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!

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.

The Better Path: Indulging in Gratitude

As I reflect on 2016 and God willing, prepare for 2017, I have tried to pay particular attention the what worked well for me and what served to impede my progress this year.

The most common factor of note was gratitude. A standard definition is “the act of being grateful.”

Some of you may ask, “to whom?” I will make it perfectly clear and state, to God!

Others may pose the question, “for what?” My response would simply be: for the air I breathe with the lungs He has given me, for the fact that I am alive today. It is acknowledges Him watching over me when l am not capable of doing a better job on my own.

He nurtures and sustains and I am a beneficiary. I seek to express gratitude all He has done for me. Shouldn’t we all?

People of different belief systems often thank God for the food before they eat their meals. Many Christians will say a grace or give acknowledgment of a virtue coming from God. I recall some of my Japanese and Kendo brethren saying, “itadakimasu” or “I humbly receive…,” before we would partake of a sumptuous meal together.  Muslims utter Bismillah (in God’s name).

At times I question whether people are really sincere and truly thankful but then I pause and remember that it is between them and God. I can only legitimately seek to control my own intentions and actions…

Gratitude is increasingly a topic in social media these days. Its links to happiness and better health are now being examined.

I learned to consider gratitude as an emotion while attending meetings with Sultan Abdulhameed, author of The Quran and The Life of Excellence, years ago. He teaches that “prayer is a comfort”and that “all progress happens through adversity.” While contemplating these thoughts, a phrase I had heard earlier in life came to mind, “Let go, let God…

These notions enabled me to find peace with the thoughts that I am not in control of everything in my life, but that my circumstances are intimately connected to how I think. Now, I always think positively about all matters, no matter how grim they may seem.

One of my Dominican friends and Kendo brothers has been trying to attain the rank of NanaDan or seventh degree Black Belt for longer than I can remember. Twice a year, he would make a pilgrimage to Japan to challenge for the rank. It takes a lot of determination and resoluteness to maintain this arduous discipline and stay focused in spite of circumstances. The pass rate on this examination has always been extremely low. He was finally successful last month.! Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to God)! I remember the words of the late Nishino sensei,”Never give up!” This is a timely reminder for me. I am also happy when my friends achieve success.

You may ask what does this have to do with being grateful?    Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lead to a greater sense of well-being and reduced depression.

I recently had a personal problem which was driving me to wit’s end. I felt powerless. Reluctantly, I shared my dilemma  with some of my friends. Together, we came up with a solution and I was truly humbled by the positive outcome…  I am forever grateful for the friends that God had provided for me! Alhamdulillah!

There is a passage in the Quran which states, “If you are grateful, I will give you more (7:14)” I am only now beginning to grasp the meaning of this powerful statement.


I thank God for watching over me.

Thou has been with me throughout my entire life.

Please forgive me for my late acknowledgment.

Please continue to watch over me, my family and my friends…

Remembering the Garden…

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A patch of dirt for some, a new beginning for others. These thoughts come to mind as my wife became excited while examining a neglected garden in back of the place where we were staying.

The landlady had given her some scallion sprouts and a tomato plant. She later added some ginger buds. Clearly, the two of them had a “special agenda” that I was not privy to. All I know is that slowly, with a little effort, I was witnessing the beginning of a lush garden start to unfold.

Surely those who believe and do good deeds, are the best of all creatures.
Their reward with their Lord shall be the gardens of Eden, beneath which the rivers flow, to dwell therein forever. God shall be well pleased with them and they shall be well pleased with Him. That is for him who fears his Lord. (Surah 98. Al-Baiyina, Ayah 7-8)

This was a sign from God! He sees all and is ever present!

You start with a vision and work to make it happen. InshAllah, you will achieve success.

I have observed this many times during my life but never really thought about it from this perspective. It was such a clear example. I thank God for giving me this realization. Allahamidulilah!

I used to think of gardens in purely romantic terms (http://wp.me/p2wvqF-1g), now there are added dimensions to the metaphor. It is a shelter from the storm of uncertainty, a haven of contentment, it is a place of of everlasting bliss… This is what we all striving to achieve.

The garden is the reward for one’s perseverance!

 

 

 

 

“Your Secret Garden…” This Is My Beloved. N.p., 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.

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…

You Get What You Ask For

It has been said, “To believe that God gives us what we ask for is to acknowledge the might of God and His love for us”

While I am grateful for all that has happened to me, both good and bad, I am also most appreciative of the lessons imparted. I ask for God’s indulgence in making this world a better place for all my progeny…

As I get older, I think more and more about the world I live in. I think about my current position in it. I think about what I have achieved and what I still aspire to achieve. I think about my children and their children.

The thought of grandchildren brings me great joy! Alhamdulillah! My lineage is perpetuated one additional generation. It is a refreshing thought! I ponder if any of the traits they acquire will be directly attributed to their grandfather, me?

I also wonder about the current state of this world. That gives me much pause for concern. I feel both powerless and at the same time, having the potential to change things for the better.

