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!”

I AM NOT GOING TO LET THEM SPOIL MY HOLIDAY!!!

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I awoke this early morning feeling happy to have completed my best Ramadan.

While scanning the morning media, I came across a news brief about a gunman who had taken the lives of four Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Sadly, I mourn the death of the victims.

I offer my condolences for the grieving families. We are all Americans.

It is the minds of those weak and misguided who calculate and do such things. These are feeble attempts to perpetuate hate and extremism. I wish it would stop!

Each morning I pray “woe beyond to those who cause harm and suffering to the innocents, show them the err in their ways! If not in this life, then most surely in the next…”

I AM NOT GOING TO LET THEM SPOIL MY HOLIDAY!!!

Kendo, Ramadan and Sports Performance

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An area of training that has intrigued me for quite some time is whether someone can fast and still maintain a level of physical conditioning such that one can perform satisfactorily in Kendo.

I recently had the chance to test this thesis using myself as, pardon the term, “guinea pig!”

This was my first tournament since I suffered a stroke, several years ago. I also had the misfortune of almost passing out from heat exhaustion in kendo class one hot summer day. Now I always try to be well hydrated while participating in practice.

The temperature can reach as high as over 100 degrees Fahrenheit where we practice. There is very little cross ventilation in our space and the windows may be only partially opened due to possible neighbor complains about noise levels. This coupled with the Kendo armor and our bodies are probably exposed to temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above that!

My sensei (Noboru Kataoka) came up to me a few weeks earlier and asked if I would be interested in participating in the 2015 AEUSKF Tournament? I replied yes without any hesitation. While one part of me was a bit apprehensive. The other part was eager to take on the challenge. In the past, I have been active in Kendo events throughout Japan, in the Dominican Republic, in Jakarta, Indonesia and in Shenzhen, China. I believe that in Kendo, you must be able to apply yourself under any and all situations.

Some may view it as simply practicing a sport. I tend to take it a little more seriously. I perceive it as training the mind. “The path to Hei-jou-shin (calm, peaceful mind) takes you down the road of fear (odore), through the valley of doubt (utagai), across the mountain of surprise (odoroki), beyond the sea of confusion (osage)!” This was a motivational phase I created many years ago that puts all things in perspective for me. It is about enduring in spite of the obstacles, which may confront you.

Making this even more of a challenge, I had to consider that I would also be observing Ramadan. This is the month on the Muslim calendar generally highlighted by abstaining from sexual activity, food and any liquid during daylight hours! The first two are relatively easy for most people. It is the lack of water, which incidentally, makes up about 65% of the human body, which is the most difficult to endure!

Prior studies on Ramadan and sports performance have centered on individuals in the 34-year and younger age brackets, and one study focusing on fighter pilots in the 27-49 year bracket. Most concluded thatperformance during brief (e.g., squat jump, countermovement jump, maximal voluntary contraction, etc.) or very short-duration (e.g., 5-m sprint, 10-m sprint, 20-m sprint, etc.) maximal exercises is maintained during the month of Ramadan. However, single or repetitive short-term maximal efforts and long-duration exercises are generally affected by Ramadan even if some studies did not show any significant change.” I could find no studies deriving the possible effects on those 60 and above; hence I am the guinea pig!

Fortunately, I would be playing in the Senior Division at the Kendo tournament; I believe I was the only one who had prior experience with a stroke!

While I was later eliminated in my second match, my biggest concern did not occur. I did not get exhausted or feel tired or pass out. This to me was a personal achievement under the circumstances and will propel me to work even harder in the future.

This experience actually enabled me to analyze a very important element of Kendo. It is about how you engage your opponent or adversary. Your breathing should be controlled. Your mind should be in a constant state of readiness. You have to be ready to strike at will. After you strike, you must follow through into zanshin*

The beautiful thing about this is now I better understand what I now want to accomplish. It is embedded in my brain and will now become a part of me. This is part of the grace and beauty of Kendo, one of my favorite pastimes.

I belong to a good Kendo group (the New York City Kendo Club). I have one of the best Sensei’s and in my 34 years of training I know what has to be done to improve. I guess I am still on that path; it is truly a most exciting journey!

