Category Archives: My Mind Speaks

Do You Know Ramadan?

So it has finally come, the month cherished by Muslims worldwide, Ramadan.   I can’t deny that I received the announcement of Ramadan with tears of joy and hope that Allah’s Mercy would touch our burdened lives. Ramadan, a thirty-day gift from Allah where His  Mercy, Retribution and salvation from Hell are granted to those who practice fasting in the best manner described in the Holy Quran and our Prophet’s  Sunnah.  The media  has distorted this beautiful image of Ramadan and turned it into a month of lethargy, oversleeping, overeating and staying glued  to the wide  range of television series , soap operas and other programs which lack any moral guidance mostly needed to help us to succeed in Ramadan. 

As youngsters, we could not grasp the true essence behind Ramadan till mid adulthood.  We knew that we had to fast, although food makes up for almost half of  every child’s world. We went up the roof before the Maghrib (sunset) Prayer was announced to wait for the minarets of the mosques  to light up so we can celebrate the end of the curfew on food. I clearly remember that once we stood there holding on to our small bags of candy as we waited. What I try to teach my kids today about Ramadan are the true feelings of love I hold for this blessed month. I couldn’t keep the joy inside as Ramadan was only a day away, I was so enthused as I burst out  about all the things that Ramadan brings along. First I had to mention the material things such as the Ramadan Lantern (Fanoos) and the man (Musaharati) who wakes people up for (Suhoor) which is having a small meal before the Dawn Prayer and the famous Ramadan foods and all. This attracted their little minds, but then my six-year old Huda curiously threw this question at me: Mom, what happens in Ramadan? I was delighted at her question which I believe that if asked to grown-up Muslims, they would labor in coming up with an answer. So let’s ask ourselves this question: What is Ramadan all about?

First of all, Allah the All Merciful does not intend to make our lives harder by commanding us to  fast from food, water  and marital relationships for  14-15 hours a day. Ramadan is  a school which purifies our souls and strengthens our bodies. As human beings, we tend to attach ourselves to the earthly pleasures which fulfill the needs of our bodies, while neglecting our souls. The soul which runs through our bodies is not content or  relaxed with the same food given to our bodies. Ramadan comes to uplift our heavy hearts and souls  through fasting, prayer and many other forms of worship. When the thirty-day school draws near its end, we feel this powerful immunity towards many of life’s luxuries. We long to read Quran,  give out charity, stand in humbleness before Allah in midnight prayers asking to be saved from Hell, to be granted our wishes and to stay steadfast to the straight path which Allah has defined to us. Most of all, we feel the pain of hunger and thirst which millions suffer from in impoverished nations.

In Ramadan, Allah gives us countless opportunities everyday where He answers our prayers; the things we long so much to have. Throughout the year, we may turn to people for help, to doctors for treatment and  friends for advice. But, in Ramadan, our hearts our content with turning to our Creator for all help and treatment. At  many times, doctors fail you as well as colleagues, and you are uncomfortable to turn to them for help because after all, they are human beings like the rest of us who have worries and concerns of their own,  so no point in opening your heart to  them and putting full trust in their human power as if they have the secret cure to all your problems.

Another good lesson we learn from Ramadan is that with the feebleness of our bodies, and the elevation of our souls, we tend to make less mistakes. Our hearts are filled with love and kindness to all those surrounding us, and forgiveness to those who have not been so kind to us throughout the year, especially when we learn that  Allah the Almighty forgives the sins of His worshippers, so why can’t we humans forgive and forget. The season of Mercy has come, so let’s not waste it and try to really live the spirit of this holly month, and believe me, you are bound to see wonderful things  if you value every minute of it.

CELTA Training Outside Gaza

My first time out of Gaza in 13 years! It was a tough decision for me to leave my family behind and travel to nearby Egypt to attend a one month highly intensive course. But thanks to the help of my precious parents and husband, I was encouraged to take that step. I needed to get out to get a glimpse of the outside world. So many thoughts rushed into my head as I headed out of the Rafah Border to Egypt in a six hour drive. I remembered the feeling I had 13 years ago when I had flied to Egypt from the Palestinian International Airport, which was destroyed a year later with the break out of the Second Intifada. But this time the feeling was surprisingly different. Is that how people change with age, or was it something else that made me almost passive as the car entered the big metroplis of Cairo. The only proud feeling I had was that I was now entering a new Egypt afte the 2011 Revolution. An Egypt free from dictators and due to vote for  a new president just two days after I had arrived. Why didn’t my heart pound with excitement as I had expected? Why did the large city atmosphere not have an impact on someone who has been living under Siege, war and power cuts? I then rebuked myself for making such premature expectations and decided that tomorrow would definitely be different.

