Reviving Up for Ramadan


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

 Link for the original article

by Sadaf Farooqui

Struggling to perform the five daily prayers on time?

Becoming more conscious of God during Ramadan, and seeking closeness to Him is one of the main reasons why fasting was ordained.(Taken from http://www.onislam.net)

Half-consciously putting off the Fajr alarm only to roll over and promptly fall back asleep?

Feeling guilty about not reciting the Quran at least a few times a week, despite wanting to?

Feeling hesitant to donate to a worthy charitable cause despite having surplus savings?

Snapping at the drop of a hate at family members and colleagues on trivial matters?

Repeatedly wiping off beads of perspiration on the brow while inwardly dreading the imminent long, hot thirty fasts of Ramadan?

Does this sound like you?

The glorious, spiritually-charged month of Ramadan comes along each year to pick us up from our slackness, re-charge our faith, realign and re-structure our worship schedule, and give us an encouraging, much-needed “push” back towards our Creator.

Ramadan is a month in which performing righteous deeds becomes easier and indulging in sins becomes difficult, because God chains the devils and opens the doors of Paradise. The entire global Muslim community unites in personal and congregational acts of worship for thirty days, rebinding their mutual love and promoting brotherhood.

In what ways can we inwardly – mentally and emotionally – welcome Ramadan? What should our thoughts focus on right now, to ensure that we are ready to benefit fully from this glorious month once it arrives?

Taqwa – Consciousness of God

Becoming more conscious of God during Ramadan, and seeking closeness to Him is one of the main reasons why fasting was ordained in every Divinely revealed religion:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ


“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.”

          [Al-Qur'an-Surah Al-Baqarah(The cow) : 183]

Passage of a year makes us go out of the habit of fasting, which decreases our taqwa. The level of our consciousness of God, which should be an effective barrier between us and all actions involving His disobedience, becomes quite low and hence, is in dire need of an uplift by the time Ramadan rolls around again.

We should thus be grateful that God makes Ramadan come upon us once a year to give us the chance to take a temporary break from worldly matters, repent for our sins, and exclusively seek God’s countenance once again.

The Month of The Quran

Preparation of and partaking from suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, necessitates early rising.

We should renew our intention to improve our recitation, understanding, memorization and insightful, reflective pondering on the Quran.

Ramadan is special because it is the month in which the Quran was first revealed.

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَى وَالْفُرْقَانِ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ
فَلْيَصُمْهُ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَى سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ يُرِيدُ اللّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلاَ يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُواْ الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُواْ اللّهَ عَلَى مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ


“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

[Al-Qur'an-Surah Al-Baqarah(The cow) : 185]

Now that Ramadan is imminent, we should analyze in retrospect how our Quran recitation schedule and consistency has been throughout the preceding year and develop a plan to recite this Glorious Book, preferably in its entirety, during the coming month.

Instead of rushing through the recitation inadvertently making mistakes, we should endeavor to recite it as calmly, melodiously and correctly as possible, in order to maximize its blessings in our life, its effect on our hearts, and our rewards for its recitation in the Hereafter.

أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا

             
“Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation”

[Al-Qur'an-Surah Muzzammil(The Enshrouded one): 4]

Our intention should be to continue a consistent daily recitation schedule and a close bond with the Quran, even after Ramadan has passed.

 Supererogatory Night Prayer
Preparation of and partaking from suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, necessitates early rising. It provides the perfect opportunity for praying qiyam al layl (the late night prayer). Even the most regular night worshippers among us are snapped into more zealous nocturnal activity with the advent of Ramadan, hoping to revive, lengthen and reinforce their night worship through a more rigorous month-long routine of night prayers.

Our avowed enemy, Satan, however, casts doubts in our minds and makes the impending Ramadan schedule of hot summer day-time fasting, which will inevitably involve enduring greater hunger and thirst, and the dearth of deep night-time sleep, appear to be huge, tasking challenges instead of welcome opportunities for taking a break from the incessant stress of worldly matters and giving our souls a chance to be soothed, nurtured and revived with faith.

In order to look forward to praying more at night during Ramadan, whether in the extra congregational prayers i.e. tarawih or alone at home, we should recall the innumerable sins we have committed since the past Ramadan, the many times we have hurt others or been needlessly nasty, the consistent negligence we have committed in our worship of and obedience to God, and the many chances of repentance that we have missed because of sloth or heedlessness.

