Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ramadan's Mental and Physical Benefits Vs Closeness to God

Ramadan Fasting: Mental and Physical Benefits are Plentiful. 

But without its connection to the Spiritual, to God, the act of fasting quickly becomes empty...

The Muslim month of Ramadan. A time for spiritual cleansing, re-committing oneself to God, and remembrance of all of the reasons why we are put on this Earth. The physical and mental benefits that stem from the actual fasting process (i.e. forgoing food and drink) can be plentiful. But without its spiritual component - the constant attempt during Ramadan to devote a month to actively remember God - something about it just seems lacking.

We all know that Ramadan isn't simply about abstaining from food, drink and sex. During Ramadan, those who haven't been praying the obligatory 5 times a day prayer make an effort to do so; they also try to read the Quran; and increase devotional prayers to God.

For many Muslims, this can be a difficult thing to do. 

Some Muslims simply focus on fasting's physical aspects - the forgoing food, drink and pleasure. No doubt, this already can be a very difficult thing to do. It takes a certain amount of discipline to give up food and drink for many hours - during one's waking hours no less. It does take self-discipline to not drink that much-needed coffee in the morning, when all you are doing is craving for it. Those times, one remembers why one is doing it. Simply because we believe in God and this is one of His commandments.

After the first week, the body amazingly adapts. The hunger pangs become less and less. The mind and the body becomes accustomed to functioning without the morning caffeine. The constant pre-occupation with food and drink eventually disappears, and you start to feel great mentally and physically. And the amount of time you have on your hands suddenly seems immense - since you are no longer frittering away time on lunch and tea breaks!

Physically, you find that your body is able to function well without food. Some of us perhaps even realize that we eat too much during the non-Ramadan months.

Mentally, you find that your mind becomes clear and alert without stimulants such as sugar and caffeine. 

It's all good. It is no wonder that even some non-Muslims fast regularly to detox their body and mind.

Today, marks the 9th night of Ramadan fasting (2013). For the past nine days, I have been fasting the "lesser fast" - simply forgoing food and drink, and praying the obligatory prayers (but even for those, I am ashamed to say, I missed some!). As each day passed, I felt something nagging within me. This sense of discomfort and restlessness only increased day by day.

There was something different this year that I was doing as compared to the previous years - for whatever reason, this year I did not increase my spiritual remembrance of God. I did not make the effort to read the Quran or pray or "speak" to God; instead, I left the tv switched on right after iftar, its meaningless noise in the background as I read the news or worked or chatted with someone on Skype. Then I slept in the night as I would on any other night of the month.

I guess I just realized that it takes special effort to remember God - it is not something that magically happens. There are just too many distractions around in this day and age competing for attention. It is up to us to set aside the time for God, or risk losing the closeness to Him. It is a relationship just like any other, but one with longer-lasting implications(if you believe in the Hereafter!). 

So with the remaining 20 days, I will work to re-establish the connection to God. I will spend the time necessary so that I form the bond with God that I know my soul truly desires.

I hope that my focus on the spiritual aspect of this month will make for a complete Ramadan - and my restlessness thus far can then be eased.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston Marathon Suspects and Racial Profiling

Boston Marathon Suspects' Muslim Identity and the Futility of Racial Profiling

Well, it turns out that the alleged perpetrators of the Boston marathon attacks happen to be Muslims. When the pictures of the suspects (deemed Suspect 1 and Suspect 2) were initially released by the FBI, almost everyone thought that they looked Caucasian, and so therefore unlikely to be Muslims.

Turns out that while they were indeed Caucasians - of Chechen ethnicity - they were also Muslims.

For some people, they probably learned something new - Muslims can be of any kind of ethnicity! Although, only 15% of the Muslim population in the world happen to be of Arab ethnicity, there are segments in America that actually favor racial profiling. While racial profiling is not officially advocated by the US, there are enough anecdotal accounts of how Muslims who fit the general perception of what Muslims should look or sound like (i.e. women in headscarves, those with common Muslim-sounding names like Muhammed or Ali, Arabic foreign accents, or brown skinned people) have been singled out for extra checks while traveling in and out of the country. The term "flying while Muslim" is testament to the fact that racial profiling of Muslims does exist in America.

When horrific incidents like the Boston Marathon attacks occur, there are people who attempt to draw a link between the Muslim faith (and consequently the Muslim identity) and the violent act that have been committed. And the calls for laws that discriminate between individuals based on their ethnic and religious identities grow louder.

