2016: A year of change and adjustment for things to come…

2016 will definitely be a year to remember. Aside from the election of a new president (remember, God tests us…), this is the first full year that I have shared together with my wife since we were married in 2014 in Shenzhen, China.

I relocated to San Diego, California to escape the harsh winters of the northeast. I think I also brought some of the coldest (it recently registered 35 degrees F) and rainy weather the area has seen for quite some time! I found myself wondering: What happened to Global Warming?

Those cold nights and that rainy weather make up just a small portion of the climatic change for this New York City fellow. I like the fact that mosquitoes are virtually nonexistent. The air is relatively dry which is great for my asthma. It really can be Sunny Southern California!

The cost of living is a little lower. I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the foods. One minute I have a fetish for Fuji apples, the next, I’ve got a taste for sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Oranges are everywhere. I have developed quite a cross-cultural palate and my wife has become quite versatile in accommodating it. Why drink bottled orange juice when you can have fresh squeezed everyday?

This first thing she purchased when she disembarked from the plane from China was a rice cooker. I had been “conditioned” in college during economics courses to think of rice as an inferior food and for a long while, leaned toward pasta dishes. Today, you will find me debating whether to use long grain Basmati rice for a particular dish or medium grain “sushi” or Japanese-type rice. It’s all good as long as I can mix it with some sweet potatoes! I recently learned how to scramble an egg with turkey sausages in the rice cooker. The egg was extra fluffy. I have regained the 20 odd pounds I lost during depression. My wife’s goal is to make me fat. I don’t think it is possible but I do enjoy eating again.

On a more serious note, I learned the importance of the people that God has placed in my life, throughout my life. At this point in time, I have outlived both of my parents. My body is still relatively strong. My mind, which was damaged by my stroke in 2009, continues to heal itself. Alhamdulillah!

My Mother died when I was 7 years old. Fortunately, God provided me which many surrogate mothers, from my Cub Scout Pack 198 Den Mother, Mrs. Brice to “Mrs. Mac.” I remember my best friend’s mother cleaning the wax from my ears with a bobby pin. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but no one will ever know the love I felt this woman over this gesture. Alhamdulillah! I have learned to love all mothers. It is written that, “Heaven lies at the feet of mothers.” This I truly believe.

I have helped produce three healthy, college educated children who check up on me regularly, “Hey, Pop! Just checkin’ in to see how you are doing…” When I was experiencing extreme depression, after my stroke and was considering the intrinsic value of my life. It was thoughts of them that restored my will to live. Alhamdulillah!

I have made and lost a fortune, and seek to make another, InshAllah (God willing)! When I had wealth I shared it and tried to make sure everyone around me benefited. I gave a party for my 50th birthday. One hundred and thirty people showed up representing all aspects of my life. Family members, friends, business associates, Kendo brothers and old college classmates attended. I saw my “history” in front of me, from the infant who started life on Cumberland Street in Brooklyn, from Wall Street to Westchester County, New York. From Brooklyn Technical High School to Cornell University to Columbia University Graduate School of Business. But I really wasn’t that happy… Allah-u-Alim (God knows…)

Today, I am grateful for everything that I have experienced. I am even grateful for  social media such as Facebook! It allows to keep to contact with family, friends and colleagues throughout the world, literally, from New York to Florida, from Georgia to San Francisco to Seattle, Washington to Hawaii. From Jakarta, Indonesia to Algeciras, Spain to Morocco, to Margarite, Venezuela from Tokyo, Osaka and Kochi, Japan, to Shenzhen, Huizhou, Guilin, Guanxi and Yangshuo China, my family gets larger and the Earth gets smaller… I can attest to the notion that, the World is Truly a Beautiful Place!

God really is our Nurturer and Sustainer! He is Most Forgiving. All He requires is Remembrance of Him.

My Lord, please help me to avoid that which is wrong, evil, immoral and dishonest
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to achieve my dreams and aspirations
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to stay in thy favor
And keep me on the straight path.

And Lord, please watch over me, my family and friends in the coming year.
Please give us all wisdom, better health, greater prosperity and peace of mind.
Amin!

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Thoughts on Kung Pao Chicken…

My Kung Pao Chicken

The first time I had Kung Pao Chicken was back in 1979. I had just started working at Salomon Brothers, the preeminent Investment Banking and Brokerage firm at the time. I was a member of the Bank Stock research department. Every Thursday evening, the Partner in Charge, and the rest of the team would order Chinese food for dinner while we labored to get the Bank Stock Weekly ready for publication. This was my introduction to writing for institutional investors as well as my formal introduction to Chinese food as a part of my weekly diet.

