This was supposed to be my second post of a 30-day writing challenge, inspired from an e-mail I got from Discover Praxis. After deciding to commit myself to the challenge, my second day proved to me that it wasn’t a realistic goal – my little Fatima experienced colic which is unusual for us, wouldn’t sleep at her usual time and wanted to be held for a few hour until we went to bed together. I decided I could still commit to writing more frequently than I do, but just not every single day for the next 30 days, hoping to still reap the benefits of writing frequently. At least I’m grateful for the encouraging e-mail, so thank you Praxis.
Back in high school, nearly 8 years ago, one of my three A level classes was in Biology and my teacher had suggested a book called ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. I went ahead and ordered the book. I started reading it, or at least I must have because I found a bookmark at page one-hundred-and-something but I never finished it. A week ago, I was looking for a book in my mom’s library and I found this uncompleted book of mine. I decided to give it a go and I am really enjoying it to say the least. There was a section on supernovae (plural of supernova; a powerful and luminious stellar explosion) and the author was comparing the size of the closest supernova candidate in our galaxy to the size of our Sun (it takes a massive star, much larger than our Sun, to produce a supernova). I took a moment to absorb that, to fathom the overwhelming magnitude of what surrounds us and I literally felt my body quiver. We tend to think of the Milky Way as so wide and complex, yet we’re only a tiny part of an entire galaxy of solar systems which is also a small part of many other galaxies, and who knows what else beyond those.
While reading the chapter on the Cosmos, theories on how it came to be, what keeps entire bodies of planets and stars ‘hanging’ and allows them to move in an orderly manner, I kept recalling the verse from the Qur’an:
Islam is a religion that regards reflection as highly esteemed and encourages mankind to reflect on the creation in order to come to know God, the Creator of the Cosmos and everything within it and beyond it.
What I find even more interesting is that despite how tiny we are amidst all this enormous creation, there is still so much detail in our small world: the many different satisfying tastes of herbs and fruits that we sense with our tongue, the beautiful colours and scents of flowers, the cellular structures, the strong impact of our complex emotions, to name a very few.
Intention is an integral part of Islamic practice. In the first hadith that is mentioned in Imam Nawawi’s famous compilation of 40 hadiths, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is narrated to have said: ‘Actions are only by their intentions.’
As a general rule, obligatory religious acts require a specific intention (such as what time of prayer is about to be offered) whereas voluntary religious acts can have multiple intentions. Without intending ritual prayer, one’s prayer is not valid. Likewise in some schools of thought, taking ritual ablution requires intention. When fasting in Ramadhan, one must intend to fast prior to the entrance of dawn. As for voluntary acts of worship, for example, one can intend to offer two voluntary rak’ahs of prayer to show gratitude towards Allah, for a safe & blessed day and for forgiveness. Likewise, any act in our daily lives outside of obligatory religious acts can be carried out with a multitude of meaningful intentions. Islam is not simply the five pillars. Intentions add meaning to our lives. We can eat simply to be satiated, or we can begin to eat by mindfully reciting the Basmala, with our right hand to follow the Sunnah, with thankfulness and with the intention that we will use the energy provided by this meal to carry out good. What a big difference.
As a stay-at-home mother of two, I try to be mindful of what my intentions (or goals, really) are in many decisions I take in my daily life. However, because a big portion of my daily routine is spent in the kitchen, there’s a lot of intentionality that goes on inside this small space. Intentionality can be applied to any part of your daily routine, so if the kitchen is not your primary hub, you may still apply this to other parts of your life.
I know that spending long hours everyday in the kitchen, or tidying up, raising children from the morning till the evening (and in the middle of the night), being at everyone’s service, can sometimes have you question whether you’re doing anything meaningful or not. At least I’ve been there. This seemingly never-ending house work that keeps repeating itself every time you think you’re done with a chore. I am all for getting help as needed and taking a break every now and then. However, on your day-to-day life, intentionality will keep you from the unhealthy & deceptive feeling that you’re not doing anything worthwhile.