It is a simplistic explanation followed by simple reactionary solutions - close doors to all Muslims (anti-immigration laws), "contain" the Muslims already in the country through actions that place them on the defense (FBI surveillance and periodic entrapment operations), increase efforts to make Muslims conform to perceived notions of the American identity, forcibly if necessary (eg: preemptive anti-Shariah laws, or follow France's route of banning certain dress that cover the female body).

The world population of Muslims amount to approximately 1.5 billion. If Islam was truly disseminating violent ideologies to its followers, then the numbers of violent incidents would be far higher than what we have today.

Despite the reports that show we are not in as much peril from violent "Islamic" terrorism on US soil as the mainstream media and politicians makes it out to be notwithstanding, some people are already (once again) responding by discriminating Muslims in the name of security. This is highly inappropriate and counter-productive in the long run. By such continued discriminatory behavior, an entire group of Muslims is made to feel defensive, fearful and eventually mistrustful of the very community in which they live in.

There is no better time than now to work on the building of bridges.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Marathon Attacks: Foreign Terrorists or Sick Americans?

Boston Marathon Attacks and the Guessing Game as to who the Perpetrators are

With sinking trepidation in my heart, I perused the news about the recent Boston marathon attacks. It was almost inconceivable that this had occurred in a city so dear and near to my consciousness – a city that had left its indelible presence on my very being. This was the city where I had experienced many firsts from the insignificant first date to the momentous first car purchase to the financially empowering first real job, and innumerable other firsts; it was my home for more than one third of my life.

Boston was never the glamorous Los Angeles, nor was it the exciting New York that everyone knew and dreamt about. But to me, part of Boston’s charm was in its unchanging quiet strength. Now the world’s eyes are upon this city, and sadly for all of the wrong reasons.

The reaction to the attacks has been predictably swift. Instantly, there were speculations that this was an act of terrorism by foreign perpetrators. Scores of Muslim Americans, and Muslims worldwide instinctively braced themselves for a backlash, while hoping that the perpetrators would not happen to share their faith. Muslim organizations, no less the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, felt compelled to issue out strong declarations of condemnation, lest there were doubts. Within days, troubling news reports emerged of  people of Muslim ethnicity being targeted: Muslim women in their give-away headscarves being harassed and threatened; Muslim man beaten up in New York; and false accusations of being the marathon perpetrators.

One of the more troubling reactions to me was that of a young Saudi Arabian foreign student who happened to be at the scene. He found himself under scrutiny almost instantly by a fellow bystander who had tackled him after the attacks because he had been acting "suspiciously" before and after the attacks. Despite being injured like so many of the other spectators who were unfortunate enough to have been there that day, he, unlike the others, was interrogated, and then had his apartment searched. He was labeled as a potential suspect, and had his name and his Facebook pictures propagated by certain segments of the all-too-eager and all-too-willing new media, despite statements to the contrary by law enforcement. Hours later, it became apparent that the Saudi student had nothing at all to do with the attacks. His "suspicious" behavior notwithstanding.

Outside of the US, another kind of reaction is gaining traction. As soon as the news of the Boston attacks hit, people began tweeting and forwarding news reports that 30 children and women at a wedding in Afghanistan had been killed by US air strikes on the very same day! The emphasis was on whether it was justified that this news went under-reported while the death of one child in Boston was at the foremost of the news. Was the life of an American child more news-worthy (and hence more valuable) than one of an Afghan child? The incident in the widely circulated report turned out to have actually occurred in 2002. Still it takes nothing away from the main point – a quick check of recent news pulls up disturbing information. For instance, just recently, on April 7, 2013, 11 Afghan children were killed in an airstrike by US-led NATO coalition forces. And as anyone that follows the news would know, this is not an isolated incident, but as a result of a systemic NATO plan of dealing with insurgents in Afghanistan with airstrikes and drone attacks. Civilians are often caught in the cross-fire.

Most of us know this happens. And most of us choose not to react. Our eyes gloss over the news reports of deaths of innocent civilians. After all, this happens in faraway lands where violence is part and parcel of life there. But when it happens in familiar ground, in lands that are most like ours, only then do we pay attention.

As it is with me. I cam across one picture of a man whose leg was torn by the bomb blast, his arteries clearly visible. This was one image that was actually befitting the usual graphic advisory warning. This made me think about the many lost limbs elsewhere too.

Above, a picture of Syrians showing their solidarity Bostonians.

It does not matter who did this - so this dichotomy of who could have possibly done such a dastardly act - foreign terrorists OR sick Americans that does not exist. Whatever the perpetrator's motivations are, anyone who wished harm on innocent people in this way have to be sick in their minds. So ultimately, these perpetrators, whoever they are, are simply sick terrorists.

We need to check ourselves and our reactions when such unfortunate incidents happen.

Stop. Be human. It isn't difficult.