As the serenity of Ramadan with its concomitant introspection and self-reflection set in and as grief rears its head with the rapidly approaching second anniversary of my father’s passing, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the ability to see how God’s plan is ultimately what is best and for realizing how shortsighted we humans truly are.
In June of 2019, I was told by my previous institution, the one that brought me to Northeast Indiana 8 years earlier as a founding member of its pharmacy program, that my annual contract will not be renewed the following year. The program that I loved, poured so much of who I am into, and whose name in the area became synonymous with mine, was to no longer be a part of me.
It was devastating
I updated my CV and contacted everyone I knew in the city of Fort Wayne, the place where I struck roots and my family called home. My work in the community had gotten me some name recognition, institution, city and state wide leadership awards, and a sense that my skill set is valued. I talked to everyone, from CEOs to the mayor, but not a single opportunity opened up.
I got nothing
So I discussed with my wife the fact that I have to broaden my search and we both decided that we should limit it to the Midwest. We both have family who live within a 4-hour drive in Michigan and it’s been great for our kids to grow up near them.
I applied to institutions with job descriptions that felt tailor made for me and to some where I can see my skill set being be an asset.
I had my phone screenings and my zoom interviews but no offers.
It was crushing
May of 2020 came around, COVID has now become part of our lives, my contract was up in a month and I still had nothing. So I fell back on my pharmacy degree and went back to working as a community pharmacist, something I hadn’t done in 10 years. I covered many pharmacies in the region as a travelling pharmacist and when the COVID vaccines were made available I led vaccination teams in various nursing homes and long term care facilities. Although I cherished my role as a pharmacist, academia is my true calling and so I kept looking and kept applying.
By October 2020 I had submitted 22 applications, received zero offers and had 1 application pending for a “there is no way they will consider me for this” type of position. I was losing hope. I was sad, couldn't understand why this was happening to me and was on the verge of depression. However I was at the same time thankful that I have a job and can still provide for my family.
I had submitted that one pending application on September 30th out of sheer desperation. When December rolled around and I hadn’t heard from them, I was certain that I had just wasted a search committee’s time. Then in early February 2021 I got a call from the chair of the search committee asking if I’m still interested. I was shocked by the fact that the search was still ongoing and that I was being considered. She explained that they had sent emails to candidates earlier but when no one responded they investigated the matter and realized that there were delivery issues with the set of emails they had sent during that period. My email was amongst them and she was hoping that I was still interested in a phone interview. I was definitely interested but did not keep my hope up. I was sure I will not make it past the initial screening. The phone screen took place in mid-February and was followed by a full day zoom interview a couple of weeks later. Mid-March I was made a verbal offer and invited to campus for a half day of final formalities and an in person offer.
Friday April 16th I was made an official offer and given the weekend to think it over.
Saturday April 17th I called my father in the morning to get his blessing. The position was in Connecticut, far away from Michigan where he lived with my mom.
Monday April 22nd, having received my father’s blessing I called and accepted the offer
Wednesday April 21st in the late evening my father was admitted to the hospital with a brain aneurysm.
Thursday April 22nd I was by his bedside.
Friday April 23rd I was by his bedside as he took his last breath.
All the rejections that I had were leading me to that moment.
I was there in 2019 when he had to have a lower back surgery.
Since then I was there every other weekend to relieve my sister and my brother who lived nearby and did all the heavy lifting of caring for him and my mother whose Alzheimer’s was getting progressively worse.
I was there in June of 2020 when his health took a turn to the worse and I drove him to the hospital, paralyzed by the fear that they may take him in but turn me back due to COVID restrictions.
I was there when the result of that visit was open heart surgery. A surgery that was followed by two months of hellish rehab during a hellish time.
I was there when he came home with a bedsore you can stick a finger in, and was so weak he was bedridden.
I was there praying by his bedside as he was taking his last breaths.
I was there because of all the rejections that were nothing but lessons in patience,
lessons in doing all you can to plan but also relying upon The One who has the best of plans,
lessons in taking a moment to step back to try and see the full picture,
to appreciate God’s wisdom,
and to say Alhamdullilah
May God grant us the wisdom to see beyond our shortsightedness and the ability to see His light through the darkness of our times
Alhamdullilah for being able to say Alhamdullilah
in all its forms,
in all its shapes,
in all its expressions
is due to the one and only God
We, Muslims, often give thanks to God for what he blesses us with.