I didn’t want to keep this post long and I feel it’s already gotten long so I am going to jump right into some actions you can implement in your cooking area! I want to just begin by mentioning wudhu (ablution; ritual purity). Only Allah knows all the merits of being in a state of wudhu and its reality, but it clearly holds an important place as per the hadith of the Prophet where he describes angels accompanying the person who goes to sleep in a state of ritual purity until he awakes. I understand the difficulty this may bring, especially for mothers who barely have time to go to the bathroom, let alone take their time to take wudhu when it’s not prayer time but I urge you to try to at least implement it for some meals, with mindfulness, that you are intending to cook with wudhu and intend for the benefits of this state to manifest in your food. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve been baking my family’s bread for the last few months now. Ever since I began, I try my very best to remain in a state of wudhu while feeding my sourdough starter, kneading the dough and baking the bread. I try to remain in this way when I do my other cooking, as well as while eating. Ladies who are on their moon cycle may consider taking a symbolic wudhu, with the intention of receiving the spiritual benefits of wudhu without resuming ritual acts of worship. In addition to having wudhu, I recite al-Fatiha while I stir my sourdough starter during a feed, or salawat while cooking as I remember, and when I bake a bread for a friend or cook a meal for my family, I intend for that food to bring healing, physical as well as spiritual wellbeing and give thanks for it. If you believe in spirituality, you most likely understand how our feelings and energy can have a strong impact on what they are directed at. While cooking, whether just for yourself or for others, avoid all unhealthy thoughts and feelings to the best of your ability. If you find your mind roaming to undesirable territory, try to refocus and renew your intentions. Trust me, you don’t want yourself or your loved ones to eat food that was prepared with negative energy. (Who knows what state meals might have been prepared in in restaurants!). Try to include Prophetic foods in your diet. I highly suggest Zainab Ismail if you want some ideas and inspiration on how to do just that, very easily. Learn about the sunnan of eating and implement them with the intention of following the Prophet’s way. He ﷺ did not pick certain foods or eat a certain way simply out of desire but because they are superior and better for us.
As a side note: if you feel like you can’t focus in the kitchen for the life of you, consider what state the kitchen might be in when you’re trying to make a meal. Is it unorganized, cluttered, and you don’t know where is what? Maybe that’s a good place to start!
For the stay-at-home mom… If you are in charge of your kitchen, you are actually in charge of your family’s wellbeing. Your spiritual state in this territory will impact the physical & spiritual wellbeing of your spouse, children and/or other family members. The meal cooked with love, du’a and with mindful intentions will nourish your family and so, their accomplishments within their own duties and responsibilities will be connected to the nourishment you are providing them with. That’s a big and praiseworthy role, if you ask me. So next time (and if ever) you feel down about ‘wasting’ ‘all your time’ in the kitchen, think of this.
I hope & intend that you find benefit in this post!
We are already on day 8 of this year’s Islamic lunar month of Ramadan. Before I get to the real purpose of my post which is sharing how my experience has been fasting while pregnant for the first time, I would like to write a little about what Ramadan is about. Even if you’re not a Muslim, you have likely heard of this holy month that is welcomed by most Muslims with much joy. The month of Ramadan is when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the final Prophet of Islam, Muhammad ﷺ. During Ramadan, Muslims observe the fast incumbent upon every Muslim who has reached the age of accountability, and who is physically able to do so. The fast begins at what they call true dawn which is the Fajr prayer time, before sunrise, and ends at sunset (Maghrib prayer time). There are two other prayer times in-between Fajr and Maghrib. The fast excludes all liquids and solids, including water. Obviously the days are shorter in colder seasons and the fasts tend to be easier and vice versa during the warmer seasons.
Instead of arguing about whether fasting is a wise choice for Muslim women during pregnancy or not, I’m going to direct you to this link because again, my purpose is not that. I think the wisest choice is for a woman to listen to her body, whether that tells her to fast or not. I find fear mongering pregnant/nursing women that their baby will be harmed if they chose to fast is just as bad as making a woman feel like they must fast while pregnant/nursing.
