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Repost: What I Contribute to Ramadan

This piece was published on June 24 as part of The Hopscotch Hijabi’s 2015 Interfaith Ramadan Series.
In 1998, I married a Muslim man. That December I tried to fast Ramadan. I wanted to do that solidarity thing that married people do. I wanted to show Khaled that I was his family.
I don’t remember what was happening that day other than it was a Sunday. We might have worked, for some reason we hadn’t spent the majority of the day together. I remember Khaled coming into the apartment tired, but happy to see me. The first thing he said was that I needed to eat something.
I argued. I was fine; I wanted to be supportive, I explained. He looked at me very carefully and told me that the best way I could support him was to take care of myself. If I didn’t take care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to help him.
That was the first of many times over the last 17 years I’ve tried to fast. I don’t understand how I cannot fast. In college I used to work two jobs and go to school while surviving on diet cokes and water for 12 hours at a time! Some years, I would try to give up caffeine. Other years I would try to only drink and not eat any solid food. I usually would last until 1:00 and then I would start to get sick. Every year Khaled tells me the same thing. “It doesn’t make sense for you to fast Ramadan. It makes you sick, and you are not required to fast. Take care of yourself so you can take care of us.”
So, that’s what I do now. I am the support staff, the keeper of schedules and maker of meals.
I eat when my family is sleeping or in anther room. I keep a cup of tea on the counter to take sips from. I don’t want to make their fasting any more difficult so I don’t eat anything that smells, or that I have to cook. I have a yogurt, or maybe almond butter and fruit, leftovers from suhoor, nuts and seeds, hardboiled eggs and many cups of tea.
I am asked about my faith more often during Ramadan than any other time of the year. Muslims stop me at the grocery store, the library and the mosque and question me if I’ve converted and why I haven’t. They ask me if I fast with my children.
I used to over explain. Responding with my story and then having them respond that I’m just not trying hard enough. Several years ago I stopped answering their questions. When they ask if I’m fasting, I respond, “I’m doing the best I can,” and I leave it at that. Most often, that is enough.

Inside an Eid Prayer Service


Last Friday was the Eid Prayer.  As you remember, we’ve been attending our little mosque’s Eid Prayer for several years and each year it the attendance keeps getting larger and larger.  Why?  Well, I think that the community likes to pray behind our Imam.  I also think that they like to pray outside.  I think that our youth group does a really great job of organizing the event, from parking attendants to entertainment and the food.

This is from where I was sitting before the prayer started. Men up front, women in the back on prayer rugs they brought. This field is usually used for indoor soccer.

This year, the youth, in cooperation with the Imams of 5 of our mosques, organized 1 huge Unified Prayer Event.  It was a beautiful thing to be able to pray with all of our friends.  The khutba was in English first and Arabic second.  There was more than enough room for everyone.  We had a parking shuttle, a photo booth and food trucks!  I took many pictures, and even a video of the prayer so I could show you.  I’m having a difficult time uploading it though, since it is 8 minutes long.  If anyone has advise on how to upload a video that size, please share.

I wanted to share with you the range of people as they are dressed. Some in abaya, some in skirts and short sleeves, some in skirts and jean jackets.

There were large crescent shaped balloons and children all over the place.

We we got closer to the prayer, the room really filled up! There was still a lot of place to pray. Those people who cannot sit on the ground are using chairs. The can pray sitting in the chairs.

I love all the colorful scarves on Eid.

I also love to see all of the different styles of hijab being worn. Some completely covering the torso, some just over the hair. Some covering the neck and some exposing the neck and earrings.

Re-post: Fasting for Faith


This piece was published on June 23 as part of The Hopscotch Hijabi’s 2015 Interfaith Ramadan Series.