I see all that is wrong with this world and I know we can all do better. Truly, man is in the dark and ungrateful. There are misplaced people from Myramar, Syria and other places, seeking to avoid the bloodshed in their native lands. There is a gap between the rich and poor that continues to widen, unabatedly. I have witnessed the sustained disenfranchisement of women, in varying degrees. Bigotry exists in different forms throughout the world; cultural biases overshadow Quranic values. Oftentimes, the good that is preached overlooks the questionable behaviors in society. Can anything be done to correct these occurrences?

It starts with an idea, a thought and it grows over time. We make excuses for these behaviors when in essence they all go against our better nature.

When we die, we all hope to eventually reside in some place “celestial,” Heaven or Jannah, but we often overlook the disjunct between the here and now and then

There is so much abundance in this world and yet poverty still exists. How do you feel about it? When you see the image of a dead 3-year old child floating on the ocean, does this evoke a feeling that something is wrong in the 21st century? Environmental abuse for short-term gain persists and at everyones expense! I could go on and on about these events, but I prefer to emphasize pro-activity.

When one of you asks for something then let him magnify his wishes, for verily, he is asking his Lord, the most Exalted and High.” – Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

A while ago, I composed a dua or prayer which I now say every morning. This is my contribution to affect change, a small request yet huge in its potential leveraged effect. I am an optimistic person and am hopeful that the idea will catch on like a fire in a dry forest! It is about understanding; it is about what we all need to think seriously about to create a better environment, not only for us, but for future generations as well. I ask for a better world.

How can we seek to gain that “nearness to God,” tomorrow when we neglect what He has given us today? If we are strong in our faith and strive to improve our commitments, God willing, things can and will change!

I pray for a better World, I pray for World Peace and Harmony.
I pray for a World in which Man seeks a better understanding of himself
And strives NOT to offend his Neighbor.

I pray for a World in which Children can be Children,
And grow up to become fine upstanding Adults,
With a good set of Values that have been imparted to them,
By their Parents, other Family members and their Elders.

I pray that they are never again exposed to the horrors of Man,
Because these have in fact, become non-existent!

I pray for a World in which Man is the Most Diligent,
And the Most Successful CareTaker of this Most Wonderful Gift
That has been Bestowed upon us all – this Most Beautiful Planet Earth!

I pray for a better World, I pray for World Peace and Harmony.

I believe that one’s attitude is directly related to our interpretation of circumstance. I have a high regard for the power of collective thinking. One way to magnify the “essence of God” (which resides within us all) is by multiplying the virtues God has given us. When we channel our thought process, we are capable of amazing things. We can find a cure for diseases. We can place men in space. Surely we can also solve the world’s problems. God has not placed any limitations for us!

The Words We Speak Shape Our Lives

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I have been attending a discussion series put on by Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed. We met several years ago in New York City. Originally, I began following the series out of my general interest regarding aspects of Islam, but it ended up serving as something considerably more gratifying.

As many of my close friends and family are aware, I suffered a stroke during mid 2009. This was followed by a case of severe depression. It was a time in my life when I yielded to pessimistic thinking. It was truly unfortunate. One negative occurrence seemed to be followed by others. It caused me to doubt what I was capable of and almost cost me my life. Today, I can look back on those events as being “mere footnotes” in the broader scheme of things. I am sure there is a master plan, Allah-u-Alim (God knows best)!

This discussion series, where we would review various chapters of Abdulhameed’s book, The Quran and The Life of Excellence, has in many ways, been extremely therapeutic regarding my stroke after-effects as well as providing anti-depression remedies.

For example, while the results of my stroke left very little apparent physical damage, I noticed that I had developed difficulties trying to read aloud as my eyes raced across a page. Sultan remarked one day that he thought “I read at an easy to follow pace!” This later encouraged me to gain better control of my “mind-eye coordination.” Now a chore I once dreaded, no longer seems like a burden. I am actually beginning to enjoy it.

A chapter I recently read was entitled, The Words We Speak Shape Our Lives. I have never really given this much thought before. If we think of ourselves as having a “divine spirit” within each of us, the challenge we face is to channel that essence to make our lives better.

When I stop to think about my development from “cradle to present,” the impact of words is obvious. At first, as an infant, I could only utter sounds. As I grew, I learned words from parents, relatives and other sources. In time these words helped form my personality. Please think about this whenever you encounter an adult interacting with a child…

It can be said that these words compose the dictionary of our lives. “Everything that you believe is possible, or not possible, is contained in the words you have heard.”

I have had interactions with “downers” or “negative speaking” people in the past. These are people who habitually find only bad things to say. In some cases, I actually think it is a symptom of an illness. They tend to stress unhappy events, disease and the envy of others. The world appears to be a disappointing place to them. Those relationships were detrimental to my well-being. It has taken me years to recover and the process continues.

Today, I try to associate with people who are supportive of my efforts. They usually project positivity in their language and their actions. Their conversation conveys optimism, encouragement, confidence, happiness and gratitude. They give the impression that life is good and becoming better.

“God does not change a person’s condition until they make changes in themselves.”

When I think about all I have been through, I still feel the best is yet to come. The positive, reinforcing statements I heard as a child still resonate within me!

My family continues to grow. I am a grandfather. My circle of close friends continues to expand. There is so much to be grateful for.

“God is truly nurturing and most compassionate!”