On Sunday May the 27th, I woke up early and headed to Al-Agouza to attend my CELTA training course at the British Council. I hadn’t slept the previous night as my mind was restless with immense anxiety. As the course began, I began to find pleasure in meeting people of different nationalities and backgrounds. My colleagues and course tutors were from different countries; Egypt, America, UK and Lebanon. The students we taught were from different parts of Africa; Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eriteria. They were such wonderful people who I found so much that brought me together with them as a Palestinian. I learned to work with and  collaborate with this great mix of cultures that I felt really enriched with new experience in dealing with human nature everyday. My days at the BC were long, starting from 9:00 and ending 6:30 and sometimes at 7:00.  To me, the best part of the highly energy draining course was the wonderful people I met. We all encouraged and helped each other to get through its challenges and we did make it till the end! There were moments when I thought I’d collapse, but although my physical strenght was not so strong, I  had an enormous amount of mental and pyschological power to get me through. It’s fair to say that my tutors’ moral support really helped me keep that smile on my face and boosted my energy level. My wonderful team which included Hisham, Adnan, Salma and Anne was like a caring family which helped me to feel ease and comfort. My other colleagues Becca, Amir, Hannah, Phyllis and Sherif were very nice and helpful each in their own way. To be honest, I learned something new from almost every one including my wonderful students technically called : our TP (Teaching Practice) group. I knew my time at BC and in Cairo was quite limited and I meant to make my stay there as memorable in the eyes and hearts of the people there, even the employees at the Beanos Cafe who served me with my daily dark, black  and sugarless American coffee cup. And when I felt that I was breaking down or getting homesick, it was two cups a day.

One day, towards the end of the training course, I felt the end drawing near like a sword in my heart. As much as I and everybody else were eager to finish, a sudden saddness took over me and my emotions were mixed. I asked myself: Am I relieved or grieved to come to the end and be closer to meeting my family. I went through all the laughs I had with my colleagues, some of which were highly uncontrollable for me. There was one time when our tutor, Catherine gave us an input session on teaching a foreign language and the model for us was Hungarian. There was an expression  in Hungarian which meant how are you: ‘Hogy vagy’ and I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the lesson because to me it sounded like hot fudge. That and many other little things which gave us many laughs were beginning to all come to an end. I thought about the peaceful sky of Cairo I had been living under for a month and the dark and dangerous sky of Gaza and soon began to make comparisons in my mind.

A final word on the CELTA course. Although I did take this course for my professional development in the field of teaching English, I can never underestimate the amount of experience I gained from dealing with different wonderful people. To me, my personal human development on all levels was enhanced alongside the purely professional level. I felt that I cared about the people I worked with and that I wanted to make a good impression on my tutors and fellow colleagues of a practicing Muslim mother from Gaza who is optimistic, motivated and willing to face challenges. I realized that we all had so much in common, our difficulties, our hopes, our fears, our expectations. As humans, the things we were united on were far  more than those we were divided on. There was a solid common ground which can help us  build good relationships to help make a difference in our worlds no matter where we go.  My colleagues are probably staring at their screens now and think that I may be too extreme on  my positive pondering.  To those wonderful people I say: I know we had some very  hard times at the course as well, but I can’t make them ruin the beautiful and memorable ones which I will carry with me throughout my life.

The Power of Allahu Akbar

The Power of Allahu Akbar

Most of my days are quite similar and ordinary which is clear from my replies to the usual “how are you?”.  But the thought that occurs to me now as I write this piece is that: Must something out of the ordinary happen so we can feel a change in our lives? Today, I found out that the answer is clearly ” No”.  We all hear, see and live through lots of daily experiences worth pondering and to which we never turn attention.

