Ramadan Reflections on Time and a Visit Back Home

Dear Friends,

Al salamu 'alaykum (greetings of peace) and Ramadan Mubarak! I pray you are well and that your first days of Ramadan have been blessed, comforting, and inspiring.

I have been blessed to spend the first days of Ramadan visiting with my parents in my childhood home in California. It has been a reflective time. It is in some ways strange to be back to my hometown, where I spent so many days and nights wondering what my life would be like once I "grew up." I am accompanied by my son, Mido, who is on the cusp of turning 18 and looking forward to college in the fall. I remember being his age and in his mindset in this very home, in what feels like both not that long ago, and yet lifetimes ago. Such is the passage of time. We ate dinner the other night at the same restaurant that was my favorite over 30 years ago when I lived here. Sitting at our table and taking in the old familiar sights and smells, I recall the emotions I had on so many occasions. Like my son now, I would sit there and wonder what would become of my life. This Italian restaurant in Palo Alto has seen so many notable patrons I am sure. Its energy is vibrant and full of promise, life, and anticipation. I used to dream about the possibilities of jobs, careers, opportunities yet to come. This restaurant welcomed me and my teenaged girlfriends on my 16th birthday, when we all tasted escargot for the first time amid childish giggles. It greeted me and my graduate school friends as we discussed religion. I remember the table by the window where I sat with my Muslim friend across from my college classmate of Iranian descent who told my Muslim friend, "I think religion was invented by man to assuage his anxieties." It was not a nice comment. My 25 year old self had no response except silent disagreement. At the time, I was just setting out on what would become my journey to Islam, and ultimately, my evolution to Usuli 30 years later. Fast forward thirty years, I definitely would have a bit more to say. :)

People who have heard my "story" know that my becoming Muslim was a tumultuous road at the beginning especially. My parents, who came to the U.S. from Taiwan in search of the American Dream and a better life, would never have imagined nor wished that their only child, a daughter, would grow up to become Muslim. Although I was 27 when I chose to become Muslim, for our Taiwanese family, it caused such a rift that I became estranged from my parents and my entire extended family for eight-plus years, the lasting effects of which still remain to this day in many ways. Yet as we understand from our beautiful tradition, "We plan and God plans." Now, looking back on my journey, it is obvious that even though I didn't know it, realize it, nor even appreciate it at the time, in all details great and small, God always facilitated beautiful and blessed openings for me. The most difficult moments were the most expansive and transformative, the most meaningful moments immeasurable, and the occasions for gratitude infinite. The divine gifts that were tailored just for me were countless. This awareness comes at the most unexpected moments through sometimes the most surprising means. 

The other night, I was sitting at our same dining room table, where I ate so many meals growing up and where I hold so many memories. I was working on the mass email to wish everyone a Ramadan Mubarak and invite people to become founding sponsors of our next project. My parents both commented that I was working too late and should go to bed. ;) Thank God, as the years passed, our relationship mended to the point that my parents have now become Usuli supporters - a miracle in and of itself. :) It took 25 years to progress from a point of absolute separation to a point of respect and even admiration - something that only could have been facilitated by the Divine.

The next day, I sent out the mass email. Shortly after the email went out, my father came in from the other room and told me he had just opened the email - he was visibly surprised, even impressed. My father is a man of few words, but after I showed him a few things on my computer, he actually told me that he was very proud of me and what we were doing at Usuli. Mic drop moment. Truly a Ramadan miracle and a divine gift. Then as icing on the cake, somehow this morning at breakfast with my parents, the topic of fear, anxiety, and sadness came up. Although we rarely talk about religion, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts about turning to God when feeling sad, anxious, and worried. I pray that something I said might have had an impact.

I have been with my parents for a week now, and tomorrow I return to my own home. For most of the week, I have been holding back my own sadness that comes with the awareness that precious moments like these might not come to pass again or nearly as often. I worry about the increasing vulnerabilities of my aging parents. Time is not on our side in this regard. I contemplate how quickly the last 18 years has passed and how our youngest son now must confront the challenges of adulthood. To me, the time has passed all too quickly from his birth until now, and time continues to march on in its amazing and confounding ways. Meanwhile my absence from my own home this past week made life at home more challenging for all those left behind - both two- and four-legged loved ones! Every night, I call to remind everyone that with how quickly time passes, I will be home tomorrow! I have said it so much that it has become a mantra recited in unison! And in an instant, it became truth. I will be home tomorrow, insha'Allah (God willing)! Time, time, time. Nothing but the varied impacts of time on my mind this week.

Then last night, as Shaykh made his prayers to decide which surahs to discuss in today's halaqas, what was the answer? Surah 103: Al Asr, which means "Time" or "The Flight of Time"! I tuned into the Project Illumine livestream to hear Shaykh explain that of the variety of connotations for the meaning of Al Asr, among them is "the passage of time." I immediately thanked God. Yet another divine gift and timely comfort!

As we learned in the halaqa for Surah Al Asr, everyone's relationship with time matters. If God is at the center of time for you, then your relationship with time will be modified by belief and faith. The essence of time should become about service to others or to a cause, rather than service to oneself and one's ego - marked by the preoccupation with the calculation of time rather than the content of time. Do we keep time by counting and keeping track of it? Or do we measure time by what we accomplish with God at the center?

As Shaykh articulated, our focus should be on doing good by others. Of note, this chapter was revealed before any of the rituals were set. No five prayers a day, no set fasting, no hajj. So it was a message to humanity that provided a foundation upon which all else would be built. Time with God at the center plus an active pursuit of Truth (al Haqq and all its moral derivatives) coupled with a commitment to perseverance (Sabr) was the moral message of the surah (in my understanding and paraphrasing, mistakes are mine and God knows best). Once again, Shaykh's nuanced elucidation made for an incredibly powerful and transformative understanding of the Qur'an that cut straight to the heart and soul.

The second chapter that Shaykh discussed, Surah Al Kawthar, was no less powerful, transformative, or comforting. Again, in my paraphrasing of the moral message of the surah from Shaykh (mistakes are mine and God knows best): God has given great bounty to humanity, and for the believers who are truly committed to the conviction that gratitude and sacrifice are necessary in striving for the cause of God, God's promise is that ultimate justice and victory will always be with the side of God, not the side of the persecutors. Further, as Shaykh shared, no cause can succeed without sacrifice, and in direct proportion to the level and amount of sacrifice is the proportion of success. Conversely, if you are immoral, it is also God's promise that your defeat will be inevitable. Given the state of our world and especially the darkness that engulfs Muslims everywhere, this understanding was at once empowering and comforting.

As I I pack my bags tonight in preparation to return to Ohio, I reflect on the time spent with my parents and trajectory of my life over what feels like a very short but thankfully, very full time. My parents clock the time that I am sat in front of my computer, and tell me I work too hard. I am so grateful for this work that I love, and pray that I can accomplish so much more before I am called back to God. I am grateful for this deeper understanding of my relationship with time. I am grateful for the precious moments spent with my parents, grateful for the openings and understandings that God has and continues to grant me, and grateful for the knowledge that in this perilous world full of uncertainty, God's light, beauty, and Truth (Al Haqq) will always prevail - and we can choose it.

Ramadan Mubarak everyone, and may every day be full of light, time well spent with God at the center, committed to Al Haqq and Sabr. And may we come together on the right side when it matters most!

In Peace and Hope,

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