Fasting For Faith

I’ve been thinking a lot about fasting for faith these last few months. The seed was planted last year when my daughters began to get excited about Ramadan approaching. I had never understood it before, this anticipation. To me, Ramadan was all about hardship. Fasting. Feeling sick and tired. Pushing yourself to the limits. Giving up and giving away.
But then the seed began to sprout and I came to realize that they were excited about Ramadan because aside from all of the difficulties, it was a time for focusing on God. It was a month long retreat into the glory and power of God’s grace. Absorbing as much of what God’s lessons were teaching us. Focusing on internalizing Gods words so you could put them into action in your life. Realizing the joy of prayer, and how meditative it is when you are not distracted by daily life revives your focus.
Once I started seeing this truth about the gift of Ramadan, my focus began to change. The way I supported my family during their fasting shifted from begrudgingly to joyfully serving. I care for them so they don’t have to think of anything except for praying and focusing on the word of God. My work becomes meditative and the mindfulness feels like prayer.
Since last Ramadan, I’ve been searching for a way to bring that meditative focus into my life. As a non-Muslim, non-practicing Christian, I don’t have a spiritual family to turn to as a guide. I find inspiration from different sources and incorporate them into my daily communion with God.
Last April, as the Christian world prepared for Lent. Two things entered into my world almost simultaneously. I learned about the 40 Days of Faith, and I learned about the Muslims 4 Lent movement. I had known of Christian and Jewish faith leaders participating in Ramadan fasting because of being active in interfaith circles on Twitter, but I had never heard about Muslims reaching across to their Christian friends in a show of solidarity.
Just like I had never really understood the spiritual focus of Ramadan, I also never really understood why Christians fasted during Lent. My religious education never afforded me this detailed insight. Lent was always about giving up something in penance. So, when I learned about the 40 Days of Faith, I thought I would give it a try. Maybe praying in such a focused way would help me experience that meditative focus that I’ve been searching for in my spiritual practice.
So, March 2015, when Ash Wednesday came around and I was reminded of the Lenten Fasting, I decided to participate in Muslims 4 Lent by praying. The 40 Days of Faith has a handbook and a user’s guide and a whole community because it is church centered. But my life isn’t church centered. It’s just me. So, I didn’t follow all of the components. I didn’t attend church. I also didn’t engage with a Daily Bible Guide. I didn’t participate in a special website. I did, however, pray every day. I was able to deeply connect in communion with God during my 40 Days and I talked about it with the woman who introduced me to the 40 Days.
During those 40 days my spirituality flowered into something that I hadn’t witnessed before. The after effects have continued on and are renewed each day in my prayers. I now feel like there is a glow and silken pleasure to every day. Even with the distractions and irritations, things just seem to flow better. I have reached a new bend in my journey and that path is not a deserted wasteland anymore but a field of beautiful blossoms that are blooming and reseeding to multiply and flourish.
During the 30 Days of Ramadan I am choosing to embody agape. I am choosing to bow deeply in prayer in the presence of God and be thankful for my life. I am choosing to pray specifically for the people who are named in my meditative practice, I am choosing to joyfully serve my fasting family and celebrate their renewed spiritual strength and focus. Insha’allah.

4 Weeks Down


Happy Thursday!!!

How have you been? It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is Eid. Does it seem to you that this Ramadan went by pretty fast? I don’t know what happened. It seems like just the other day we were ramping up for the first week and now Poof! Its finished.

I started this post on Monday, and because the days were super busy preparing for Eid weekend, I didn’t get it published until today.  GO Figure.  I should have stopped time so I could have 1 more hour to upload and tweak my post.  Lets still take some time and review what went well this Ramadan and what didn’t work out so great.

Suhoor – I saw this online a few days ago and I thought it was soo true. (Theirs said something about eating Kunafa for breakfast.) Suhoor week 1 – Scrambled eggs with beef, Cheese, Melon, Milk . Suhoor week 4 – Milk & Juice.  Today, the last day of fasting, I made beef and duck bacon with pancakes.  Only Mr. Fox ate.

Iftar – We are unlike a lot of families in that we don’t really change our eating habits during this month. We don’t cook big, lavish spreads. We eat leftovers. We get takeout. We eat breakfast for supper. The only differences are when we eat Community Iftars and when we invite Mr. and Mrs. Imam over, we cook a lot more dishes.

Community Iftars – Nothing to report. Seriously! Week 1 I took Watergate Salad. Week 2 we took Mango Kunafa and Macaroons. Week 3 we skipped. Week 4 we took Pig Pickin’ Cake. (Google it, I’m not lying.)

Every week, I sat with Mrs. Imam and a bunch of ladies that spoke English. Usually there was a bilingual speaker sitting with us in case Mrs. Imam was missing out on the conversation, but otherwise it was really a nice atmosphere. Last week, I was even asked to help with specific tasks.

Our community Iftars are set up segregated family style. Women on one side of the room, men on the other side and some out in the hall and prayer room. Most of the time Khaled sits in the same room with us. Baby Steps. Right?

I do know that there are community Iftars at the other mosques and even the community center in town, but I’m just now comfortable with our home mosque event. I’m not sure how well it would go if we went someplace else.  I don’t want to risk it. Y’no?

Eid Shopping – I ordered abayas before Ramadan even began so we are all set for that. No last-minute shopping. I also got them some small gifts that I knew they would like, and we picked up some books. I’m taking my ladies for Eid Manicures this week as part of their present. We are also going to be doing a bunch of special stuff this weekend so we are super excited.

Decorations – We have our lantern collection out, and I forgot that I picked up some new lanterns when I was shopping over the last year. Plus, we added those sweet Crescent Star lights and some colorful faerie lights we picked up on Christmas clearance.Activities – We kept our activities to a minimum. It wouldn’t seem like it based on my constant driving rotation, but Arabic & Quran class, Guitar, volunteering and exercising. This year we did something new and organized an activity for a bunch of the kids who were fasting. I went to a paint your own pottery place that we often go to that is locally owned and arranged for the kids to cut out crescent moons and stars. Once they were fired, we went back and glazed them and then the next week we picked them up and turned them into garlands. It was a wonderful experience. We basically took over the place. Next year I’m going to arrange it on a day where the studio is closed to the public.


Display at the Library. I love that our library does this every year.

Inside the glass case. I’d love to find some of these decorations. I think they came from EidWay. I’ll have to shop there next year. Help me remember will you?

Failures – I ran out of ideas on what to feed everyone. We didn’t invite as many people over as we would have liked. I woke up late one day and everyone had just 10 minutes to chug some drinks.   We didn’t listen to Quran before Iftar this year, and didn’t attend any tarweeh.  Despite my running everywhere it seems like every day…they were bored.   Our off days were filled with reading, games and a few bike rides thrown in for good measure.  I kept working and doing what I needed to keep the family comfortable.  I know it wasn’t super exciting, but really, there weren’t enough hours in the day to do any more.

How did this Ramadan go for you?

Reader Response: Advise and Trying to Reach Out


On Monday, I received this letter from M:

I recently got engaged to an Arabic muslim man, he was born in Jordan but came to Canada when he was just 5 years old, he basically grew up here, however I can see that he has Arabic culture strongly rooted in him. I myself come from Mexico and just came to canada 7 years ago. Although Canada is a multicultural place mexico is a very Catholic rooted country. I am not extremely religious, I have seen a lot of injustice happening in the Catholic Church so I don’t really believe in the institution of religion but I am an spiritual person and I do believe in God. I met him at work and right from the bat we started having these discussions about his beliefs and my beliefs and where do we stand because I didn’t really want to be wasting my time with someone that I could not see my self having a future.
He is a more liberal muslim, he has had pre marital relations before, he drinks, parties and all this. He was a little bit of a party boy and a flirt with girls. Although I am not very religious in the sense of going to church and all that I have very strong morals and I am more on the conservative side. And I believe that is one of the main things that he found attractive in me, that I am a caring loving person, more conservative etc. We knew each other for a year as simply friends and started dating a year and a half ago, we moved in together last October and recently got engaged. I have already meet all his friends and family, actually this happened 6 months in the relationship. The parents doesn’t know we live together but they know me and I have spent time with them, they call me from time to time, and they welcomed me to their family. He has also known my family etc so in those terms we are Ok.
Where I need advice is to understand more about the religion and culture, there are things that I fully don’t approve of or fully understand, and some things that do make me uncomfortable.. i do not approve wearing the hijab because the way I have been exposed to it all my life has been as a way to diminish women, so I wanted to understand your views on that. I do not believe you need to cover your hair to be close to god, I am more on the idea that being a good person will bring you close to god but not being as strict and covering your hair. He has told me he would never expect me to do it obviously as well as he would never ask me to convert or anything like that, his mom does wears it and as much as I try to respect it it still feels a little uncomfortable knowing that if I ever have girls they could be immerse into wearing that which I really don’t like. So from a woman’s perspective I wanted to understand what is your view on that.
Secondly the Ramadan festivities I have a hard time understanding them as well, since my views are that it’s unhealthy to not eat or drink for over 15 hours. Which is what is happening now, he is fasting and here in canada the sunrise is at 4 am and gets dark around 9pm. He told me he would never ask me to fast but i am just overall having a hard time understanding it and in my mind it feels very unhealthy. Also as a latin person I do need to feel contact to feel loved and appreciated so not being able to have a good morning kiss or goodnight kiss before going to work or when we come back from work really annoys me, because having some acknowledgement and a reminder that we love each other is very important to me. I am not asking to make out but just as a show of care..
This was my response:
My first question is this, how old is your fiancee?  I’m asking because In My Experience, a lot of Muslim men who come from fairly conservative backgrounds spend a good amount of their time in their twenties and early thirties rebelling against the strict, conservative nature of their parent’s home and drink, smoke, sleep around etc.  The good ones get this out of their system once they’ve decided to commit and they begin to find a middle ground between the conservative and permissive.
This might be the case with your fiancee.  It’s not something to be afraid of, but something to definitely keep in mind and to talk to him about.  Often, the men will begin searching for a middle ground and pick and choose what parts of the religion are most important to them and what they feel like is a grey area, it is very good to make this picking and choosing an open dialogue between the two of you.  The more you know about Islam, the easier it will be for you to discuss these things with him.  I’m not suggesting you convert by any means. I’m saying, get educated.
With regards to hijab.  My feelings are this, based on the education I have about Islam.  Islam requires its followers to be modest.  The thing is, that patriarchy has taught us that the burden is on the women to be modest.  When in fact, modesty falls on the shoulders of both the men and women.  The Muslim must be modest in their thoughts, modest in their mind, modest in their actions, modest with their behavior, modest with their clothing and THEN, wearing a head covering should come into play.  I have been told by many converts that once you have been able to be modest in all of these ways, and you are meant to wear hijab, you will feel naked without one.  Not everyone reaches that level and that’s okay.  But some do.  It is a personal decision. It is a big commitment to wear hijab and not to be taken lightly or just because you look cute in one or because it’s the fashion.  So, In My Opinion, it cannot and should not be forced.
With regards to Ramadan.  I know it is really weird for people who have never experienced it before, but people have been fasting for thousands of years.  People who grow up Muslim train for this from the time they are very little.  Fasting is more about what is going on in your mind than the number of hours from eating and drinking.  Children begin fasting for an hour or two to 4 hours and then increase the time each year.  As the child gets older, they let their parent know when they feel like they are ready for the challenge of fasting the entire day.  There are methods of eating and drinking to make sure you are well hydrated and don’t feel very hungry.   I assure you, if your fiancee has been fasting his whole adult life, he knows and understands how to regulate himself so that he does not get sick.  This is something parents teach their children. If he is in good health normally.  If he isn’t, then he needs to speak with his doctor on how to go about fasting or if he should.
I realize now that I didn’t address the question about needing affection, so I’ll do that now.
Affection is permissible during Ramadan!  You may hug, snuggle and kiss during the daytime.  There is no reason in the world why you should not be able to touch your fiancee.  Then, from sunset to sunrise, you may participate in intimate relations.
Dear Readers, Do you have any advise for M?

Ramadan – Day 10 Melatonin & Wheatgrass 


Wow!  There has been a lot going on this last 5 days.  A lot of  stuff publicly, and a lot of stuff at home.  Some that has everything to do with Ramadan, and some that has nothing to do with Ramadan other than being distracting.  :-)  You know how life gets in the way sometimes?

Last week both of my contributions to Interfaith Ramadan were published back to back.  On Tuesday, June 23rd, my post, ‘Fasting for Faith’ was shared.  I knew that it was going to happen, but it was still surprising.  There was quite a lot of positive feedback.  I won’t repost the entire piece here, but here is a sample, and you can click the link.

Since last Ramadan, I’ve been searching for a way to bring that meditative focus into my life. As a non-Muslim, non-practicing Christian, I don’t have a spiritual family to turn to as a guide. I find inspiration from different sources and incorporate them into my daily communion with God.

On June 24th, the second of my contributions was compiled in a panel response to the question, “What can I do if I’m not Fasting?” When Sarah asked for responses to this topic, she suggested 200 – 300 words.  I drafted my response and was well over that range.  I did end up editing quite a bit, but I still had much to say on the topic.

