. The Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam understood my shyness and left.

I came to Az-Zubayr and said, 'The Messenger of Allah met me as I was carrying date-stones upon my head and there was with him a group of his Companions. He told the camel to kneel so that I could mount it but I felt shy from him and I remembered your ghirah.' Upon this Az-Zubayr said, 'By Allah, the thought of you carrying date-stones upon your head is more severe a burden to me than you riding with him.'

I led this life of hardship until Abu Bakr sent me a female servant who took upon herself the responsibility of looking after the horse and I felt as if she had emancipated me."

Her Generosity
Asma’ bint Abi Bakr was a woman known to give a lot in charity mashaAllah, even if she had nothing left to keep for herself.

Asma’ narrated:Once I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have no property except what has been given to me by Az-Zubayr (i.e. her husband). May I give it in charity?" The Prophet said, "Give in charity and do not withhold it; otherwise Allah will withhold it back from you." –Sahih Bukhari

The Birth of Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr
Asma’ and her husband conceived in Mecca and when it came time for them to migrate across the desert to Medina, Asma’s pregnancy was already full term. It was during her travels that she went into labor as they reached the valley of Quba and it was there that she gave birth to her son, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr, the first Muslim child to be born amongst the muhajireen, mashaAllah.

Asma’ relates her story in Sahih Bukhari:I migrated to Medina while I was at full term of pregnancy and alighted at Quba where I gave birth to him. Then I brought him to the Prophet and put him in his lap. The Prophet asked for a date, chewed it, and put some of its juice in the child's mouth. So, the first thing that entered the child's stomach was the saliva of Allah's Apostle. Then the Prophet rubbed the child's palate with a date and invoked for Allah's Blessings on him, and he was the first child born amongst the Emigrants in the Islamic Land (i.e. Medina).”

The Great Advice to Her Son
Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr grew to become a great man and a noble companion, known for his fortitude and accomplishments on the battlefield. Towards the end of his life, the Muslims were split over who should take khalifa. Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr refused to accept the caliphate of Bani Umayyah and rose his own army in Mecca to fight against Hajjaj. But the army of Hajjaj surrounded Mecca, refused to allow food to enter, and laid siege to the city with catapults, greatly weakening and eventually defeating ibn Az-Zubayr’s army.
As Hajjaj’s forces entered into Mecca, they gave Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr three choices: (1) be taken into custody and delivered to the khalifa in Damascus; (2) leave Mecca and surrender all the lands that he had overcome such as Egypt, Iraq and Yemen; and (3) try to continue fighting.

At this critical time, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr decided to seek advice from none other than his mother, Asma’ bint Abu Bakr, who at this time was over 100 years old mashaAllah.

Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr said to his mother: So the people have left me by myself, even my own son. No one is with me except a handful of people, all I have is an hour of patience and then death and if I were to do what the people want me to do then I will be free.”

And Asma’ replied to her son: You know better in your own self that if you are upon the truth and you are calling towards the truth, then go forth for people more honorable than you were killed and have been killed. And if you are not upon the truth, then what an evil son you are, you have destroyed yourself and those who are with you. If you say what you say, that you are upon the truth and you will be killed at the hands of others then you will not truly be free, for this is not the statement of someone who is free. How long will you live in this world? Death is more beloved to me than this state you are in, this state of weakness.”

Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr replied to his mother’s honest words: “I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of Sham, I am afraid they will cut up my body after they have killed me.” And Asma’ replied: “After someone has died, it won’t make any difference what they do to you if you have been killed.”

Ibn Az-Zubayr continued: “I did not come to you except to increase myself in knowledge. Look and pay attention to this day for verily I am a dead man, your son never drank wine, nor was he a fornicator, nor did he wrong any Muslim or Kaafir, nor was he unjust, I am not saying this to you to show off or show how pure I am but rather as an honor to you.”

After their final conversation, Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr rode out and was killed by the army of Hajjaj.

Courage in the Face of Injustice
After her son was killed, Al-Hajjaj refused him a proper burial and left his body for public display instead. He refused anyone permission to remove the body and informed Asma’ that if she wanted to have the body taken down, she would have to come in person and request his permission first. Asma’ refused to succumb to such a request.

After some time passed and Asma’ would not come, Hajjaj went to visit her himself and asked: “What do you say about this matter?” 

Asma’ replied: “Verily you have destroyed him, you have ruined his life and with that you have ruined your hereafter.”

After a few days, Hajjaj took down the body of her son and Asma’ retrieved it, washed it, and gathered the people to perform the congregational prayer at his burial.

Her Death

When Asma’ bint Abu Bakr died, she was over 100 years old, and still had a full set of teeth, mashaAllah. May Allah reward her and have mercy on her.