When we remember our shortcomings as humans and our shortfalls in our obligations, the invitation of God during the last third of the night, every night, during the forthcoming month of worship, to have all our past sins and misdeeds permanently wiped out from our records and forgiven unconditionally, will seem like an offer to good to turn down!

Cleansing the Heart

Enmity, grudges, hatred, anger, chronic negative thoughts, and recurring insinuations of revenge and/or cutting off of ties: all these feelings are clear indicators of the presence of filth and rancor in our hearts.

As we get ready to welcome Ramadan, we should ponder on our relationships with others, and see which one needs the most work. We should rationally review how we have been behaving with people who deserve the utmost good treatment and respect from us, such as our parents, spouse, children, siblings, neighbors, elderly and sick Muslims, colleagues, and friends. We should then make a mental or physical list of those among them with whom we have been experiencing a distinct sore or emotional distancing in the relationship.

We should compare the blessings afforded by the right intentions for doing something that outwardly resembles actions that are not done as acts of worship.

We should objectively and open-mindedly analyze our hearts to gauge how much rancor we have in it for someone, then proactively intend to remove this spiritual “dirt” that is cluttering our heart during the coming Ramadan, and forgive them only for God’s sake.

Beyond this step of emotional and spiritual “spring cleaning” and de-cluttering, we should also intend to try and make amends to the relationship, perhaps by using the opportunities of meeting and greeting afforded by the occasion of Eid, to extend a warm invitation towards renewed friendliness and cordiality that can reform the relationship in a manner as if no ill-will-causing damage had ever transpired in the past at all.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Sure, summer fasting is difficult because of the added thirst, strain and fatigue caused by soaring temperatures and longer hours, and since summer nights are extremely short, awaking for night prayer and for preparing and eating the pre-dawn meal seems even more challenging.

Moreover, Muslims who converted to Islam after becoming adults, they might view the fasting of Ramadan especially during summer with more foreboding than those who have been in the habit of fasting every year since at young age, because it is something they are not in the habit of doing.

At times such as this, when hot summer fasts are about to come upon us after some days, we should try to keep things in perspective by making some realistic comparisons.

We should compare the blessings afforded by the right intentions for doing something that outwardly resembles actions that are not done as acts of worship. For example, many fitness enthusiasts stick to their strict diets day in and day out, no matter how hungry or drained they feel; they do not cheat on their diets or workout schedules even when working stringent hours at their jobs. They neither compromise on their fitness regimen, nor their careers, and they do all this for acquiring positive results of their efforts in this world, namely: good health, a toned body, an able and alert mind, and overall personal success.

We should remember how we willingly forego our night sleep for periodic worldly objectives during the rest of the year, such as studying for examinations, traveling for leisure, entertaining our relatives or friends when they visit, shopping for and attending wedding celebrations, partaking in outdoor recreational activities such as camping out, bonfires, and safaris, toiling to redecorate and renovate our homes, as well as for welcoming and caring for an excitedly-awaited newborn.

We should remind ourselves that hard work, toil and sacrifice are spring-boards for rewards, material blessings, and personal benefits even in this world. But when a Muslim undertakes these challenges for the sake of God during Ramadan, his or her motive and goal is much more transcendental than anything the life of this world can offer. The blessedness of the correct intention – that of ultimately gaining the pleasure of God – pervades our lives and activities during the days and nights of Ramadan, bringing ease, tranquility and comfort beneath the outward cover of rigorous worship and gastronomic depravity.

If we put things in proper perspective, we will be able to take the forthcoming Ramadan fasting and night-prayer routine positively, instead of with foreboding and dread. Nay, the extra chances to rush forth in a plethora of righteous deeds will make us excitedly anticipate and welcome the spiritual uplift and the opportunity for repentance, revival and renewal offered by Ramadan with open arms.

Our overburdened and ‘cluttered’ hearts and souls, which have been begging us for a ‘break’ for months, will feel relieved and overjoyed at the prospect of finally getting a breather from the distractions and entanglements of the stress-inducing paraphernalia of the life of this world, and latch on eagerly to the heavy daily doses of spirituality, worship and piety that only Ramadan can provide!

