March 27, 2014

Muslimah Musings: Best Friends Forever

When I was three, I had a best friend, Becky.  We started at the same preschool and were both fairly shy and quiet.  She would follow me around aimlessly while I walked around aimlessly until we eventually learned that playing together was more fun.  When we started the same local school, Becky’s mum requested that she be put in the same class as me as she hadn’t made many other friends yet.  We were joined at the hips. Wherever there was Becky, there was me and vice versa. This continued for the next 6-7 years until at the age of 12, we started attending different high schools.

We were still in touch at this point, occasionally hung out after school, chatted on the phone but a couple more years down the line and we started to drift apart.  Her circle of friends were all about hanging out with guys, parties, drinking and the usual teenage stuff.  I attended an all girls school, wore hijab, didn’t drink and didn’t even see the point of boys.  By the time I turned 17 and started university, I didn’t even have her number and had no idea what she was doing in life.  

We went from playing in the woods together, birthday parties, slumber parties, bike rides, shopping trips, break ups and make ups and all the rest of it.  We even had one of those fake silver ‘best friend’ broken love heart necklaces, you all know the ones!  And now, we barely even existed to one another.  It seemed a little sad to say the least.

However, day one at university, having just been dropped off in my dorms by my parents, waiting to find out who my roommate would be and trying to create a mental map in my head of how on earth to get to my first sign up meeting, I bumped into a sister in the hallway.  She wore hijab and abaya like me and we both gave salaams to one another, chatted a bit about where we were from and what we studying and made a plan to hang out later that evening.  I felt immediate comfort in having found a muslim when I was far from home and knew no one.

We soon realised that we had loads in common, from the food we ate (probably the only students that ate rice cakes with peanut butter), the way we dressed, our favourite tv shows, our sense of humour… practically everything.  It was like the grown up, muslim version of having a childhood Becky!  

As the weeks and months went on, our conversations moved away from studies and day to day stuff and almost exclusively became about deen.  Whether we talked about hijab, family or marriage, we spoke about what Islam had to say on the topic.  This became the basis of our interactions and the basis of our friendship.  I hadn’t until that point, realised what it was to have a ‘friend.’  We sat next to each other on our wedding days, had children around the same time and even today, its unusual for us to not talk at least once a week, mashaAllah.

I don’t mean to belittle other friendships and acquaintances I’ve built over the years.  Nor do I mean to make this about non muslim vs muslim or hijab vs no hijab.  I am still in touch with girls who are atheist, Christian and agnostic and hang out with them whenever I can.  Many of my muslim sisters are learning the deen for the first time so perhaps don’t pray or wear hijab but I still enjoy their company and would never distance myself from them.

My realisation was more to do with how I had defined that idea of ‘friend.’  Becky had been a childhood playmate, which is completely natural for children to seek out but as we grow older, we have to consider the purpose behind the relationship.  With Becky, it had been about mutual benefit.  Not in a malicious way at all but it suddenly made sense why we drifted apart.  Hanging out, playing, shopping etc benefitted us both and we enjoyed it but as soon as the activity was no longer mutually beneficial, we spent less and less time together.  If I hung out with her at parties with boys, it would have damaged my deen.  If she hung out with me instead of going to the parties and meeting boys, it would have damaged her goals.  And so we parted ways.

Now I’m describing a childhood friendship that ended naturally, without bad feelings or any drama.  Had I added those all too common ingredients of jealousy, loyalty, backbiting, gossip, betrayal etc, I can’t imagine the collateral damage and emotional upset!

Islam saves us from having to navigate confusing, unpredictable and damaging friendship minefields and moreover, protects us from the painful blow-ups.  Islam defines a friend for us, what it is to be a brother or sister in the deen, ‘awliyah’ to one another.

As much as we are permitted to have common interests and hang out doing whatever we enjoy doing as leisure, be it shopping, rock climbing or movies, we are not permitted to make that the be all and end all of a friendship, which is sadly all too common today, even amongst muslims.

A friend is the one whom you love for the sake of Allah, who you need in your journey to seek jannah, who you aid in doing the same, who you make secret dua for, who you trust - not only with your secrets, but with your deen - who you will support and aid even when it would be easier to part ways, who you want as a companion for an eternity in jannah, inshaAllah.  A true friend is an amanah upon us and a relationship which will account us or vouch for us on yawm al Qiyamah.

After realising all of the above over the years, I now have very few friends, let alone a ‘best friend forever,’ because ‘best’ implies the one who best fulfils that beautiful, sincere role of islamic friendship and ‘forever’ implies the one who does it so well, that it gets you jannah, subhanAllah.  Those rare gems are to be cherished and protected and before we cast off everyone that remains, we should work on forging true friendships with them by embodying the idea ourselves.  

The following hadith should serve as inspiration to us all.  Al-Haakim reported the following on authority of Ibn ‘Umar in a sound narration:

“Allah has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs, yet the martyrs and Prophets acknowledge their ranks and their nearness to Allah on the day of Judgment. Then a Bedouin bent on his knees and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them and explain them for us.” He said: “They are of different peoples that do not belong to their tribes. They befriended each other and loved each other for the sake of Allah. On the Day of Judgment, Allah will make for them platforms of Light on which they will sit. People will fear, but they will not fear. They are Allah’s friends (awliyaa’) azza wa jall, on whom there is no fear, nor shall they grieve”

March 17, 2014

Maria Islam on the Ramadan Battle Plan

Maria Islam is an El Salvadorian mother of three, currently living in New Jersey, USA. She designs personal planners for busy Muslims on

What were your Ramadans like before you had a battle plan?
I converted in April 2006 and I created a planner to keep me from burning out. I like to do the best I can and I was enthusiastically trying to do everything about Islam at once and I always had this nagging feeling I was missing something. It helped me pace myself and solidify good habits.  I was also concerned about my first Ramadan so I fasted sporadically through that summer to builds stamina.

