7 REASONS WHY I AM HAPPY LIVING IN NORTHERN IRAQ

imagesThanks be to God, the part of Iraq I live in is very safe and peaceful. It is the Northern part in a city called Sulaimaniah. Here are some reasons why I am happy here:

1. I hear the call to prayer multiple times per day, which is beautiful and makes me feel good.

2. My kids play outside everyday because it’s very safe and there are other kids in the same building.

3. I walk more here–we don’t have a car and we don’t need one! We can walk to stores!

4. We live in an apartment building where all of my friends are just an elevator’s ride away.

5. A peaceful view of mountains is just outside my window.

6. The pace of life is slower here and I have more time to think and reflect and do activities that feed my soul.

7. I cook my own food more, partly because I have to and partly because I have the time to do so. Consequently, I am eating more healthier, non-processed foods.

You don’t need to move to Northern Iraq to experience “happiness boosters”. Try to find ways to build more happiness into your life, such as planning for more quiet time for yourself.

Dealing with the Stress of Negative Media Coverage about Muslims

imagesNegative media coverage about Islam and Muslims is an unfortunate reality of our current era. Such news stories can cause emotional stress on Muslims, especially Muslims who are active in combating stereotypes about Islam and more obviously Muslim people, such as women who wear the headscarf.

Many Muslims may feel intimidated, discouraged and frightened by the continuous negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims. The media is certainly not always to blame, but for many Muslims it seems that the media does not give a care if what or how they portray a story will create a harmful backlash against tolerant, moderate Muslims who are trying to be positive members of their communities.

Here are some ways that I have found useful in dealing with the stress of negative news stories about Muslims:

1. Acknowledge your stress and negative feelings, such as hopelessness, sadness, confusion, fear, etc. Denying that these feelings exist will prevent you from actually overcoming them. Be honest with yourself, and then work through those feelings in order to replace them with more helpful feelings (such as a determination to do something constructive/helpful).

2. Along that line, look for helpful and constructive actions to take, such as posting a facebook article about Islam or about Muslims who are working for positive causes. (Example: when a certain terrorist attack takes place, post a condemnation of this attack by a prominent Muslim group, such as the Council for American Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America).

3. Discover coping skills that work for you. Talk to someone about your feelings, go for a walk, write in a journal, and of course, the number one action to take is to talk to Allah (swt) and pray that He helps you and the ummah in this stressful time.

4. Remember that Allah (swt) is Wise and All-Knowing and that He will reward you for your patience and hardships. Allah is also the Most Kind and Most Merciful; He hears all of your duaas/prayers and He is the source of all help. Whatever happens will happen by His Divine Decree, and we must remember to accept His decree and be patient, while at the same time do our best to improve our situations.

5. Remember that it is normal to feel down sometimes and to feel disheartened by the negative portrayals of Muslims in the media. Just try to find ways to feel better and give yourself hope.

6. Use these stressful times as an opportunity to train yourself to be calm during stressful situations (Chapter 10 of my book).

7. A useful statement I once heard a Shaykh say was something like, “We cannot stop the media from reporting the way they choose to report stories about Muslims, but we can try to be the best examples of Islam that we can be to whoever we meet and interact with.”

May Allah (swt) help us to represent our faith in the best way possible and to please Him, Ameen.

Empathy!!!

An amazing way to promote your happiness is to develop the skill of “empathy.”

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

One reason that empathy is so important is that the act of empathy brings healing to our world and to ourselves.

When you truly seek to understand the inner world of another person, you learn compassion, and when the other person truly feels understood by you, this feeling of being “understood” is extremely therapeutic.

In counseling, some theorists believe that “empathy” is a helper’s greatest tool to bring healing to a person in pain.

The way that you communicate empathy is that you simply reflect back/say what the other person is truly feeling.

For example, if a person has just lost his job, and he is talking about this to you, you should actively listen to what he is saying in order to accurately empathize with him.

If he says, “I am afraid that I will not find another job,” then you can reflect his feeling by saying, “You feel scared about your ability to find a job and perhaps you feel worried about having enough money.”