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When the going gets tough… what does a believer do?


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Samreen Awam

Life consists of ups and downs for each individual. There are many different shades of happiness, sadness, challenges and victories.  The pattern of life is anything but uniform and it’s this constant change that truly defines the full circle of life. So what happens when life throws a huge problem at us? How do we deal with disappointments and setbacks? They come unexpected and pull the ground from underneath our feet. No self-help book or course could ever prepare us for the inevitable and so-called “tough times”.

As a student of Qur’an I have learnt a few things that have helped me greatly in dealing with issues and life as a whole. This Book has the power to change our outlook, our reactions and basically our entire life. The condition is that we have to believe in its power and be able to act.

While browsing the social media or surfing FaceBook, one may feel at times that most people around us are having a great time and leading carefree lives full of just fun and delight. The true picture could not be more different than this, as there are many who are depressed and down and need a helping hand to pull them up from the darkness of despair and hopelessness. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the real perspective on their “status update.”

Here is my short step-by-step guide that may help you, and will Insha’Allah become a Sadaqah-e-Jariah for me and my teachers.

1. When problems arrive remember the first lesson of the Quran:  

الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

“[All] praise is [due] to Allah , Lord of the worlds -”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Al-Fatihah (The Opener): 2]

Alhamdulillah. We must be grateful to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى)  in all circumstances and all times. Being grateful and giving thanks to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) is a part of the Emaan of a Believer.  If we look at our lives and make a list of all the blessings and khayr (goodness) that we have received and then compare those with all the setbacks that we have come across, the latter will be a much shorter list for sure. Then how come we tend to forget that and let a few tests and trials take over our thinking so completely?  Hence tip number one is when you lose something or encounter a problem immediately think of all the good that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has bestowed on you and say Thank You to your Lord for it.

2. Stay a Believer under all circumstances:

When calamity strikes, the first thing we let go of is our connection with Deen.  Salah is ignored, so is the Qur’an. While in fact this is the time we should further strengthen and deepen our connection with the Creator as we need His mercy all the more.

Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) aptly explains our behavior in the Qur’an in the following ayaat:

وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَا الإِنْسَانَ مِنَّا رَحْمَةً ثُمَّ نَزَعْنَاهَا مِنْهُ إِنَّهُ لَيَئُوسٌ كَفُورٌ.

وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَاهُ نَعْمَاء بَعْدَ ضَرَّاء مَسَّتْهُ لَيَقُولَنَّ ذَهَبَ السَّيِّئَاتُ عَنِّي إِنَّهُ لَفَرِحٌ فَخُورٌ.

إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ صَبَرُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّالِحَاتِ أُوْلَـئِكَ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ كَبِيرٌ

“And if We give man a taste of mercy from Us and then We withdraw it from him, indeed, he is despairing and ungrateful. But if We give him a taste of favor after hardship has touched him, he will surely say, “Bad times have left me.” Indeed, he is exultant and boastful – Except for those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Hud: 9-11]

3. Our biggest weapon is Dua:

الدعاء سلاح المؤمن وعماد الدين ونور السموات والأرض

“Du‘a is a weapon of a Muslim, a Pillar of Deen and the light of the skies and earth.”

[Narrated by Hakim from Sayyiduna Abu Hurayrah and Abu Ya’la from Sayyiduna ‘Ali al-Murtudah, Hadith 6163]

Nothing can beat the power of this tool that is a hot line between a believer and Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). Whether it’s an illness or a financial issue, emotional trauma or a material loss as a believer we can always turn to supplicating and ask for Allah(سبحانه وتعالى)’s help and mercy.

4. It’s never a hopeless situation:

يَا بَنِيَّ اذْهَبُواْ فَتَحَسَّسُواْ مِن يُوسُفَ وَأَخِيهِ وَلاَ تَيْأَسُواْ مِن رَّوْحِ اللّهِ إِنَّهُ لاَ يَيْأَسُ مِن رَّوْحِ اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْقَوْمُ الْكَافِرُونَ

“O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah . Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Yusuf (Joseph): 87]

قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ

“Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Az-Zumar (The Troops): 53]

5. Problems are a test from Allah (سبحانه وتعالى):

If a true believer faces loss and pain in this world he will surely be recompensed in the hereafter. This gives us hope and motivation.  In any case the Believer is very clear about the reality of this world and its temporary nature. The gains of the Hereafter are the real and eternal successes.