I had hair at the time, my blood pressure was low (without the use of medical prescriptions), and I would do the Tai Chi form that I learned at Cornell University, years earlier, every day.

Now my hair is really thinning. The growth on my armpits exceeds the sparse lean sprouts of my head. My knees predict the weather, as does my lower back and the doctors state that I have had two strokes! I can’t recall the first but I was well aware of the second in 2009.

InshAllah (God willing), I hope to reach 65 in 2017. I take my meds to keep my blood pressure low. I started a daily regimen of 40 to 50 push-ups. These will probably be followed by additional fitness routines as time goes on.

Incidentally, my wife prepared me a special dinner recently, it was an “Islamic version” of Kung Pao Chicken, Halal chicken, Basmati rice with sweet potatoes, peanuts, celery, cucumbers and a homemade chili sauce (very hot!). I will take this as a sign that things will improve…

I am grateful for the Kung Pao chicken and all the memories I have both good and bad. I pray I have learned the lessons embedded in all of them.

East meets West…

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I wanted to share a picture of my recent breakfast. Much to my dismay, I may soon have to start watching my waistline!

My favorite breakfast has often consisted of a couple of blueberry waffles and a cheese omelet (my cousin Abdulsalaam can verify this…). I like to stuff my omelet with mild shredded cheddar cheese, some green peppers and tomatoes. I will often add a slice of pastrami or some turkey bacon to give it a little more heft!

Lately my wife’s personal touch has been added to this initial meal each morning. Today my meal was supplemented with noodles, cabbage and some beef. I usually add a little vinegar and soy sauce to give it flavoring more suitable to my taste.

I am grateful each morning for this wonderful breakfast. It is one of my attempts at blending cultures and fulfilling what I believe is one of God’s edicts, “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)

I continue to believe that if we can sit a share a good meal together, there is the possibility that we can make a little more progress in resolving our differences. I am not naive in thinking this way. If we share the best of intentions, all things are possible…

Sharing Iftar with my Sufi Brothers and Sisters at Dergah Al Farah

Islam is like clear water poured into different vessels. It takes the color and shape of each vessel.
– Shaykh Muzaffer al-Jerrahi

It was August 1st, 2013, Thursday evening. The weather was cool and quite pleasant compared to earlier weeks of 80-100 degree Fahrenheit heat. It was also raining intermittently. I was in Tribeca trying to find the Sufi mosque, Dergah Al Farah before the pace of the rain might quicken. I have been trying to dodge raindrops the past couple of days but haven’t been having much luck; fortunately I did have an umbrella with me. Dergah Al Farah is the gathering place of initiates (dervishes) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community (http://nurashkijerrahi.org/) led by Shaykha Fariha al-Jerrahi.

As the rain began to pour, I finally located the place. It is unassuming on the outside, a mere storefront. Looks can be quite deceiving. A friendly, spiritual place awaited on the other side of the door. I entered and placed my umbrella in a wastebasket so as not to spread unnecessary water all over the place. Some people were praying, others were listening to a videotape of Suras from the Quran with English subtitles. I took a seat on the floor against the wall and tried to dry out a bit before Maghrib time and subsequent Iftar. More people began coming in behind me. I could see the diversity in this place. There were whites, blacks, browns as well as people representing several different countries. Such is the beauty of Islam. There were also little children playing nearby. I could feel the peace and tranquility in this place. It was so relaxing and distressing!

Right after Maghrib time approached, everyone was served water and luscious dates to break the day’s Ramadhan fast. A few moments later, we were lining up for prayer. At Dergah Al Farah, men stand on the left and women stand beside them on the right. This is quite different from other masjids I have attended. I am more accustomed to having the women in a separate area, sometimes, even behind a barrier. My personal view is that it seems to make more sense, side by side, stripped of cultural influences.

After Maghrib prayer, the entire group retired upstairs to the 2nd floor where food was served, people began to mingle and get to know each other and children were children! Truly a wonderful sight for a grandfather like myself.

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Breaking One’s Fast during Ramadhan- Iftar

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah

One of the times most looked toward to during the month of Ramadhan is Iftar, the ending of fasting for the day.

A lot of Americans are not aware that more than 200 years ago, President Jefferson hosted a sunset dinner because it was Ramadhan, for his guest, the first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia. This is the first known Iftar at the White House. Former President Bush and President Obama followed the tradition.