We also give thanks when those blessings may seem, to the untrained heart, few or less worthy of thanks
not doing so well financially,
not blessed with good or any children
And this ability to pause,
to reflect, and give thanks,
to be connected,
to be consistent during life’s ebbs and flows of what we consider to be good fortune
is in and of itself worthy of giving thanks
always and forever
As I navigate many peoples’ crass, hardened and tone deaf reactions to others’ trials and tribulations, be it reactions to yet another black man’s extrajudicial killing or the reaction of some from within the Muslim community to Muslims’ sadness over the death of Chadwick Boseman or the reactions of “well, these people just brought that onto themselves” to the killings of innocent people in a far away land who are fighting to free themselves from tyranny or the “that bum should get off that corner and get a job” or....or....or... unfortunately many countless examples of callous disregard to others’ humanity, all I can think of are two teachings of prophet Mohamed (Peace and Blessings if God be upon him)
First is a narration by Aisha, May Allah be pleased with her, who said: “a Bedouin came to the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said to him “you kiss children? as for us, we do not kiss children” and the prophet replied to him “what can I do for you if Allah has removed mercy from your heart?”
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: "جاء أعرابيٌّ إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال: تُقبِّلون الصِّبيان فما نُقبِّلهم، فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: «أَو َأَمْلِكُ لَكَ أَنْ نَزَعَ اللَّهُ مِنْ قَلْبِكَ الرَّحْمَةَ»
And in another, a man told the prophet that he has ten children and he never kissed any of them. The prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) said “whoever does not show mercy, will not be shown mercy”
ألا ترى قوله عليه السلام للأقرع بن حابس حين ذكر عند النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أن له عشرة من الولد ما قبَّل منهم أحدًا: «مَن لا يَرحَمْ لا يُرحَمْ»؟
Both men, hardened by a harsh environment, thought that any display of tenderness would be misconstrued as weakness and both were met with a rebuke by the one who was sent “as a mercy to the worlds”
The world is not always an easy place to live in but what kind of a world do we create if we take mercy and compassion out of it?
May God soften our hearts and open our eyes to our shared humanity. And may we be agents of mercy and compassion in a world that is currently in utter need of it
A moment’s impact
A couple of years ago we were in Chicago visiting, sightseeing and of course hitting up one of our favorite restaurants on Devon Ave.
As always, and as my wife kids always comment, I ordered too much food. We asked for it to be bagged and took it back to the hotel, only to realize that our room does not have a fridge. So I took the food, went outside and within a few minutes found someone who appreciated having some food to eat that night.
A few days ago, I was talking with the kids about Eid Al-Adha (the Eid of sacrifice) and told them about the story of prophets Abraham and *Ismael (peace be upon them both) and how they were both tested, how they responded to the test and how we should show our appreciation to God for what He has given us, no matter how little, and help those around us in whatever way possible. That’s when my daughter chimed in and said “like the time we were in Chicago and you went looking for someone to give the food to!”
A fleeting moment that I didn’t make much of that left, hopefully, a lasting positive impact on my children.
This is not a celebration of “my generosity” or me touting “my parenting skills”. This is just to a reminder that children absorb everything we do, whether we think they’re paying attention or not. How we react and interact with the world around us is how our children learn. So let’s all be mindful of the ￼￼imprints we leave on our future generations.
Have a blessed Friday
*to my Christian friends, I believe the story in the Bible mentions Isaac as the one to be sacrificed by Abraham (peace be upon them both)
A Ramadan to Remember
This was certainly a Ramadan to remember.
Not because we were in the midst of a pandemic
Not because the mosques were closed and I couldn’t join my community in congregational prayers every night
Not because I missed out, and indeed I did miss out, on the widespread sense of peace and calmness I felt through smiles and hugs from my favorite brothers
It was a Ramadan to remember because I learned how determined my 11 year old daughter is as she fasted every single day
Because I spent more time in the kitchen creating different dishes with my kids
Because I spent every night in prayer, pouring my heart out and strengthening my own personal connection with God.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that the way things were this year is better. To the contrary, it was tough, lonely and hard. I’d go back to the way things used to be in a heartbeat.