When the going gets tough, we should remind ourselves:

الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ

“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Al-Mulk (The Sovereignty): 2]

6. With every hardship , there is ease: 

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Ash-Sharh (The Relief): 5]

This is the promise of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى)and His Sunnah.  Going through the kalam of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), we learn that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) tests His servants but only to their capacity and with every hardship He also gives us ease. This is the word of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) and there is no doubt about it hence the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is not just a metaphor but a conviction for us.

7. Prescription from the Quran… Seek forgiveness:

فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا

يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاء عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا

وَيُمْدِدْكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ أَنْهَارًا

“And said, ‘Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Indeed, He is ever a Perpetual Forgiver. He will send [rain from] the sky upon you in [continuing] showers. And give you increase in wealth and children and provide for you gardens and provide for you rivers.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Nuh: 10-12]

During testing times we have all received various advise relying on the word of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) comprising some specific dua, surah and tasbeeh pertaining to specific issues. For example it is common for people to prescribe Surah Muzzammil for abundance provisions and in How wonderful however is the prescription straight from Our Creator mentioned in the Holy Book, the seeking of Istighfaar. This is source of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) mercy and blessings and we must remember to make it a habit generally and rely on it specifically during times of hardship.

8. Rely upon Allah(سبحانه وتعالى):

And the rest will sort itself out. The seerah of our Prophet (صلي اللهُ عليهِ وسلم) is an incredible lesson in facing all challenges of life with much trust on Allah (سبحانه وتعالى).

وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى الْحَيِّ الَّذِي لَا يَمُوتُ وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِهِ وَكَفَى بِهِ بِذُنُوبِ عِبَادِهِ خَبِيرًا

“And rely upon the Ever-Living who does not die, and exalt [Allah] with His praise. And sufficient is He to be, with the sins of His servants, Acquainted -”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Al-Furqan (The Criterion): 58]

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The Essence of Du’a


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Faiza Ghani

ادْعُواْ رَبَّكُمْ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً إِنَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ 7:55

وَلاَ تُفْسِدُواْ فِي الأَرْضِ بَعْدَ إِصْلاَحِهَا وَادْعُوهُ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا إِنَّ رَحْمَتَ اللّهِ قَرِيبٌ مِّنَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ 7:56

“Call upon your Lord in humility and privately; indeed, He does not like transgressors. And cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. And invoke Him in fear and aspiration. Indeed, the Mercy of Allah is near to the doers of good.”

[Al-Qur’an - Surat Al-A'raf (The Heights): 55-56]

Do I call out to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) with humility and in private? Do I call on Him with fear and hope?

After going through the tafsir of these ayaat, I feel as if my supplications to Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) are severely lacking in substance. Alhamdulillah, I have always tried to pray in private in order to save myself from riya. However, I now realize that even though it seems instinctive to make du’a humbly, my humility has not been consistent.

I have noticed that I am most humble in my supplications when I have spent the day continuously thinking about my sins and carrying the weight of their guilt.  I have also realized that on days when I am not mindful of my sins, I get too hopeful that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) will easily forgive me and my prayers lack the element of fear. As a consequence I end up supplicating with dry eyes and a distracted mind. May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) forgive me. Aameen

I understand that I must improve my connection with Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). Keeping Adam (عليهِ سلام)’s du’a in mind, we need to constantly remind ourselves of our flaws and how transgressive we are in front of Allah (سبحانه وتعالى), yet how Merciful He is to constantly bless us. We need to remember that there is not a single thing we can accomplish without His help, especially when we are in need. One way to keep motivated is by thinking of the supplications of the prophets, for example, the du’a of Rasul Allah (صلي  اللهُ عليهِ وسلم) after Taif, Musa (عليهِ سلام) after he ran away from Egypt or Yunus (عليهِ سلام) when he was trapped in the belly of the whale. Also, thinking of the Hereafter – like the squeezing of the grave, the punishments for different sins, or the way people of Hell will beg people of Paradise for water. This helps keep fear in mind. Counting our blessings and reflecting on the many ayaat of Allah  (سبحانه وتعالى) brings hope into our hearts.

