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1. The Miracle of Honey
2. The Muslim Mother and Natural Living
3. Prayer and The Pantry Door
4. Nature's Gifts for Ramadan
5. Simple Living and Islam
It is often quoted from the Hadithís of the prophet that "Paradise is at the feet of the Mothers" . A heavy responsibility to live up to, for this Hadith also assumes that as mothers we will live up to the heavy role expected of us "house managers". We are responsible for the physical & mental well being of everyone in our household , be it just our husbands or even ten kids and a couple cats. We are instructed to "Command them with obedience to Allah and teach them what is good"(Hadith) . Quite a job when you think about all that it entails. We are not hired for this position before it is given to us, and we donít get any training, but we are expected at least to do a good job and we have the potential in all of us to do an amazing job. So many things that seem trivial are actually so important. What you serve for breakfast and where you purchased it sets the stage for the energy levels of your household members for the rest of the day. What they wear - the colors, the texture and the textile - all effect their continuing mood and energy levels thoughout the day and your knowledge in herbs or aromatherapy may be the difference between one person sick and five people sick or the difference between and cough and bronchitis for members of your family. The materials YOU buy and YOU arrange around the home set a mood of security and peacefulness around the home and may energize people or calm them down depending on the color and arrangement of the room. Everything you do and touch has such a large impact on your family it is probably one of the only jobs where every little detail counts, where you canít nod off during any meetings or even take a coffee break when you want. So next time you are yawning about choosing an outfit for your toddler or wishing you had something more exiting to do than prepare eggs and toast for breakfast remember how important your job is and put some heart into it instead of the routine attitude. Choose an outfit for your toddler that will calm or enhance their mood (Color Therapy), Make a healthy energy packed muffin for your familyís breakfast time, serve a cup of herbal tea to energize your husband (or wife) for work and put on some music or light an aromatic candle to get through that 4:00 rush to dinner time. It is hard to remember that you are not just hanging laundry and unpacking groceries - you are the conductor of your householdís symphony and it is up to you to make it "play smoothly" as often as possible thus effecting the harmony of the entire world as well as your home. We pray often "My lord increase me in knowledge" (Koran 20:114) for many reasons, among those to be better wives and mothers and to give the best we can to our family.
In our quest for the "perfect cure" and "magic herb" that will make our health (and thus our lives) perfect we have lost sight of the most obvious cures of all ; for in your prayers and in your kitchen pantry are where you will find the most natural medicines of all and the basis for your good health. For so many "illnesses" that afflict us today are not really illnesses at all but results of years of misuse of the bodies that Allah has given us and years of not following the guidelines that Allah has given us on how to maintain our health - drink plenty of water, exercise and eat fresh, healthy whole foods in moderation. An obedient servant of Allah must do three things: Follow the advice given in the Hadiths and Koran on healthcare and spiritual maintenance, Use the natural cures that Allah has advised us to use in our ailments, and above all have faith and spiritual strength in the path of illness remaining constantly aware that no matter what we do to help ourselves that it is Allah that will heal us in the end. One part of being obedient servants is to do what Allah has recommended and advised us to do which includes taking care of our health in many ways. In numerous Hadiths we are taught the benefits of moderation to take care of our bodies and souls as well as other suggestions on what to eat, what to use to cure our ailments and much more. The second part of healing involves using the cures that Allah has blessed us with instead of seeking out exotic cures or "the easy cure"The third and most important part of our cure is prayer. In the medicine of the prophet 1/3rd of the book is devoted to prayers and invocations and ceremonies that the Prophet (SAW) used to perform when healing people without the use of any medications at all. He also recommended these prayers to others. However, there are so many health recommendations in the Koran and Hadiths that one could become overwhelmed trying to learn them all, so letís focus on the five "pillars"of health, which are air, water, food, sleep and faith. Air is an important part of our bodyís function. In fact some new weight loss programs advertised today are actually seeing results in people just by teaching them various breathing techniques! Did you also know that the average person does not really fully inhale or take deep breaths? Practices like zikr, silent mediation, and prayer which encourage regular and relaxed breathing (much like the ever-popular yoga in modern society) If you live in the inner city where there is very little air left, try to get out at least once a week to the suburbs or the country and take a walk or fill your yard and a home with plants that help clear the air. Or at least fill your home with as many plants as you can (see an upcoming issue for a list of plants that clear the air). The prophet himself (SAW) often walked to places (which is good for the lungs) and lived in a natural environment with plenty of fresh air. Water - the heavens were created of its vapors (Koran 21:30) - and yet we still do not have enough respect for this wonder-element. Our bodies need at least 8 glasses (8 oz) of water a day (some say you need the same amount in ounces as half your body weight ... so if you weigh 180 lb. then you need to drink 90 ounces a day which is about 11 8 oz. glasses.) and nursing or pregnant mothers need more. Water helps flush out toxins and fats from our bodies and it keeps our system functioning evenly so we remain energetic and balanced. Showers wash away dirts, sweat and other toxins that we donít