But I choose to remember all the good that came from it and pray that I emerge from it a better person.
May Allah accept all of our deeds and may we all come out of it stronger, more pious, more socially conscious, more justice oriented and more generous.
God bless you all in this blessed last day of Ramadan.
Live life with the understanding that...
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ
O thou man! Verily thou art ever toiling on towards thy Lord- painfully toiling,- but thou shalt meet Him- Holy Quran 84:6
But don't forget that....
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
God does not impose on any soul a responsibility beyond its ability- Holy Quran 2:286
Because even though
الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ
Children and property are the ornaments of the worldly life,
......Don't forget that
وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا
but for deeds which continually produce virtue one can obtain better rewards from God and have greater hope in Him- Holy Quran 18:46
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ
Every soul, for what it has earned, will be retained- Holy Quran 74:38
Ramadan while sheltering in place
Muslims will fast the first day of Ramadan tomorrow and, in the time of social distancing and sheltering in place, most are bemoaning the fact that they will be unable to participate in communal worship and religious/social activities that add so much to the sense of spirituality and community. Especially those who are minority in their locale, new to the faith, and elderly. I don’t want to discount any of these feelings as I certainly feel the same way but upon reflection I found myself contemplating something I read before and I paraphrase below
“The word Ramadan in Arabic comes from a root word that refers to someone who walks on an earth that has become so hot from the sun beating down on it all day. It symbolizes the way in which fasting burns off one’s sins.”
Walking on a sun scorched earth is an act that requires patience. An act that requires belief and faith in the final destination; a soul that is purer than it was when it took the journey, a person who is closer to God than he/she was when they put aside the desires of their body in response to a higher call.
The sun is perhaps a little stronger and the earth might be a little hotter this Ramadan but the journey is still ours to take.
I wish you all a blessed and spiritually filled Ramadan
Living between two Quranic verses
As we, Muslims, enter our third Friday without a congregational prayer at the mosque, I find my self reflecting on two Quranic verses that play a major role in my life.
Muslims, when hit by a calamity or going through a tough time are often reminded of the verse
قُل لَّن یُصِیبَنَاۤ إِلَّا مَا كَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَنَا
Say, "Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us”
At-Tawbah, Ayah 51
It’s offered up as means of comfort and peace in a tumultuous time. For some, the mere reminder is sufficient. It gives them serenity and solidifies their trust in a Wise and All Knowing God. But to others, the ayah leaves many unanswered questions. Why was this written for me? Why am I going through this while others are not? I’m a good person but these terrible things keep happening to me, so why me?
As I contemplate these questions and many others like them, I find myself gravitating towards an answer that is perhaps simplistic, but to me does the trick.
The answer is: I don’t know!
It’s not a defeated “I don’t know” but rather a realization of my own limitations.
On the intellectual level, it fuels my desire to know. To continue to seek to understand the wisdom of, and to find purpose in, whatever I am going through, good or bad.
On the faith level, it humbles me as I compare my knowledge, wisdom and intellect to an Omnipotent, Wise and All Knowing God.
I anchor that realization and that faith with another verse of the Quran
لَا یُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفۡسًا إِلَّا وُسۡعَهَاۚ
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.
Al-Baqarah, Ayah 286
This is not to minimize what one is going through or to label one weak if they are struggling. Rather, I understand this as a promise. That I have within me the ability to handle whatever situation I’m in, because God has promised that He will not burden me with more than what I can handle. I dig deeper and find motivation in this while seeking knowledge and understanding.
I know my reflection may not do the multitude of feelings, struggles and tribulations a lot of justice. I just hope that, as we go through this life of learning and discovery, sharing what living between these two verses has done for me can help.
Have a blessed Friday
“Oh Allah, I ask that you relieve me of such and such burdens/resolve this issue for me/grant me this much needed personal thing. Amen”
We’ve often supplicated some variation of the above prayer. We utter heartfelt words with sincere intentions and wait for divine intervention. But what if what we’re asking for never happens or doesn’t happen soon enough? What then?