* Zanshin – is a term used in the Japanese martial arts. It refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. A literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind”

Sources of Inspiration

“Body Water.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 July 2015.

http://www.esciencecentral.org/ebooks. Effects of Ramadan Fasting on Health and Athletic Performance (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Salmon, Geoff. Kendo, Inherited Wisdom and Personal Reflections. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Aug. 2013. Web.

Preparing for Ramadhan 2015…

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As the month of Ramadhan rapidly approaches this year (approximately June 18th- July 16th 2015), I have decided to share some of my thoughts on this blessed event. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia the daily duration will be about 15 hours per day, about 17 hours in Beijing, China, around 16 hours in New York City and around 13 hours in Jakarta, Indonesia. Current estimates of the world Muslim population are close to 1.5 billion people. In short, quite a few people will be performing some type of Ramadhan activity during this time period.

I shall preface my remarks by saying that my thoughts have been greatly inspired by Sultan Abdulhameed. He runs sessions entitled “The Quran Discussion Group,“ in New York. We examine and give our personal interpretations of what particular Surahs and Ayats mean to us. It is particularly mind expanding. We are encouraged to share our personal insights. While not widely followed in much of Muslim society, the approach does seem to be gathering traction. It has reinforced my faith and I always leave these discussions with an improved understanding of the role I can play in making for a better world.

I met Sultan about five years ago, when I was trying to recover from a low point in my life. He had just authored a book, The Quran and the Life of Excellence. I later read it and am continually transformed by its contents to this day.

Ramadhan commemorates the time when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about 1400 years ago. It is considered a time to work on one’s Taqwa or self restraint, to be consciously aware in the worship of God (SWT) and attain nearness to Him and in so doing, seek to become more pious.

I have always used this event as a time to refocus my energies on the discipline (or lack there of) that has brought me this far on my journey. There have been good times as well as bad times. God (SWT) is praised for all of them! There were lessons to be taught and absorbed. I continue to cope and learn.

God (SWT) is the best teacher!

Ramadhan is the time when I especially try to work on my transformation process. Self-evaluating people learn to set goals for the future and map out a strategy for achieving them. “It is possible for everyone to move towards the life they want by making systematic changes month by month and year by year. A happy life is a balanced life and we can aim to succeed in all its aspects. Everyone’s life is different but some areas are important to most people”:

– Spiritual growth
– Happiness in personal relationships
– Quality of your health
– Financial freedom
– Professional success

 

Spiritual Growth

For some Muslims, prayer can be an empty ritual. One’s mind can get easily distracted. In many cases, people may be speaking words that they do not fully understand. How is this supposed to help transform anyone?

While English is my native language, my prayers are in Arabic and English. It takes a little extra effort but after 40 some odd years of reciting, my understanding is enhanced and my gesture is sincere.

The five disciplines in fasting, which Muslims try to work on during Ramadhan, are:

– Abstaining from food during daylight hours
– Abstaining from drink during daylight hours
– Abstaining from sexual activity during daylight hours
– Waking before dawn
– Self-evaluation or reflection

Admittedly, some of these disciplines are easier to adhere to than others, but think about it, none of these are really that life threatening for most people. This is about more than simply depriving oneself of the things that may give us pleasure or fulfillment. It has been said that the straight path leads directly to God (SWT). This in turn makes it less likely that one will succumb to assorted compulsive avoidances and addictions and will increase the likelihood that one will act wisely, ethically and humanely. We must not yield to the potential irritability, which may occur.

Fasting is a powerful method of learning to be patient in adversity. I tend to view it as attempt to gain better control over one’s nafs or ego. It is about trying to develop a softer heart and feeling compassion for those less fortunate. I recall a gentleman I met once from Syria. His “always cheerful” demeanor particularly struck me. He said that, “Ramadhan was like Christmas to Muslims!” He would smile and place holiday lights in his windows during that time of the year.

 

Happiness in Relationships

Have you ever had everything you could hope for and still felt something was missing? This was I in 2009. I thought I was a good person. I was in fairly good shape. I ate right. I was regularly mistaken for someone about ten years younger. I was very kind to my staff. I was generous in monetary contributions. My family life was not what I had expected it to be. I was in the process of changing it.