need near our bodies and if done properly (scrub your body with a loufa or natural sea sponge) your body will also be invigorated and the skin will be ready for a new day of functioning. The prophet Mohammed (SAW) was very careful about what foods he ate and never improperly combined foods. He never ate eggs with milk or meat and milk, or dry and fresh food or even cooked and broiled foods, two hot foods or two cold foods together (speaking of the nature of food not the temperature), or fish and yogurt. He also did not drink anything while eating or after finishing his meal for at least 1/2 hour, otherwise the digestive system would be handicapped (This fact is now proven by many doctors in a number of recently researched books). The prophet also used to alternate between the various foods available in the area (it is also a proven fact that eating fresh foods, natural and in season, is the healthiest diet to man) and he did not fix his diet on any particular food for any amount of time (which is now thought to be the cause of many allergies we have developed, and "rotation diets" have now been "invented" to help us with these allergies!). Godís messenger also enjoyed the fresh seasonal fruits of the land (not imported varieties) and recommended eating them alone and not with a meal or water. Sleep is the fourth abused thing in our society. It is so look down upon that people brag about how little sleep they got the night before (and are still functioning). high power executives talk about how they only sleep 5 hours a day and power napping has become the hot new research topic in the executive circles. In fact, the word "nap" alone has almost become a naughty word. And people are starting to deprive their children of naps starting from age three! How much sleep do you need? Observe your attitude and function level (memory, clearness of thought, creativity, etc...) on days when you get four hours of sleep compared to a day when you get 8 hours. The prophet Mohammed(SAW) was known for retiring early (the age of electricity and lights burning all night has ruined our sleeping habits!) and waking early for Fajr prayer. If he was still tired after Fajr prayer he would nap a little more then and wake refreshed. I have never known a person that performed all of their prayers at the correct time daily and with love for Allah in their hearts and at the same time suffered from any type of stress. This is just another miracle of Allahís that something required from us is also so beneficial to our health. Another part of faith is realizing that no matter what you do only Allah has the cure. For in the Koran doesnít it say, "(26:80) If I will be ill, my Lord will give me health..." Allah also gives us many simple preventative things we can do to avoid illness. But if all this is too much to remember let me leave you with just one phrase to remember: In Surrah Al-Baqarah (2:195) all these urgings are summed up quite nicely in one statement...."And make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction, but do good; for Allah loves those who do good.."
Hibiscus, Dates, Rosewater & the Miswak
As Ramadan approaches we inevitably think about all the special meals that we will eat during this holy month. After a day of fasting and religious duties the Muslim or Muslimaís reward is not only the sense of peace he or she has gained, but the special iftar that awaits. In many areas of the world such as The Middle East, India and African countries, iftar meals are filled with traditional foods which can be traced to the time of the prophet (SAW). In other countries the food may take on the flavor of the country one is in, such as a pizza iftar in America or a taco iftar in Mexico. However, there are some traditional gifts from nature that we should remember wherever we live, gifts that were used by the prophet Mohammed in his life, and gifts that assist the fasting Muslim during Ramadan. Among these bounties are the hibiscus herb, dates, rosewater essence and the miswak. In the Middle East and Africa hibiscus is readily served to guests, especially during Ramadan. However, like the kunafa (a Ramadan sweet) and the musaharati (the man who wakes people for suhur) and so many other Ramadan traditions, few look beyond the tradition for the benefit. However, even though the sweet richness of Kunafa can claim to nourish the spirit of the believer, the herb hibiscus can lay claim to many physical benefits for the fasting body. Hibiscus is first of all, a pleasant tasting drink with astringent and thus thirst-quenching properties which are quite useful when consumed during Ramadan. Secondly, a cup of hibiscus tea contains more vitamin C than an orange and helps to strengthen a stressed immune system. Hibiscus also has similar uses to cranberry juice in treating urinary tract infections and is also useful for the heart and blood flow. Other properties in the herb help maintain the blood sugar balance in the body, which is another challenge one must overcome during fasting. To prepare hibiscus, the traditional way is to make a cold infusion. Take 1/4 cup of the herb and soak it in a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning strain out the hibiscus flowers and add honey to taste. You can also use sugar, but since sugar has so many negative effects on the health, it is an especially good item to avoid during Ramadan. An even better option is to add about a teaspoon or more of the herb Stevia, which is a green leafy herb from Paraguay that has a sweetness much like Nutra-sweet. It also has blood-sugar balancing properties and is the safest bet as a sweetener for diabetics. Dates are another traditional item to ingest during the iftar, and all Muslims around the world, following the example of the prophet (SAW) usually break their fast on dates. The reason this is so beneficial is that the natural sugar in the dates travels quickly to the liver and is converted more quickly than any other nutrient into energy for the fasting body which soaks up this energy like a sponge. If you usually break your fast on dates and water as is the tradition, you will notice, that you immediately feel revived and almost peaceful. Take a few moments to enjoy this peace . Let your body enjoy and absorb the full benefits of these two wonderful substances - dates and water - and perform your Maghreb prayer before beginning the larger meal. This is the healthiest way of breaking your