Then you would wait for the other person to indicate whether what you reflected is really what he is feeling or not.

Sometimes empathy and “reflection of feeling” (a counseling technique) provide all of the healing a person needs, because that person feels understood and truly cared about.

Rather than jumping to give advice to people in pain, try just actually “standing in their shoes” and reflecting their inner worlds back to them. Let them know that another person can understand what they are really going through. Take time to listen for the underlying feelings in their words–perhaps the feelings that they are not fully aware of.

When we understand our feelings, we are more aware of ourselves, and this awareness gives us a better chance of discovering the right course of action.

Try feeling and practicing empathy in your relationships–and then see how amazing your relationships become!

“Most Compassionate” vs. “Most Gracious”

Most Muslims are aware that every surah (chapter) of the Holy Quran begins with the verse, “In the Name of Allah, Most Compassionate (or Most Gracious), Most Merciful.”

Well, I’ve been thinking of the various translations of Ar-Rahmaan (Compassionate vs. Gracious; I’ve also seen the word “Beneficent” used).

I’ve been contemplating this because the feeling that you feel when you read “Compassionate” vs. “Gracious” is quite different.

Personally, I prefer “Compassionate” because I think we as an Ummah (Muslim community) don’t contemplate on Allah’s Compassion enough.

Compassionate means that Allah (swt) truly cares about us and is actually sharing in our life’s struggles and He wants good for us.

Gracious is a nice word, but its meaning is less “close” and makes me think of Allah’s generosity more than His Compassion.

But I think the beauty of Islam is illustrated in this simple reflection on how to translate Allah’s names.

As Muslims, we should be aware of Allah’s nearness and compassion and love for us, and at the same time we should not forget His Greatness and Transcendence and Glory. Yes, Allah (swt) does love us, but at the same time He is Just and does expect us to WORK for His nearness. He is not equally near to everyone.

So the goal of Muslims is to balance our hope and fear. We hope in Allah’s mercy and compassion; we fear His justice and majesty.

I still prefer “Most Compassionate” though!

Trying the G-free diet–and liking it!

Bismillahirahmaniraheem (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful)

Most health experts agree that diet affects your health, both physical and emotional. Studies have shown that eating more raw fruits and vegetables actually improves your mood.

Recently I’ve adopted a gluten-free diet, which mainly means that you give up bread and wheat products. I have certainly noticed a difference in my energy level as well as emotional well-being after just a few days on this diet!

I encourage my fellow readers to explore different diets and pay attention to how you feel, both physically and mentally. Many artificial food additives have been noted to increase depression; examples of these additives include monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame.

Remember to take charge of your health and find what works for you!

Happiness Epiphanies in the Village

imagesAlhamdulillah, I am back from the Turkish village, and it was truly a gorgeous, clean, serene place.

But I am glad to be back on the Internet!

During my stay in the village, I had 2 powerful epiphanies. These were not only “intellectual” insights but they were “experiential” realizations (i.e. I experienced the knowledge in my personal self/heart).

The first realization was the importance of being “Content with the Divine Decree”. I first heard this phrase from Imam Afroze Ali while taking a Seekers Guidance course online.

Being “Content with the Divine Decree” to me means that we accept whatever happens in life as the decree of our Lord. If we meet all situations with an attitude of acceptance of our Lord’s will, this brings immense inner peace. It does not mean that we are “happy” about everything, but that we are always patient, accepting, and cognizant of our Creator. And we can always hope for better! In fact, we should be content with everything while at the same time hoping and thinking about what we would like to improve about our situations.

My second experiential realization is that : I am 110% responsible for my feelings. This means that I am 110% to blame if I allow my inner peace and joy to be affected by other people and situations. If we learn to be responsible for our feelings rather than allowing our feelings to depend on how others treat us, this is a truly liberating experience. I take responsibility for my feelings, no matter what happens. I know that this can be challenging sometimes, especially with challenging people whom we have to deal with, but it is our responsibility to find ways to improve our inner states rather than just focusing on who or what is to blame.