One day, while rising from my morning prayer, I became dizzy and passed out. I waited four days before seeking medical attention. I was later diagnosed with a stroke! My speech was slurred, my coordination skills were a bit off but I was lucky. I was told that the results could have been much worse had I not taken good care of my physical health. But matters did in fact continue to deteriorate. I was involved in a nasty divorce at the time. My mental health began to suffer. This jolly, happy go lucky fellow developed severe depression! It was a time when I could see nothing good happening out of my current situation. I could not sleep. All of my thoughts became very grim. It was as if all of my fighting spirit had been sapped from my body. I lost all sense of hope and things did eventually get progressively worse. There were points when I actually considered suicide. I was in this state for a year before I was determined to get help.

I was later treated for a serotonin deficiency and encouraged to attend therapy sessions for the depression. Finally, I had a scientific answer for what was affecting my moods. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or hormone, which affects how you feel from a biochemical point of view. In its absence or lack of, you can experience loneliness and depression. Most antidepressants focus on the enhanced production of serotonin.

This was the beginning of a turning point in my life. It was at this time that I developed a greater sense of compassion for my fellow man and woman. Imagine a room full of people that were all more or less suffering from some form or type of depression. There was a New York City police officer, a Hasidic Jew, assorted people with chemical drug dependencies; adolescents with self inflicted cutting tendencies, abused housewives and me. We all shared our stories and our plights. All of a sudden my particular problems seemed less important. I listened to the stories of these individuals and wished there was something I could do for them but I was basically in the same boat.

I was able to survive this episode based in large part based on the acknowledgement of goodwill and support received from close friends, my children and other family members. I began to realize the importance of my role in other people’s lives. There is a verse in the Quran, which says, “God (SWT) does not burden a soul beyond its capacity (2:286)”and a similar Biblical verse, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).” The fact that I was able to endure these things has only strengthened my belief in God (SWT) and the trials and tests He may put us through. They are all there to make us stronger.

One night while offering my prayers, I asked God (SWT) for aid in finding that special mate, someone “to love forever and always, here on Earth and in Jannah.” Years later, after a worldwide search, much patience and perseverance, I finally came across that special person, my “better-half.” Today my mind is sharp again. My spirit soars and I am truly grateful to God (SWT) for all that has happened. Alhamdulillah! (Praise God!)

 

Quality of Health

Ramadhan is the perfect time to start to get our health in order. An office assistant that once worked for me used say that “deprivation builds character.” She was referring to her approach to child-raising but the statement holds much merit beyond its original use.

Research has shown that the mental focus achieved during Ramadhan increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which cause the body to produce more brain cells, thus improving brain function. Furthermore, a distinct reduction in the amount of the hormone cortisol, produced by the adrenal gland means that stress levels are greatly reduced both during and after Ramadhan.

I can think of no better a time to try and rid oneself of poor habits than Ramadhan. Many of the vices like smoking and sugary foods should be avoided or restricted during this time. As you abstain from them your body will gradually acclimate itself to their absence, until your addiction is kicked for good.

The reduction of food eaten throughout the Ramadhan period causes the stomach to gradually contract, meaning that you will have to consume less food before feeling full. By not eating during daylight hours you will also find that your metabolism becomes more efficient, meaning the amount of nutrients absorbed for your food improves. This is because on an increase in a hormone called adiponectin, which is produced by the combination of fasting and eating late at night. It allows your muscles to absorb more nutrients. If you want to get in the habit of healthy eating, Ramadhan is the perfect time to start.

I try to follow these suggestions in addition to pursuing a regular exercise routine. Ramadhan is not a time to become lax or lazy!

 

Financial Freedom

We live in a society where money and finance play an important role in determining the conditions of people’s well-being. In many instances, it can lead to increased stress. Differences in the approach to handling finances often lead to marital discord. Following simple rules related to budgeting and investing a part of your income to help create future security can alleviate some of these problems. Establishing a plan to take advantage of investment opportunities should be a part of your strategy to build wealth. Finally, being charitably generous may also help multiply your wealth. “You can thrive by regularly giving away a portion of your income to worthwhile causes. The Quran mandates 2.5% or more.”

