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!

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…

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!

Preparing for Ramadhan 2015…

dreamstime_xs_42141645

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

My experiences observing Layla-tul Qadr on August 3, 2013

prayerMy preparation to attend Layla-tul Qadr started out like any other day.  A cousin called to discuss her plans for starting an online business. I am used to people calling me for my advice on a myriad of subjects. I guess some of it comes from having reached a certain age (60s) and being able to communicate with people on just about any subject matter.

On my trip into the city that afternoon, I encountered a very tall drag queen, about 7 ft. tall in 6 in. heels weighing all of about 150 lbs. On the train, a dark-skinned woman about 7 months pregnant was asking for help. I looked into her eyes and felt compelled to give.

I was able to better grasp the significance of this most holy time on the Islamic calendar by reading part of Sura (44:3-4):

“that We revealed this Qur’an in a blessed night (Layla-tul Qadr); for We wanted to forewarn mankind.
In that night every matter is decided wisely”

This was to commemorate the night when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad (PBUH), some 1,400 years ago. This “night of power” is also referred to as the “night of destiny.” It is a night when God’s power is all-present and we can choose our destiny. It is believed that a Muslim’s past sins are forgiven if the person prays throughout this night.

I was recently reading of attempts to correlate this holiest of periods with terrorist uprisings. It was reported on one news site that, such links between Islamic holy days and militancy allow al Qaeda to continue to define what Islam is. For them, Islam is not a religion with spirituality, but is a political movement, where the holiest of days are simply calendar markers to run campaigns…”

I repeat, this is the night when Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation.

Misguided may try to align their actions with this most holy event and misinformed may try to legitimize that notion but the moment is bigger than any can conceive…

But, I digress and this is about my experiences and my destiny. I tried to keep a fairly light schedule on this day: Attend Kendo class. Share in Iftar with some Egyptian friends and finally make my way to downtown Manhattan for Layla-tul Qadr with members of the NYU community. I attended the first Layla-tul Qadr by the ICNYU last year (http://wp.me/p2hekR-4K) and I was eager to participate in this years’ event.

I disembarked from the train a couple of stops before my destination and began a slow walk through areas of Greenwich Village I used to frequent over four decades earlier. The area really hadn’t changed much at its core, still students, deviants, shops to buy things and places to eat. One place on the corner of West 8th Street and 6th Avenue caught my attention, offering 2 slices of pizza and a drink for $2.75!

As I edged closer to my destination and was about to cross the street, I received a text message from a friend in Indonesia, 10,000 miles away, requesting I pray for her father. This was a strange request, considering I hadn’t heard from her in weeks, and just as I was around to cross the street. She had no knowledge of my intentions or where I would be at that moment. Occurrences such as this only re-enforce my beliefs.

Finally I arrived at the church where the event was to be held. There was a crowd forming outside. I could hear some brothers debating what Islam meant to them. My response has always been, “it is where I have found comfort…” My view of the world is such that we can all exist in peace and harmony and in the comfort of our own belief systems as long as they don’t infringe upon others.

Sura 98:5 sums up my position:

“But they were enjoined nothing more than to worship God, be sincere in religion and be regular in prayer and give charity, for this is the essence of religion.”

There were at least several hundred people at this event. One has to be mindful of all the Muslim communities in New York City and around the rest of the world that were holding similar events during this time period.

We finished Taraweeh or the extra prayers before tending to the prayers for Layla-tul Qadr, which are performed throughout the night.

You could begin to feel the power of God in the room as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder and sisters standing shoulder to shoulder all began repeating a unison, over and over again, Subhan’Allah (Glory to God), Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), La ilaha ill-Allah (There is no God but God), Allah u Akbar (God is great)!

At one point I could feel the floor vibrating. I have a keen sense of such things. Maybe it was due to the resonance of trains in the nearby subway. Maybe it was just due to my vivid imagination. Perhaps God was making His presence known. I checked later, no one else seemed to feel it.

All I know is that night, I prayed for God’s forgiveness for all my transgressions, I prayed for the father in Jakarta, Indonesia, I prayed for my family and I prayed for a better life. This is the kind of person I was becoming.