fast, as the body needs to ease into digesting after a day of fasting. Let the dates help your body do this during your prayers. Dates contain protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and natural sodium. They also contain a high amount of dietary fiber which makes them a good digestive aid. Dates are also said to protect the stomach and intestines from parasites and bacterial infections, so they are an especially good beginning to a meal when you are traveling. After the evening meal is finished Muslims often go straight to the tarawih prayers and it is traditional during Ramadan to wear a pure essence of some sort to these prayers and for the rest of the evening. Perfume is a food for the soul and the spirit, much like the dates and hibiscus are food for the body. And during Ramadan we need many foods to keep us strong in our religious duties. In one of the best known hadiths of the prophet Mohammed (SAW) he was quoted as saying, "There are three things in your world that are made to attract my affection: women, perfume and then my ultimate fondness is securely fixed on prayers" Rose essence or rosewater is one of the most popular essences for men and women to wear during this time. Besides the fact that it is one of the most heavenly smelling scents, rose essence has a number of aromatherapy benefits as well. Rose is a powerful anti-depressant , is uplifting, aids in digestion and soothes frayed nerves from stressful days of fasting. And these benefits can all be enjoyed just by sprinkling some of the water or essence on your body, adding a few drops to your bathwater or even just burning the scent in an incense burner in your home. Rosewater is also the preferred soak for the miswak, the last of natureís presents we will discuss in this article. The miswak, taken from the branches of a miswak tree, is an answer to every Muslim who has asked "is it OK to brush my teeth while fasting?" This question often arises in modern times because of the western toothbrushing methods which allow for a mouthful of water and sometimes delicious tasting toothpaste. The miswak, on the other hand is simply soaked until the brushing end is soft and then gently rubbed and stroked over the teeth. Imam Al-Bukhari narrated that Abdullah bin Omar brushed his teeth with a miswak morning and evening while fasting. A fasting person, in fact, is in more need of tooth brushing than the non-fasting person since vapors from the empty stomach bind to the teeth and gums. A miswak helps to keep the breath fresh and pure. Among the other benefits of using the miswak are that it clears the brain, it generates a sense of well-being, it remedies the stomach for the next meal, it embraces prophetic tradition, it adds to ones merit, it pleases Allah, and delights the angels. So during this Ramadan, remember the gifts of nature, for they are really the gifts from Allah to us to ease us through our fast for in the verse of Al-Asharh that you recite during the tarawih prayers it says " So verily with every difficulty there is relief." (Surah 94:5)
Simplified life is not a new concept in Islam. It is THE concept of Islam. There are endless Hadiths that tell of the prophet Mohammedís (SAW) love of a simple life from what he ate to what he wore. Bukhari reports that Hazarat Abu Musa Ashísri (RAA) reported that "Aisha (RAA) showed us a sheet and a coarse loin-cloth and said that these were the only two pieces of clothing which the Holy Prphet had on his body when he passed away." and Hazart Ana Bin Malik reports that "the Holy Prophet (SAW) never had the chance of eating on a table-cloth nor did he ever eat bread made of fine flour" The Koran is abundant in advice in this area as well. I found over 50 verses refering to the merits of a simplier life such as Verse 23 in Surah Yusuf which states,"Oh mankind, Your insolence is against your own souls for an enjoyment of the life of the present. In the end to us you return and we shall show you the truth of all ye did" Fittingly enough, my philosophy on simplified life actually came through my years of living in the "Islamic Countries". But although not even these countries hold the secret to simple living, I did manage to glean two wisdoms from cultures I was in contact with as well as two general wisdoms forced upon me by circumstance. The two general wisdoms I learned unequivocally were that TV and shopping are the two major impediments to simple and happy living. In Saudi Arabia, where I lived for four years the TV was so sparse that we didnít even want to watch it (and refused to pay the $1,200 or more it cost to install satellite TV) and the shopping was so expensive (food is double-price and childrenís clothing four-five times the American price ) that you only went to the mall to take a walk in the garden there. In Egypt, where I lived for six years the English TV was also extremely uninteresting and the shopping was non-existent (at that time they didnít even have a McDonalds or a Mall like they do now). It was very clear to me when I went back and forth between the USA and my expatriate life that the reason my life was so complicated in the States was not because of any fault of America, but simply because I was "freed" to once again enjoy TV and shopping. The two wisdoms I gleaned that were more culturally specific are: 1. You donít really need that much (you can live without a credit card) . After seeing how happy, educated, cosmopolitan and creative so many people around me were without owning many things at all and not having credit cards I quickly shifted from feeling sorry for them to envying their freedom. 2.We loose a lot when we rush through life without honoring the natural rhythms of the day. In Saudi as well as Egypt you are forced by the weather, prayer times, and rest periods to stay at home or take a break during certain hours. Between 1-3:00 for instance you cannot even shop at all (although in Egypt this has changed a bit now) and TV is slowed during these times. You are almost forced to eat and rest at certain times of day which is one thing we often overlook in our busy lives in the West. How many days do you take a nap? Get 8 hours of sleep a night? Eat at least 2 sit-down balanced meals a day? Believe it or not these are a GIVEN in some cultures and not thrown to the wayside as they sometimes are here. Try honoring the natural rhythms of the day for a week (even try napping!) and see what a difference it makes.