I have also realized the importance of making du’a outside of salaah and the common masnoon times (morning and evenings, when entering the toilet are amongst the many duas). For example, we can supplicate while meeting a friend, cleaning, or even switching on a laptop. We need Allah (سبحانه وتعالى)’s guidance and protection at every instance of our life.

May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) give us the tawfiq to improve our worship, and may He reward us for our efforts. Aameen.

 

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Happy, Havocked HomeFront: Riding The Home Education Wave and Lovin’ It


بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Sadaf Farooqi

Link of the article 

My daughter is now 6 years old and my son will soon be 4, اِن شَاءَ الله. Since the past 11 months, I have been homeschooling them and, contrary to how I anticipated this journey to be like at the point when I was about to embark upon it, it is I who has probably learnt the most in this interim, excitement-ridden period of enlightenment and realization.

I have been traditionally schooled all my life. It was not surprising then, that when my firstborn was a mere baby, I started the typical frantic search for a Montessori for her. I had never even heard of, much less considered, the possibility of educating a little child at home – and the immense impact and importance of that learning which takes place in an informal setting in those initial years of a child’s life.

My daughter was in school at the age of 2.5, when my son was 6 months old. For some parents in Pakistan’s contemporary pre-school culture, even this age of admission was “too late”. They were the ones who would express surprise at my complacent, not rushing around to register my as-yet-unborn fetus in the “top” local primary schools during pregnancy.

When my son was just a baby, I was a somewhat harried Mom going through the initial adjustment phase with sibling rivalry and frequent tantrums of a so-called “terrible-two” toddler. I admit that the hours my daughter was away at school gave me a breather, so to speak, and allowed me to bond with my second one. However, guilt gnawed at me when I went to pick her up and saw her herded in a line along with other perspiring children under the intense sun.

I disliked the whole school routine, but mutely acquiesced to the delusion that it is a “vital” part of every mother’s life: ironing the uniforms, laying out the clothes, shoes and socks at night; packing the bag according to the timetable; forcing the child to finish off her homework; making and packing the lunch in the mornings, forcing a few mouthfuls down a reluctant mouth, then sending off a sometimes mildly sick, or screaming toddler with a tear-ridden face, to school with a heavy heart and a shackled mind that never “dared” to question the necessity of this so-called “must-have” system of education.

At about this time, I met by chance a few mothers who were homeschooling their children in Karachi. The idea of homeschooling in our country was intriguing to me, especially since these ladies had initially sent their children to some of the local schools, and had also taught in these schools as teachers.

I was immediately attracted to their peculiar choice of education for their children, wanting to know why and how a woman who once had school-going children and who had taught in the schooling system herself would opt out of it to homeschool them.

Wasn’t it sheer stupidity? How did they manage? Didn’t they crave personal privacy and “me-time”? Didn’t they have doubts about what they were doing? Didn’t they worry that their children would turn out to be socially deprived, unconfident ‘weirdos’?

In addition to meeting these ladies regularly and asking them questions, I started to avidly read up about home education online. I read and read, mostly as a hardcore skeptic and critic.

It is amazing what one is able to achieve and experience when one tears down the self-imposed shackles around one’s brain – the barriers and obstacles that we erect around our own thought-processes to filter out new ideas and possibilities that lie right under our noses; ideas which can help us achieve our goals more easily.

I have seen that as modern-day parents, even though we may have an easier, faster alternative right before our eyes, most of the time, we are blinded to reality because of our beliefs based on our own past experiences and because of our blind faith in the opinions of our peers (other parents); not to mention, our mute, unquestioning acquiescence to become part of the rat race as soon as our baby makes its grand debut in the world.

Now that it has been some time since my children have been “studying” at home, I would like to share with you what I have learnt and noticed during this time:

The best learning is that which is is self-motivated and self-driven

Surround a little human being, even a few-months old baby, with different materials, and watch how she tries to discover them on her own. A baby will experiment, touch, test and play. But before all of that, she will observe how the people around her use that material.