We are often advised by well meaning members and leaders of our religious community to pray for alleviation of our worries, to lean on God and trust Him to handle our affairs. So we muster up the most sincere devotion we can and supplicate, pouring our hearts out. We cry, we beg, we plead and then, feeling relieved by such cathartic exercise, we sit back and wait, with hope filled hearts, for a resolution. But what happens if God doesn’t respond in the way we want Him to? Or in the time we need Him to? We may infer that God is ignoring us and we get frustrated, disheartened and a crack in our faith structure materializes.
Is He ignoring us? we ask ourselves.
Do we deserve what’s happening to us? we wonder.
And the more this happens, the weaker our faith becomes and we get to a point where we ask ourselves, what’s the point?
There are inherent dangers in such lines of thought.
The first danger is in the assumption that our complex, intertwined and multifarious relationship with God can be reduced to a transactional one. “I prayed therefor my prayer must be answered” is not just overly simplistic, it is flawed. It risks a negative association between faith and undesired outcome. It discounts the remainder of our relationship with God and blinds us even further to why we may be going through what we’re going through. It keeps us in our shortsighted state, unable to see the wisdom behind our current situation.
The second danger is in the assumption that our complex human life with all of its varied emotions, relationships with the divine and with each other can be navigated and addressed by supplication and prayer alone. When someone is stressed out or depressed and all we tell them is that they just need to pray then we discount all other forms of help around them. We potentially exacerbate their issue as they may conflate it with a lack of faith. “I prayed, God didn’t answer my prayer then I must not be faithful enough.” Their stress or depression spirals down even more and they become more isolated and helpless.
This is not to say that praying and supplication are useless or ineffective. This is to say that we should reevaluate how we use them and how we (the laymen, general public) tend to advise each other on how to use them.
Dusting off old duas (supplications) on as needed basis while not maintaining, or attempting to maintain, a relationship with God otherwise may not be the most effective. A weak faith will most likely become weaker by one off attempts that don’t produce favorable/desired results. Relying solely on dua and neglecting signs and symptoms of deeper underlying issues may not be wisest.
When our minds are stuck in a rut and we feel tired, stressed and helpless by whatever negative may surround us and we take a few minutes to remember God, to utter a prayer, we are essentially putting a pause on such thoughts. A pause that gives us comfort in remembering that no matter how big an issue is there is the One who is bigger, to whose magnanimity such issues pale in comparison and from whom we seek help. No matter how weak we may feel, there is the One who is stronger, who is capable and in whom we put our trust. We take the time to introspect, reflect and replenish our patience through faith.
And when praying and supplicating does not yield much comfort, we should realize that perhaps we need action to go along with this faith. Depression, anxiety and mental health disorders are all disease that we should seek treatment for. We pray for cure and better health but we utilize what God has made available and accessible for us in the form of mental health providers, communities and relationships.
May we all be granted the patience needed to see through the periods of fog in our life’s experiences
Ramadanic reflection- masjid (mosque) leadership
To the leadership of all US based masjids, may Allah accept your efforts, dedication and good intentions. It’s no easy task to establish a masjid and keep it open; a task that is especially challenging during the month of Ramadan. Know that Allah will reward pure intentions with His utmost generosity.
But know too that as you assume such leadership, you also assume it’s consequences.
For every woman who cut her ties with the masjid and moved farther from God because you don’t provide her a welcoming space, you are responsible.
For every child who now hates the masjid because you yelled at him/her or greeted every noise they made with a scowl, you are responsible.
For every man who cut his ties with the masjid because his wife and/or his children were made to feel unwelcome by your policies, you are responsible
For every convert who sought to learn about his/her faith in your space but was met with a tone of indifference, you are responsible
Leadership is not a title nor is it for the faint of heart. It is a heavy responsibility that unfortunately many of us take lightly.
As we attempt to draw nearer to Allah during the month of Ramadan and as we reflect on our behaviors to best ourselves one Ramadan to the next, let’s not forget to take account of the responsibilities we assume as mosque leaders and better our spaces.
May Allah forgive all of our shortcomings and may He guide us to the right path
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark