Posted in General Interest, Islam, Religon, Spiritual, TheBeZine

The Month of Light

Wishing peace and happiness to our Muslim friends and contributors during this holy month of Ramadan. This feature article is by guest contributor Imen Benyoub (Algeria). It is from the February issue (theme: abundance/lack of abundance) of The BeZine. The first illustration is courtesy of American multimedia journalist and novelist (Bagdad Fixer), Ilene Presher. She found it online and shared it on her Facebook page. Ilene hosts a weekly radio show, TLV1Radio, Weekend Edition. The second illustration is courtesy of Russian photographer, Petr Kratochvil, Public Domain Pictures.net. J.D.

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Ramadan is the month of light, the month of reflection, blessings, generosity, devotion, change and sacrifice and a pillar of Islam as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, performing prayer, paying the Zakah (charity), making the pilgrimage to the sacred house and fasting the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It is called the sacred month because it is observed worldwide by all Muslims as the month of fasting.  It’s twenty-nine or thirty days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

Fasting in Islam means “to abstain.”  When you fast, you completely abstain from food, drinks, smoking and sexual intercourse from the break of dawn until sunset with an intention. This is not, however, all of it.  Real accomplished fasting is when you abstain from every behavior that is considered bad behavior in general.  It is something we share with Christianity and Judaism but with a lot of difference in details.

Who must fast? In general it is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult, sane, not sick or in a journey (traveling more than eighty kilometers). The exceptions to this are women who are in period or post-natal bleeding days, pregnant women and mothers who are beast-feeding.  These women are expected to make up the fast when they are in a condition to do so.  Those who are terribly sick, need constant medications, and those whose illness may be exacerbated by fasting.

When you fast, you will have two essential meals, sahur ( a pre-dawn meal). The Prophet Mohammad talked a lot about the reward and blessing of this meal, preferably left ’till the last half hour before dawn.  This meal will help you resist during the long hours of fasting during the day.  The second meal is iftar or break-fast, you take it immediately after sunset.

Along with exceptions mentioned above, there are a lot of permissible things a person can do that will not invalidate his or her fasting, like swimming in the sea when it’s too hot, with caution of not swallowing water, taking injections, doing blood tests, using toothpaste and eating or drinking unintentionally when someone forgets.

Fasting is a school of wisdom.  It has great spiritual and moral meaning too long to be listed in a few lines.  Beside its health benefits, it teaches patience and utility. It makes us closer to Allah because we are doing it out of love and seeking spiritual reward. It cleanses the soul from grudge and hatred. It teaches self-control and maturity.  Through fasting we learn to be selfless because we feel the pain of the poor and the hungry.

There is a beautiful sense of solidarity and community in Ramadan when everyone is helping, when mosques are filled, when relatives visit each other, when people forgive and start a new page, when a person vows to be good to others and when people stand in one line to pray.

Fasting can truly change a person’s heart when done with utter sincerity. It fills the heart with satisfaction, happiness and light because you’ll be rewarded double fo revery deed of goodness, every charity, every nice word you say, every verse of the Quran you read. When you realize that Allah gave hose who fast a special door in Heaven because of its holiness and significance.

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Every country celebrates Ramadan differently.  Traditions and customs change. The only thing that connects us all together is that magic that everyone feels during the month. The one I truly love is when the family celebrates the fasting of a child, encouraging him and helping him to understand what fasting truly is.  It is like a recharge for the year, a self-nourishing experience and one of the most exquisite a person can have.

Some sayings about Ramadan: on Prophet Mohammad (PBUH):

“When Ramadan enters, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hellfire are closed and all the devils are chained.”

“Every action a son of Adam does shall be multiplied; good action is by ten times its value up to 700 times.  Allah says: with the exception of Fasting, which belongs to me, and I reward it accordingly for, one abandons his desire and food or my sake.”

“Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2015, feature article, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; 2015

Posted in Essay, General Interest

Joy in January

The temperature on my car dashboard said -10 degrees this morning.  A “polar vortex” has moved into Milwaukee, and my partner Steve is a US Postal Service mail carrier.  He will be working outside today despite warnings (no doubt escalated by our sensationalizing media) about frostbite and hypothermia.  However, he is excited about the opportunity to live in the moment, make decisions one after another, and flow with the realities of the environment.   His attitude reminds me that we can choose to feel victimized and we can choose to feel joyful.  The following is a post on Joy that I first published 2 years ago.

Joy to the World

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s joking with me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2011, 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.