Allah has created the human baby with an amazingly relentless, innate drive to learn: they are pre-programmed to acquire, pursue, test, observe, feel and experiment. Every new experience for them is a step up the learning curve.

It is absolutely preposterous how modern marketers of early learning products delude parents of little babies into thinking that they need to invest in expensive plastic toys, phonics books, flash cards, or flashy computer software to make their baby pick up a language, skill or ability earlier than necessary. I don’t think it is as important for a child to start reading at age 2 as it is for the same child to be reading avidly, willingly and enjoyably at age 8 – without being forced. Is the means more important than the end?

Think about it! Do we force our toddler to walk at 10 months if s/he doesn’t? Do we question why some babies crawl for many months before walking, whereas others almost directly transition from crawling to walking without taking so long? Why do some babies teeth early and others sprout their first tooth after the age of one? Why do some babies talk when they are one year old and others don’t start babbling even after the age of two? Did you ever wonder why, at a certain age, a child will learn to use a spoon to eat on their own, even if they are not taught? Or how they will automatically learn to climb stairs without being trained?

The answer to all this is that each human being learns and achieves different skills, abilities and milestones at different times and rates. He or she she comes pre-packaged with DNA in their chromosomes, which determines when they will start to do what. As parents, while we can facilitate their learning and gross motor progress, we can never, ever make our children accomplish something they are not yet ready to do. And that is not even fair!

Those of us parents who incessantly try to push our children into achieving something before they are able to, only set ourselves up for disappointment.

Lack of structure works for our family

People ask me at what time I teach my children.

I have seen, through the initial months of unschooling – a term used to describe the process of getting the child who was initially in school completely and naturally deprogrammed from the daily school routine – that an almost complete lack of structure works best for us.

Sure, I have a curriculum for my 6 year old: the official OUP textbooks of grade one that she was studying at the age of 5, when we pulled her out of school. However, when I sat her down to teach her chapters from these books ‘officially’, the way it is done in school, I saw her interest start to wane. At some times, she even told me that she didn’t want to study.

I decided to take full advantage of the flexibility afforded by homeschooling to allow her to do what she wants, and to help her out only when she comes to me. What resulted was no less than an epiphany for me.

I discovered that there is no such thing as “boredom” in the dictionary of little children. They just do not get bored. And yes, this is coming from a parent who has no television, video games or outdoor play area in her residence. My children never complain of being bored, even if they do not go out for three days! The reason for this is that, when left on their own surrounded with books, toys, and other random materials, they find ways to keep themselves constructively occupied. 

So when I stopped teaching my daughter according to a set time-table with fixed learning slots for different subjects, I witnessed how often she returned to her books, picked one of them up, and approached me for basic guidelines about what to do in a specific chapter. Also, here is the clincher: she ended up reading, studying and poring over many morebooks and materials (such as storybooks, newspapers, magazines, grocery lists, bills, and receipts) besides her official grade one curriculum books!

I do leisurely read out to her and my son for a few minutes, but again, not every day, and never at a fixed time. I realized soon that, being blessed with an excellent memory, a one-time reading was usually more than enough for A’ishah. Without my prompting, but on her brother’s incessant requests (who loves to listen to stories), she’d read out the same story to him again and again, until – all praises to Allah – they both had it memorized by heart! This includes both simple English, as well Urdu, storybooks and the shortersurah’s/chapters from the last juz of the Qur’an.

Innovation, ingenuity and initiative

As of now, a typical day starts off with my daughter A’ishah rising early and leaving the bedroom. She starts her day doing things on her own before her brother emerges and joins her.

A scooter colored by A’ishah using water-color paints

She uses pencils, colors, water colors, scissors, and paper to unleash her creative imagination.

Sometimes, she plays with toys and other materials to set up a make-believe kitchen or simulate any scene or event that she has witnessed.

It might seem from my children’s handiwork that I am a very hard-working mother who makes an extra hard effort to buy wonderful art and craft materials, storybooks, textbooks and workbooks to keep them busy.

However, wallahi, I am not. I testify that it is primarily Allah’s help that comes to me.

A small wooden box painted and decorated by A’ishah

Masha’Allah, my children are given many gifts by sincere close relatives and many of my friends (remember, even though we do not celebrate their birthdays!), such as the wooden flower chest shown here ->.