When Ramadan came it was a breeze, Alhamdulillah.  I’ve always done a loose map of what I wanted to achieve each Ramadan or even what needs to get done on a day to day basis but no rigid structure. My worship is tied to my other tasks in my life as Islam is my core. For example my toddlers have been “praying” with me for quiet a while, they see me praying and they come.

I have a minimum that I feel comfortable doing each day that if that is the ONLY thing I do that day, it was a day well spent. My aim is always to do more but if I dip below that minimum it’s a warning that I need to shape up.

What was your inspiration for creating the Ramadan Battle Plan and for how long have you been making them?
I’ve been making planners since high school as it helps me visualize the steps I need to take to achieve my goals. In 2011, I had miscarriage of twins and it was a very rough time for me. Although I no longer needed my planner to remind me of the 5 prayers and sunnan, I did feel that I was drowning and needed to re-focus on something other than my sadness.

I took my old trusty planner and revamped it with a focus on Ramadan. The idea was to get me in the mental state of Ramadan and make the most of it. Ramadan has always felt like a refuge to me and I look forward to it every year. Alhamdulillah. I released it to some friends and they shared it with their friends and it spread by word of mouth. The first batch was hand bound and I made digital copy free to download for anyone who wants it.

I want to help as many people make the most of their Ramadan. I also want to maximize how many good deeds I can get and there are only so many hours of the day. I figured if I help others improve their Ramadan then I would be getting some my way too Insha’Allah. 

What does the plan contain?
I have a monthly view of Sha’ban, Ramadan and Shawwal. Each day of Ramadan has two full pages dedicated to it so people could plan out their night and day worship. It has a 30 and 20 day Qur’an Reading schedule and hadith and ayat relevant to Ramadan to keep you motivated and focused insha’Allah.

How is the Ramadan Battle Plan different from other Islamic productivity tools out there?
It’s not meant to be a productivity tool although it may be for some.  I really dislike the term because in my experience it’s just an excuse to cram days with things that aren’t important but give the appearance of productivity and make us feel less guilty about what we should be doing.  

This planner is meant to be a hard copy record of your progress each Ramadan.  It’s the main reason I chose the name Battle Plan because it invokes action.  Not a wishing my Ramadan was better but a here are the steps I'm going to take to make it better insha'Allah. I provide a structure and you customize to fit your needs.

In your own personal experience as a wife and mother, how has using the Battle Plan helped to improve your worship before, during, and after Ramadan?
I see improvements before I even use it because I spend most of the year incessantly working on it which means I’m constantly listening to lectures about Ramadan, looking for ahadith dealing with it and being constantly surrounded by the awesomeness that I love so much about Ramadan which helps keep my iman up. 

This year I included mind mapping and a more in-depth section on achieving goals. I was stuck on those for a long time so I took two classes dealing with each topic and it helped tremendously. Usually once Ramadan does come the planner helps me stay consistent and serves as a keepsake of my progress but by this point it’s like seeing an old friend.

I also LOVE data and I want to see progress even if it is slow. This is the 4th year I do it and some of my users tell me they keep their planners year to year to monitor their progress.  Right before the Ramadan they take it out and review what they could do better this Ramadan.

Tell us about this year’s Battle Plan.
This year’s the largest I’ve ever done topping at over 120+ pages. Every year I survey my users and if I see a pattern of similar requests, I take those and try to incorporate them in the planner. Some work and some don’t but every year is a trial and error with my community being as much engaged in the creative process as I am. 

For example, many requested more space to plan out their day so I increased it to two pages per day. Another request was to expand the hours to accommodate night worship and those who work at night. Something I didn’t think of adding was a 20 day Qur’an reading schedule.  Even colors! I want to keep the planner neutral in colors but there was quite a few requests for a purple planner this year and its currently being offered as a limited edition only available during the Kickstarter campaign.  

Last year I also picked up quite a few recent converts and their #1 request was a glossary of the Arabic terms I used in the planner. That request made its way into 2014’s version. It also explains why this planner is so large. At the end of Ramadan 2014 I will be surveying them again seeing what they liked and didn’t like and I’ll start molding the next year’s planner insha’Allah. I suspect I will be trimming it down but will wait to hear their feedback. ;)

To order your Ramadan Battle Plan, visit  to back Maria Islam's project and place your pre-order. Pre-order sales will be accepted until March 18th, 2014. After that, the planners will be available for $30 inshaAllah. May Allah make it a success and grant everyone a blessed Ramadan, ameen. 

March 9, 2014

Beautiful Reminders: The Deeds That Last

It's related in the Sahih of Bukhari that the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, was reported to have said: 

"When a man dies, his deeds come to an end but three: a recurring charity, a beneficial knowledge, and a pious child who supplicates to Allah for him."