This religious observance takes place directly after Maghrib time, which connotes the sunset prayer. This is an especially good time in New York because of the diversity of Muslim cultures. Whether participating in the offering of food to the poor as a form of charity, a practice dating back to Prophet Muhammad, or just socializing and getting to “know your neighbor,” it brings a better sense of awareness among people. I have a personal belief that “food brings people together.” There are so many different cuisines! Lamb sausage, chicken rolls, Shami Kebabs, samosas, pakoras, these are my personal favorites and I love to eat!

This month I have had the pleasure of sharing Iftar with an Egyptian family who has owned a bagel shop on the Upper East Side for over 20 years. I frequent the place, weekly. Earlier in the week, I shared Iftar with a discussion group I regularly attend. Last night I attended Iftar at Masjid Al-Hikmah, a predominantly Indonesian Mosque in Queens.

I have often said the world is a beautiful place. As I strive to improve my sense of compassion and humility, my eyes are cleared and I am able to see just how beautiful it is…

Thinking pleasant, uplifting thoughts…

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When I last checked it was 106 F in NYC. Today is the ninth day of Ramadhan. For those of you who are not aware, Ramadhan (also known as Ramadan or Ramzan) is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is a period of prayer, fasting, charity-giving and self-accountability for Muslims in the United States as well as the rest of the world. The first verses of the Qu’ran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the last third of Ramadhan, making this an especially holy period.

The period when Muslims end their fast at the end of each day is called Iftar. There are no special foods that need be eaten to break one’s fast, but your body may have special nutritional needs which should be met. Traditionally, a lot of Muslims will end their daily fast by consuming a few dates. This is a staple fruit found in the Middle East that is an excellent source of fiber, sugar, minerals and carbohydrates. This will generally aid the body in maintaining health.

The important thing is to avoid over-eating! Meals should consist of some vegetables, salads, chicken or fish or lean meat such as lamb or beef, grains such as rice, bread or pasta, and a serving of fruit. Drinking lots of water is very important and cannot be overstressed!

One must remember that this is a time of introspection. It should be about cultivating better character and humility. It is about learning that one can “do without,” and reconnecting with God (SWT).

For some reason, I feel particularly “amorous” today. Everyone gets a smile from me, today. It is far too hot to exert the energy to be grim. I will place a bowl of ice cubes and water outside for the wild animals that may be hanging out in the neighborhood. Most of all, I will think pleasant, uplifting thoughts today.

I think there is a lesson to be learned during this harsh weather. We all suffer to some degree, some more than others. We can all endure the plight a little better with just a slight gesture from others. All it takes is a smile or a bowl of water for a few stray animals. Try it! You will feel better…

Sharing Iftar with some of my Sufi Brothers and Sisters: Celebrating Adam Day

Let us, as children of Adam and Eve, make a vow that we will rise above the prejudices

of color, language, dress, and race to enlighten our minds with the radiance of

wisdom. Let there be peaceful ambition. – Khawaja Shamsudding Azeemi

Here it was 4:00pm this Friday afternoon and I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do for Iftar1 . I came across an ad for the Meetup Group – MURAQBA- The Art and Science of Sufi Meditation. They happened to be celebrating Adam Day, this particular day. This is an idea inspired by Khawaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, a renowned Sufi scholar, healer and author of many books on meditation and self-awareness.

Under his guidance Azeemi Meditation Center in Manchester UK started celebrating Adam Day in 2003, and has been cherished by the members of community and city officials alike. Adam Day has been recognized as a platform of unity and received letters of appreciation from politicians and the office of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The message of love and unity is spreading and Adam Day is now celebrated in UK, Canada and USA.

This particular venue started at 6:00 pm. There was an introductory speech by the President of the Azeemia Foundation discussing its aims and objectives. A taped telecast of Mr. Khawaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, direct from Great Britain. There were also speeches given by representatives of different Inter-faiths on the topic of Adam.

All in all, it was a nice friendly gathering of people from different faiths celebrating what they all had in common! Regardless of culture, nationality or religion, we all share the same common ancestor, Adam.

In the Holy Qur’an it is written: “O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female,and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)

It was nice to get “reacquainted” with some of my brothers and sisters and enjoy a tasty meal as well.

 

1Iftar, refers to the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Iftar is one of the religious observances of Ramadan and is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset) time. Wikipedia