All I ever do is facilitate my children’s work on these materials, by providing them basic verbal guidelines, sometimes a small helping hand that demonstrates to them what they have to do, and last but not least, tons of background encouragement and positive reinforcement in the form of truthful, concise, and unexaggerated praise.

Since A’ishah turned 5, she has an increased interest in Arts and Crafts (don’t all girls?).

An engine and carriages made out of paper

These carriages of a paper train were the result of finding a craft book by chance at a sale at the Liberty Books clearance outlet on Boat Basin, Clifton.

The book had to-be-cut-out pieces of hard paper that had to be folded along dotted lines and glued together to form these carriages.

The craft gems below are all from a collage book gifted to A’ishah by her aunt on Eid.

Collages of a butterfly and a field of flowers made from crafting materials as instructed by and provided in the Collage book

Collage of a “tropical island”

The book provided all the physical materials as well as detailed pictorial instructions for making each collage.

I tried to ensure that A’ishah makes each one herself, as much as possible, no matter how supposedly “ad hoc” or sloppy the first few attempts might be.

Homeschooled kids don’t get a lot of discouraging “Oh no! What have you done?” comments when they make mistakes. :)

If they do something wrong, we can gently correct them and show them how to do it right. Its not like we, as adults, have stopped making mistakes, have we?

This is a collage of a tropical island ->

There has been steady and good progress in A’ishah’s reading, writing and Math, as well, alhamdulillah. 

Another gift from a friend that my children ended up loving, and learnt much of by heart, was this book of Muslim nursery rhymes ->

I read them out to them both a few times over a week and eventually, A’ishah had them learnt by heart.

She would then read them out to Abdullah.

Therefore, it is obvious that one thing that my children never do, alhamdulillah, is complain of being bored or having nothing to do.

As for Abdullah’s progress, since he has never been to school, he has literally turned out to be the first prototype of my practical, homeschooling “laboratory experiment”.

Abdullah started writing in a straight line himself, without being forced, taught, or instructed how to hold a pen

It is easy for a parent to fall into the trap of comparing one child to the other, especially if one child achieves milestones earlier. I have been conscious of not doing that with Abdullah. I just let him be – to see how he progresses by learning on his own.

Not once have I taught him how to hold a pen, or how to write!

Yet, as you can see in this picture ->, he started trying to write letters and numbers himself, basing his designs and shapes purely on his visual observation.

Because of hanging out with his sister most of the time, and albeit by also voraciously poring over pictures, papers, books; messing around with play-dough; scribbling wildly with pencils and crayons, and thrashing color about on paper with paintbrushes – he has learned a lot simply by observation and experimentation.

Abdullah scribbling away randomly

He has started writing rough letters and drawing other shapes all on his own, which reminds me how it is ultimately Allah who teaches the human baby how to write:

الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ

The One Who taught by (the use of) the pen;”

[Al-Qur'an - 96:4]

Even though, right now, he is a month short of turning 4 years old, Abdullah can still not write Urdu or English letters on his own properly. However, I am not worried about that at all, because I know that just like his oral vocabulary, which went from almost non-existent at the age of 2.5 to an undeterred gush of new words at 3.5, when the time comes, he will start writing on paper properly, insha’Allah.

Abdullah correctly matched the finger-counts to the bird images

<- He has started to grasp the concept of basic counting, alhamdulillah. Again, this is without any formal instruction viz. learning numbers by heart.

Just like he learned to master the skills of climbing atop tall objects, speaking new phrases in English (I talk to my children primarily in Urdu, silly ol’ “paindoo” me), jumping down from a height, and drinking steadily from a full glass without spilling – without my “forcing” him to do any of these things, I know that he will learn how to read and write letters on paper too, insha’Allah – when the time is right.

This image shows that he can also associate pictures with their basic shapes ->

Neatness might not be his forte yet, but his scribblings show his efforts to write the capital letter “P” or “D”, and to make the “tick-mark” that he sees me make when I check A’ishah’s work. He has also tried to color into the shape at the top.

My “me time”

I have just one brother with whom I shared my room until the age of 11. As a girl who has not shared her bedroom with a sibling since the age of 13, I have been used to having my personal privacy, to the extent of being a tad selfish and spoiled!