Every year Khaled tells me the same thing. “It doesn’t make sense for you to fast Ramadan. It makes you sick, and you are not required to fast. Take care of yourself so you can take care of us.”
So, that’s what I do now. I am the support staff, the keeper of schedules and maker of meals.

My co-panelists Gayla and Jillian Pikora approached this question quite differently than I did. Gayla told about her monetary donation in place of fasting, and Jillian shared with us her journey of being able to fast, and then not being able to and how she creatively substituted spiritual practice.

I’ve been sharing articles every day over on Facebook at the MyIslamicLife page and through my own page, Kristina ElSayed.  I’m much more active there, so if you like, follow me.  It won’t be stalker-ish. Promise.

Over last weekend, I went to the community iftar with my family.  It was the second one of this Ramadan.  It went fairly well.  No big issues, really.  The first Saturday, we took Watergate Salad (aka Green Fluff) and last weekend, we took Khaled’s newest dessert creation.  It was layered with kunafeh, cheesecake and mango.   

 That plate was clean when we retrieved it to go home!  I also made coconut macaroons.  We sat, both days, with Mrs. Imam and some of my friends.  Its kinda funny and a little sweet/awkward though.  We all want to sit together so we can talk and not feel isolated in a sea of Arabic chatter, but securing enough seats at one table is difficult when you don’t know who is going to be there, and you run the risk of shunning another attendee just because you were trying to include everyone.

Last Saturday, while talking during dinner, I shared with my friend that we had this cooking for Ramadan thing worked out.  One day for take out, one day for breakfast and one day for community iftar.  She had it All Locked Down though!  She only cooks 3 nights a week for Iftar, going to other community meals when we are choosing to stay home.  It’s all good though.  I’m glad she has it worked out that way.  I hope that everyone can figure out a cooking schedule that works well for their family and doesn’t burden any one person too much.

The two tips I have to share with you this week are this.

1-Melatonin tablets are a wonderful way to nudge yourself towards sleep when you would rather be awake.

2-Wheat Grass shots give you an amazing amount of energy.

My contribution for the My Mosque, My Story series this Ramadan sponsored by Side Entrance is ready to be edited.  I can’t remember exactly when it will be published, but I’ll share it on Facebook, Twitter and here!

Talk soon.

Ramadan – Day 5


Its midnight here and I’ve been waiting patiently for Kate and Pea to be ready to go to bed.  Alas, they are not.  Not even close to being sleepy.  They are knee-deep in weaving a rainbow loom bracelet to beat ALL rainbow loom bracelets and if they stop now, they will have to start all over tomorrow.

This is the second day of the rainbow loom marathon.  They watch youtube videos about new patterns and work diligently to recreate the masterpiece.  After I sleep, I’m going to show you the pile of bracelets and rings that have been created in the midst of fasting.

    I’m sitting here reading and wrapping up some loose ends from the day and I thought I’d pop in for a quick Ramadan Check In.

How’s it going?

I was really out of it this morning, but I was able to eek out my hour of cathartic exercise today.

The days are long and the nights are short and I would love to flip-flop the whole thing, but that would make Ramadan too easy.  Its supposed to be work right?

Our iftar menu for the first 5 days of fasting.

Thursday – Rotisserie Chicken (from my grill, not Costco) Rice, Molokheia, Fresh Fruit, Gatorade

Friday – Red Robin Restaurant.  We broke our fast on Chili Cheese Fries and Diet Coke.  Burgers and Fries

Saturday – Community Iftar. Kafta, Egg, Lemon & Rice Soup, Chicken, Rice, Salad. Watergate Salad (I brought it!)

Sunday – Chicken Panini, Arugula Salad, Fresh Fruit and Watergate Salad, Water

Monday – Tuna Melts with Tomato, Salsa and Chips, Fresh Fruit, Ice Cream, Water

We have approached menu planning for this Ramadan with the plan to have 1 night of take out, 1 night of brupper (breakfast for supper) and 1 night of community iftar a week.  That leaves more time to tend to the care of my family, keeping them occupied, getting them where they need to be, supporting their fast and helping them to stay comfortable.  It also leaves more time for reflection, prayer, reading and giving back.

Happy Tuesday!


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