This afternoon,  after midday prayer (Zuhur), I rushed out to run some errands. As I passed the beautiful newly erected mosque down our street , the Imam was calling for prayer congregation , ” Allahu Akbar”. For a precious second there, I felt his call penetrate my ear and send a warm chill down my heart. What power does this word really hold? I thought. It is used by millions of Muslims worldwide in a multitude of situations. Aside from repeating it in our daily prayers, it is also vocalized angrily at scenes of martyrs murdered by the Occupation where people spontaneously cry out:  “Allahu Akbar!” to express their highly emotive state. The latest usage has also been heard in the recent and ongoing revolutions sweeping across the Arab world. So whether in defeat, plight or victory, no other equivalent is as powerful as this one. I can understand that many are demanding an explanation of the term which I shall put in simple words.

Akbar is the superlative form of Kabeer which means, great in Arabic. When associated with Allah (God in Islam), it means that He Allah is the dominator over the universe. His power surpasses all forms of power possessed by us humans. The impact of this word on a Muslims is that it assures that there is no mighty power except Allah’s; He is the All-Mighty for no one is able to conquer and rule except Him. He is the Creator, so only He can ordain what happens over His creation and may change or make anything happen by saying:  Be.  “Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! Holy Quran: Surah 36, Verse 82.

Do You Know Ramadan?

So it has finally come, the month cherished by Muslims worldwide, Ramadan.   I can’t deny that I received the announcement of Ramadan with tears of joy and hope that Allah’s Mercy would touch our burdened lives. Ramadan, a thirty-day gift from Allah where His  Mercy, Retribution and salvation from Hell are granted to those who practice fasting in the best manner described in the Holy Quran and our Prophet’s  Sunnah.  The media  has distorted this beautiful image of Ramadan and turned it into a month of lethargy, oversleeping, overeating and staying glued  to the wide  range of television series , soap operas and other programs which lack any moral guidance mostly needed to help us to succeed in Ramadan. 

As youngsters, we could not grasp the true essence behind Ramadan till mid adulthood.  We knew that we had to fast, although food makes up for almost half of  every child’s world. We went up the roof before the Maghrib (sunset) Prayer was announced to wait for the minarets of the mosques  to light up so we can celebrate the end of the curfew on food. I clearly remember that once we stood there holding on to our small bags of candy as we waited. What I try to teach my kids today about Ramadan are the true feelings of love I hold for this blessed month. I couldn’t keep the joy inside as Ramadan was only a day away, I was so enthused as I burst out  about all the things that Ramadan brings along. First I had to mention the material things such as the Ramadan Lantern (Fanoos) and the man (Musaharati) who wakes people up for (Suhoor) which is having a small meal before the Dawn Prayer and the famous Ramadan foods and all. This attracted their little minds, but then my six-year old Huda curiously threw this question at me: Mom, what happens in Ramadan? I was delighted at her question which I believe that if asked to grown-up Muslims, they would labor in coming up with an answer. So let’s ask ourselves this question: What is Ramadan all about?

First of all, Allah the All Merciful does not intend to make our lives harder by commanding us to  fast from food, water  and marital relationships for  14-15 hours a day. Ramadan is  a school which purifies our souls and strengthens our bodies. As human beings, we tend to attach ourselves to the earthly pleasures which fulfill the needs of our bodies, while neglecting our souls. The soul which runs through our bodies is not content or  relaxed with the same food given to our bodies. Ramadan comes to uplift our heavy hearts and souls  through fasting, prayer and many other forms of worship. When the thirty-day school draws near its end, we feel this powerful immunity towards many of life’s luxuries. We long to read Quran,  give out charity, stand in humbleness before Allah in midnight prayers asking to be saved from Hell, to be granted our wishes and to stay steadfast to the straight path which Allah has defined to us. Most of all, we feel the pain of hunger and thirst which millions suffer from in impoverished nations.

In Ramadan, Allah gives us countless opportunities everyday where He answers our prayers; the things we long so much to have. Throughout the year, we may turn to people for help, to doctors for treatment and  friends for advice. But, in Ramadan, our hearts our content with turning to our Creator for all help and treatment. At  many times, doctors fail you as well as colleagues, and you are uncomfortable to turn to them for help because after all, they are human beings like the rest of us who have worries and concerns of their own,  so no point in opening your heart to  them and putting full trust in their human power as if they have the secret cure to all your problems.