Add to that my innate love for solitude, peace and silence, and I would think of myself as the last mother on earth who would have decided to homeschool two naughty little children who are always up to some new prank!

To tell you the truth, I was ambivalent about homeschooling for a long time primarily for this reason: that homeschooling would mean always having my children around me at home. It would mean disturbances and distractions; havoc and mayhem; my stress level hitting the roof and making me a permanent mass of nerves. Right?

Well, the practical experience has proved otherwise. Alhamdulillah.

When your children start staying at home after being pulled from school, it is very important to perceive their presence as a blessing, not a burden. After all, they are yourchildren.

Secondly, remember that little children are very easily trained with time to adapt to their environment. My children quickly picked up cues about my likes, dislikes and preferences e.g. doors are to be closed softly (not banged shut), any spills or crumbs are to be immediately wiped clean or swept away into the bin; toys and papers that are sprawled over the table or floor have to be cleared up and kept away; every afternoon they have to nap/lie down for two hours; and after eating, the crockery and cutlery have to be transported to the kitchen sink without being told.

Within a few weeks, four little hands were eagerly helping me out in my daily tasks, be it hanging up or folding the laundry, replacing tissue rolls on their stands, or clearing away the mess created during play – all without my forcing them to.

Keen observers, when children are not coerced to “Stand straight!”, “Form a straight line!” or “Don’t talk!” daily by tight-lipped school teachers, they instead copy and imitate the behavior of the adults around them, subconsciously adopting the latter’s habits, mannerisms, behaviors and attitudes.

You won’t need to enforce rules upon them the way they are imposed in school, simply because you are their parent, and this is their home – a place where they are comfortable and “free”. Instead, your small little army of angels will turn into your helpers and comrades in everything you do, further strengthening your familial ties, in addition to excelling at companionship and teamwork.

Consequently, totally unlike the feelings of dread that are experienced by mothers of school-going children twice a year, at the advent of summer and winter vacations, a homeschooling Mom will never, ever negatively perceive the 24-hour, constant presence of her children at home. Rather, she will relish and appreciate their chirpy company, because homeschooling them automatically molds their behavior and antics according toyour preferences and rules.

Children are akin to empty vessels; when they are young, they can be molded into whatever the parents desire.

Its not always rosy

Do I ever shout at my children? Do they ever answer me back? Do they fight, spill food and drink, physically wrangle, break things, or disobey me? Do I go out in public secretly fearing that either or both of my children will behave in a way that will cause me embarrassment? Does my house look a mess on most days, strewn all over with paper, books and toys? Have I given up hope on having my home embody a pristine, impeccable aura of spotless, charming interior decor?

The answer to all these questions is a big “Yes!”

We are a real family with very real, human shortcomings.

We as parents make mistakes, just like our children. There are good days, when I feel absolutely calm and serene, unruffled and happy because everything goes smoothly. Then there are those days when I am a mass of nerves, cranky and short-tempered, snapping at the slightest provocation!

The whole point of realistic, grounded parenting is to appreciate and work on the good, and to overlook, forgive, and try to correct the bad. We parents should remember that it is absolutely imperative to constantly seek Allah’s forgiveness for our mistakes and sins, via sincere, heartfelt استغفار. This should stem from the recurring realization that we are fallible as human beings, and have inherent shortcomings that make us slip again and again.

In her own words…

So what does my daughter have to say about being homeschooled after spending 2.5 years in school?

She has not forgotten some of the incidents that happened there.

“Mama, you did the right thing by taking me out of school. The other children often laughed at me and once made fun of my clothes on white-color day, saying, “Look at A’ishah! Look at what she is wearing!”.

When I’d go to the washroom, there would be no lock on the door and the commode would always be dirty, and the pottery Uncle would sometimes walk in to wash his hands.

And once when I went somewhere from my seat, a boy in my class threw the cake in my lunchbox outside the window for the crows to eat!

When the electricity would go, we’d have to sit perspiring in the heat.

I am so glad I study at home now. You teach me so well.”

What can I say except الْحَمْدُ للّهِ that Allah guided me to take this step and unleash the wonders of His creation before my eyes in my home – our new center of learning; the place where my children don’t just come to eat and sleep, but where they live, love and learn.

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