Once you realize how easy it is to identify the sources of routine frivolous expenditures and begin to reduce them, it will be that much easier to work towards achieving your financial goals.

 

Professional Success

A lot of people are unhappy with the jobs they hold. This could be due to unclear choices made earlier in life. It could have been due to jobs taken out of necessity rather than choice. In either event, if you are not happy, develop a plan to change your situation.

As circumstances may change, some professions may disappear and others may thrive. You can take action by planning to change your conditions. There are books that you can read, workshops that you can attend and there is the Internet. Only those who pro-actively plan their careers continue to do well in changing circumstances.

Over the years, I have tended to view my work as love in action. I have a passion for what I do. I have been blessed with having benefited from a good education and have applied the skills learned in successfully having chosen a fairly good career. My thought process has changed. The challenge is in being motivated not by external rewards so much as by self-expression and service to humanity.

 

A Time to Recalibrate One’s GPS!

In summing up what Ramadhan means to me, it is a time of self-assessment, a time to check your GPS to determine if you have strayed too far off course and still have time to correct it. Some may view it as just another ritual, but it is far more than that. It is spiritual. It is scientific. It is beneficial to your health. It can provide a time in planning to improve one’s life and hopefully also move closer to God (SWT). As cited earlier: God (SWT) is the best teacher! (Allah-u-Alim!)

 

Sources of Inspiration

  1. Abdulhameed, Sultan. The Quran and the Life of Excellence. N.p: Outskirts, 2010. Print
  2. ‘Abd al-Haqq via Sufis Without Borders Yahoo Group
  3. “Finding “my Better Half,” the Other Half of My Deen…”This Is My Beloved. FencingPoet, 2 Dec. 2014. Web.
  4. “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Ramadan.”Realbuzz 4. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web.
  5. Bolt, Laurence G. Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design. Penguin Group, 1999. Print

The Power of Prayer

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Every morning at the crack of dawn, I look forward to the time in which I pray. It is a time when I contemplate my life, review what I have done and seek guidance on how I should proceed further.

Prayer, salat, supplication or whatever you might call it is your personal conversation with God. There are many characterizations of this gesture. Some may dress a certain way. Others may stress that it be performed in a language not understood by all, simply a repetition of verses. It may argued that its structure is tantamount to its conveyance. I would humbly submit regarding the issue of form over substance, the latter of the two takes priority.

It is, I repeat, your conversation with God! I only hope that your sentiments are from the heart, most sincere and occur on a fairly regular basis.

The contents of a good prayer should include gratitude and a request. It should express gratitude acknowledging the excellence and favors of the One to Whom we address our prayer. We may not realize just how much we have to be thankful for, from the air we breathe to life itself…

Life is better when one shows gratitude. It sets you in the right attitude and may protect you from temptations. It has been said that “God turns to man when man turns to God.”

The other crucial element is the request. The vicissitudes of life can be overwhelming. We must acknowledge that we do not control all things and that a little help may be warranted. Only through the remembrance of God and His role in all our lives can matters truly be placed in their proper perspective. One’s request may be to seek guidance on how to make someone’s life better.

On a personal note, as I get older, I feel the need to express gratitude for all that has happened to me, both good and bad. I have come to believe that all experiences are just trials and challenges instituted by God to help me better myself, to make me stronger. He is the Guardian, Sustainer, Provider and Nurturer of all things!

There have been times in my life when I have achieved much success. There were other times when my will to see future days waned. I was happy for God’s intervention when it was most needed. Now I view each setback as an opportunity to regroup and continue to press forward. Now I begin to understand the importance of having faith. I accept all challenges and take them all in stride…

Today, after I pray for me, my family and my friends, I find myself praying for a better world. I pray for world peace and harmony (http://wp.me/p2hekR-v). I believe we each have the sense of a divine presence within us. If we concentrate collectively, if we each make an extra effort, anything is possible!

Won’t you join me in this prayer? It costs you nothing and the potential for rewards are immeasurable…