Last year during Ramadan I knew I wasn’t even going to try fasting because the weather was very hot and I was nursing on demand a 2 month old who didn’t receive any nourishment other than my milk. I asked some friends who tried fasting while nursing older babies (one 6 month old and one 10 month old) and they also told me they tried but had a very hard time. This year as we approached Ramadan, I was still nursing my one year old a few times a day and I happened to be pregnant. So initially I didn’t give it much thought and told myself I was not going to fast. However one day a doula/midwife sister on a Facebook group dedicated to Muslim pregnant ladies asked us what our plans were for this Ramadan. One of the pregnant ladies said she would be fasting while nursing 20 month old twins 2-3 times a day and at 8 months pregnant. She showed so much enthusiasm and even shared her little tip (drinking the juice of half a watermelon every night which she did back when she was fasting last year while nursing the twins at around 8 months old). Others said they would try and fast as many days as possible. So at that point I thought I really should at least intend to try fasting and see how it went and if my body told me I couldn’t handle it, I would stop. Before Ramadan came, I weaned my daughter. So now I was left with the pregnancy and the uncertainty of what fasting would be like while chasing and caring for a mini human. Just a note, I am currently 17 weeks pregnant and therefore in my second trimester.
So the first day of Ramadan turned out wonderful and much easier than I anticipated. It was very encouraging so I decided I would continue. I didn’t have any dizziness during the day. I slept a couple of hours before suhoor the night before (suhoor is the meal that we have just before dawn to prepare us for the day ahead) and woke up about 40 minutes before dawn. My husband and I had a light breakfast style meal. We waited for dawn, prayed, and then I went to bed again until my daughter woke up. In the morning I did the usual and actually a little more than I typically feel like I have time for. I fed her breakfast, organized the kitchen if it needed any organizing, did some yoga, did the laundry, read some Qur’an, took a short walk to the grocery store, took a nap with my daughter, prepared dinner and some walnut stuffed buttery dates for iftar as well as for our next door neighbors. We never met and I thought this was a nice occasion to greet them and congratulate them for the beginning of Ramadan. Our daughter did us a favor and slept without much hassle before sunset so I had the pleasure of sitting down to break my fast peacefully with my husband without any distractions. The moment of thoughtfully sipping on water and biting into a date after a long day of fasting, I wish everyone could experience that at least once in their lifetime. You feel the water rush through and quench your entire body.
Came day number 2, and this time my daughter didn’t sleep until after the call for the Maghrib prayer. That was super annoying and I kept thinking of how I wanted to experience that great feeling at iftar like I did the previous day. I only say this because I had a thought during these few minutes that maybe is worth mentioning. Well, first of all, I was probably easily irritated because it was a long day, I was tired and looked forward to breaking my fast. But I wanted to convince myself that this was really not that big of a deal and I should be thankful that I even have such a lovely child that I am able to put to sleep. A dear friend of mine had advised me to picture a beautiful image (of a flower, for example) and imagine that I become one with that image in moments of frustration. I found that even just imagining something beautiful, at that moment wisteria, was soothing enough because gazing at beauty gladdens the soul. The rest of the days of the first week varied, some days more challenging than others with putting the little one to sleep before sunset. We did end up keeping her up one of the days till after we broke our fast and she still took forever to fall asleep later and so that choice didn’t make things much easier. Some parents decide to flip around their kid’s schedule where they’ll have them sleep later in the night and wake up later in the day so that the parent can get enough rest as Ramadan nights tend to be lively and fasting folk may choose to rest for longer in the mornings. I did that last year even though I wasn’t fasting just to fit my husband’s schedule but I chose not to this year. Anyway. After day 3, generally speaking, the fast got even easier as the body adjusted.
As a final word, it’s important that a fasting person does not push their physical limits. I normally wouldn’t take naps with my daughter during her nap time but during Ramadan, I think the nap really helps me re-energize mid-day so it’s an important adjustment. Make sure you rest, enjoy this spiritually uplifting time, and nourish & hydrate yourself after sunset.
I hope everyone including mamas who weren’t able to fast still benefit from this blessed month and feel the spiritual benefits it brings forth.