Another good lesson we learn from Ramadan is that with the feebleness of our bodies, and the elevation of our souls, we tend to make less mistakes. Our hearts are filled with love and kindness to all those surrounding us, and forgiveness to those who have not been so kind to us throughout the year, especially when we learn that  Allah the Almighty forgives the sins of His worshippers, so why can’t we humans forgive and forget. The season of Mercy has come, so let’s not waste it and try to really live the spirit of this holly month, and believe me, you are bound to see wonderful things  if you value every minute of it.

To Hold back or Give out

To Hold back or Give out

At many times, you have your heart set on something and think you can celebrate having found your passion in life. Then before you know it, you either lose interest or get kicked out of that league to find yourself downtrodden into despair.  You start asking yourself: ” Is it me or was it never meant to be?”. Human nature is so complex. But what’s more is the enmity you are faced with as you struggle to make your way up into your field of interest combined with having some kind of innate feeling that you view many of your former colleagues or teachers as comrades who share you the same interest and who you may turn to for advice. As sad and appalling as it is, instead of taking your hand and helping you in your path, they either stay remote or suddenly decide to shun you for God knows what reason. The good and sincere ones will definitely lend you a hand, but there is always a limit to the goodness distributed by human beings almost  as  if any good word of advice is worth more than you can afford, so they will throw trickles of their high valued wisdom lest  it may be squandered such. This attitude is striking in humans; the urge to hold back that caring hand, comforting word or good advice. This is one of the scenes which prompts me to pay thanks to Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Generous to all mankind. Our beloved Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon Him) never turned anyone away. Even when he lacked anything to give, he turned them away politely and tenderly. When coarse- mannered  Bedouins  asked him for money, he was most generous with them and so they hailed him as the man who is so giving that he does not fear poverty.

The art of giving is now a prescription for relieving stress and depression. There is something magical about that feeling that enraptures your heart when you give  out that hand of help, or that word of comfort which that person has longed  to hear. The smile they return is the best reward for your aching heart and beaten soul. 

Change in the Making vs. Change We Believe in

Change in the Making vs. Change We Believe in

Change, we believe in makes a catchy election campaign, yet has remained as dumb and fixed as the podium it was posted on. It was finely delivered  rhetoric speech embraced by the majority of Americans who  were too euphoric about the winning of the first Afro-American president than they were to scrutinize the speech itself. What can one say, words have a magical and captivating effect to say the least. Continue reading

A Smile Does Wonders

I can still remember the first thought that crossed my mind when I came back from our family’s five-year trip to the USA. I was about 15 at that time and I was puzzled to see that the faces of people lacked one feature: A smile. It was still the first Palestinian Intifada back in 1990, yet I hadn’t come to understand why the people  looked  so somber and gloomy. One day as I walked down the street with my mother, I was my old happy perked up self and so I inadvertently smiled at a women whom we passed. My mom suddenly nudged me saying: Don’t smile at people in the street, they’ll interpret  it in different ways. Consequently,  my heart received its first blow which attempted to kill the free spirit so typical of my late childhood back then.  As days passed, I saw and learned how the past three years of unrest moulded the people of Gaza into their current shape. A daily curfew was imposed which started around 6:00 P.M. Our ears got used to the Israeli loudspeakers daily annoucement of :” Those who break the curfew are risking death”. It was common to  be walking to school when out of the blue as if a stage fell from the sky where the young stone-hurlers appeared and Israeli soldiers chased them down or shot tear gas at them. If any person got caught up in the middle, they couldn’t turn back. Instead,  they would seek shelter in a nearby  alley and wait till the clashes abated then go their way.

That was in the day time. But nights often held more excitement. During the night,  the whole house was brought wide awake by a long press of the doorbell. Soldiers barged into houses and turned things upside down, especially the kitchen which was torn down and an avalanche of dishes, cups and everything else were brought down in seconds. Such appalling situations are enough to turn any woman into grim and grumpy.  Even at school, most teachers were too strict and serious making no room for any kind of cheerfulness.

Just as I struggled with life, so I did with my precious gift of smiling. I knew  deep inside that I had to protect it from dying out. Our Prophet (Peace be upon him) taught us that a smile is a form of charity one gives to others. I can relate to that in so many ways when I sense the magic of a smile that radiates powerfully. When Isee a smile, it assures me that everything will be alright and that I’m respected by the person standing in front of me. As simple as it is, the smile in Gaza has gone through many impediments to remain alive.