On My Way to a Turkish Village

I am currently en route to a Turkish village to visit my husband’s relatives. We will be there for about 3 weeks, and I will not have internet access.

Although I feel a bit bummed that I will be fasting from Internet as well as fasting this last blessed week of Ramadan, I am also thankful to have this opportunity to live in a very natural setting, which is hard to find these days!

So…Early Eid Mubarak and Stay Happy!

A Lesson from My Daughter

My 5 year-old daughter Fatima and I were discussing her questions about Islam, and she asked a question that really got my reflection juices flowing. We were talking about Shaytan (Satan) and how he is bad and wants us to do bad things.

She then asked, “Is it good for us to say, ‘Shaytan is bad, Shaytan is bad,’?

I told her that as Muslims, we do not say this a lot. Instead, we say “Praise be to Allah,” or “Glory be to Allah” or “Allah is the Greatest.” Even though it is 100% true to say that Shaytan is bad, as Muslims, we are not encouraged to say this a lot, but instead we remember Allah’s goodness rather than Shaytan’s badness.

This idea relates to the importance of focusing our attention on the good. Focusing on what is good is a key principle of being a Happy Muslim. Even though there are bad things in the world and in our lives, the better behavior is to remember the good things.

In Islam, we are not encouraged to repeat a dhikr (remembrance of God) that focuses on Shaytan’s badness. We focus our remembrance on God’s goodness. Also, in life, we must train ourselves to remember the good things and blessings in our lives. It seems silly to think of doing a prayer that focuses on Shaytan’s badness. Yet, in our daily lives, we tend to pay attention more to what is wrong and bad.

When we choose to focus on the good in our lives and in others, it is like focusing on Allah’s goodness to us. We will become more thankful to Allah, and Allah will be more pleased with us, insha’Allah.

“If you are thankless—Allah is in no need of you—yet He is not pleased by ingratitude of His worshippers. And if you are thankful He is pleased by it in you…”
–The Holy Quran 39:7

Kindness: A Basic Value of Islam

Alhamdulillah, in 2012 I published my first book, “The Basic Values of Islam,” in which I compiled Quranic verses and hadiths that correspond with basic values such as honesty, kindness, etc. In this post I would like to comment on the value of Kindness.

As Muslims, we really should be striving to infuse kindness into as many of our social interactions as possible.

Consider the following Quranic verse and hadiths:

“Serve Allah and associate none with Him. Show kindness to parents, relatives, orphans, the needy, the neighboring kinsman and the neighbors who are not of your kind, the companion, the traveler in need, and to the slaves you own…”(Quran 4:36).

“God is Kind, and loves kindness in all things.” (Hadith of our Prophet recorded in Bukhari, Muslim)

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.” (Hadith recorded in Muslim).

“Kindness” is defined as “The quality or state of being of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

Even if you are having a problem with another person, try to still be kind. Try to talk to all people with kindness, and you will increase the happiness in your life.

Take the Good and Leave the Bad

imagesgA few years ago I had a negative experience in which my great uncle took my son to get a haircut and found chewing gum in my son’s hair. Rather than telling me about it, he called my mother (and probably told other relatives about it), expressing his concern about my parenting abilities.

A few days later, while I was recovering from the worst food poisoning I had ever experienced, my mother calls me and begins a tirade about how she is concerned about me neglecting my children (making sure their hairs are properly combed and presentable).

One of the worst things you can tell parents (in my opinion) is that they neglect their children. This was a difficult thing for me to go through, especially when my uncle chose to tell everyone except for me about the chewing gum in the hair.

The moral I took from this experience is to take the good from your experiences and leave the bad. Choosing to learn from your experiences rather than letting negative experiences affect your self concept/mood is a very empowering skill to learn. It empowers you to let go of feelings that are not helpful to you (such as feeling that you are a bad parent).

I learned to pay more attention to keeping my children’s hair looking neater and cleaner and to avoid gum getting into their hair in the first place. I could have wallowed in the negative feelings of being exposed to multiple relatives as a neglectful mother. Honestly, I did feel upset at first, which is normal, but you must recognize your negative feelings and then find ways to “take the good, and leave the bad.”