Saturday, July 01, 2017

Happy Canada Day, eh? The Top 5

 It's Canada's 150th birthday, and we are throwing a grand party from coast to coast to coast. I am glad my parents came here oh so long ago from the Middle East to pursue a better life for themselves and their kids, and I've always been really proud to be a Canadian. So from memory, here's some top moments of being a Canadian.

1. My West Coast trip.

If you wanted to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, it's right here at home in Canada.

2. The time when we won the Olympic hockey gold.

Well, there's several.




But the greatest of them HAS to be the 2002 victory. Everything was in place for a great story. The game was in United States, our biggest rival, AND they were playing the final against us. The return of the NHL stars. The lucky loonie. The late equalizer.


3. Justin Trudeau's Election Night Speech, 2015

It had been a bruising election. On one hand was an ego-driven Prime Minister campaigning on policies of hatred and bigotry targeted at Muslims, and against niqab wearing women in particular. It would be a precursor to the campaign of hate in the United States to follow in 2016. The election grew particularly ugly in Quebec, with incidents of attacks against Muslims and minorities reported. The Prime Minister then spoke of "old stock Canadians" and seems to have been hell bent on wining by dividing the country. We Canadians needed to repudiate that, and to reject that so thoroughly that the mere thoughts of such bigotry would be buried, at least for a little while.

Enter Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man who built Canada as it is today. He won, and won a majority. And in his very first speech as Prime Minister-elect, on his election night victory, he gave speech for the ages. One particular section (19:30), about a hijab wearing Muslim woman, even caught the attention of Americans and one of my American friends mused that we would never hear an American politician say something like that.

4. The kindness of Canadians when I broke my foot

Toronto is a big city. It's a busy, bustling, and often chaotic city. Yet, in early 2016, when I had a broken foot and limped to work on crutches, I never had to stand on public transit. People would rush to offer me their seat. This was also the time when I saw a women being racist towards a minority woman, and the whole train basically turned on that lady and forced her to get out at that next station.

5. The day when I became a citizen

Canada is not a perfect country. It's a work in progress. Some injustices, especially towards the First Nations, are still quite recent. Yet, over all countries in the world, it has something that others don't.

You have to live here to get it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rainy weather? Or respite from the heat?

We have all heard the "glass half empty half full" maxim. I was recently reminded of this.

I shared a screenshot of the weather forecast yesterday and captioned it with "Seriously ?!!!"

It was a horrible weather forecast for weary Torontonians waiting for the much promised summer weather. I mean, this is end of May, and nearly June!!! Where is the heat?

One of my friends then commented, "Barakah for fasting".

I was literally blown away with that comment. I never even looked at it that way. I mean, my last post was about how hard Ramadan could be for some people fasting here for 17 hours in the heat! And here I was, showing cool, wet temperatures and complaining about it. Not to mention that rain is considered a time when prayers are accepted, as is Ramadan, and here the two were together.

Truly, a Barakah.

PS. BTW the latest forecast has called for rain even on Saturday. So ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ramadan Can Be Hard

This is the time of the year the our Facebook feed is full of articles about the 'wonders of Ramadan', or of how this is a 'magical time of the year' and how to 'increase our piety and good deeds' or even the occasional 'how to get fit in Ramadan' guide.

Without taking ANY thing away from those posts - really Ramadan IS a wonderful time of the year, it IS a time to get fit, both spiritually and mentally, and it IS something we wait for all year round, we also have to acknowledge one important thing.

Ramadan can be hard.

Yes, it's not a blasphemous statement to make that fasting at this time of the year can be hard for various groups of people. Rather than shunning those views, let's examine them and learn why it can be hard, and how we can plan for it.

If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be a test. The Quran is clean in 2:183, that fasting is a way for us to attain piety. Piety is also tied to discipline, which means doing what is prescribed for us and abstaining from what is forbidden. That is not easy, but Ramadan gives us a training in discipline. So why can it be hard?

  1. Physically these are the longest times of the year. In Toronto, Canada Fajr is around 4 am and Maghreb around 9 pm. That's almost 17 hours without food, and more importantly, water.
  2. For those that work in a non-Muslim country, everyone around you is eating and drinking, and carrying on as normal. Meanwhile you are hungry, thirsty, and yet expected to be as productive and energetic as usual. Unlike Muslim countries, where Ramadan almost has a magical holiday atmosphere around it, this is missing in the West.
  3. For those that live in the northern areas, it's hard to find the time to pray full taraweeh, sleep, eat proper iftar and suhoor, and also put in a proper day's work in the office.
  4. For those that don't have too many other Muslim friends, it's hard to get into the spirit of Ramadan when you are the only one observing it.

I am sure there are other reasons (both legitimate and made up) on why Ramadan can be hard, but these are some of the main ones. Here's some of my suggestions on how to deal with it.

  1. First of all, know that Ramadan is a gift from Allah for you, so be thankful for it. It is important to approach Ramadan with a positive frame of mind. If someone you love gives you a gift, you don't criticize it. When the gift is from the Most High, you shouldn't find complaints such as 'oh it's June and it's hot' etc. Approach Ramadan thinking it's something you want to make full use of this year, and you will. That is Faith.
  2. If you have some health issues, address them beforehand. A Muslim doctor will know and acknowledge your beliefs, but a non-Muslim doctor who is familiar with your religion and respects it can provide useful information on how to deal with certain issues. Know that you don't HAVE to fast if it's medically harmful. If you are pregnant, for example, or sick, or travelling, you are given exemptions by Allah. Especially if you are pregnant you shouldn't be putting your unborn child at risk. If you need to take certain injections, for example if you are diabetic, there are ways you can do that and fast. Bottom line - clear it with your doctor before Ramadan.
  3. Find (and make) more Muslim friends. This goes without saying. Not only will they help you by providing a support system in Ramadan, but will also be helpful outside of Ramadan. A person is known by the company they keep.
  4. Attend the mosque for prayers. Maghreb is a good time to attend, as many mosques have iftars, but also attend simply to earn more hasanah and be imbibed with that Ramadan feeling. Even if you cannot stay for the full 20 taraweeh, at least stay for the 8. Or even just the fard part of Isha
  5. Do NOT make this month about food. Do not obsess over sumptuous iftars or speed eat through suhoor. Make a conscious effort to eat healthy, detox and take Ramadan as an opportunity to lose weight.
  6. Read (and try to understand) the Quran. Ramadan is the month of the Quran. This is a wonderful book. The more you read, the more you delve into the tafseer, the more you start to love the Book and the more you marvel at its beauty.
  7. If you have children, even if they are not fasting, involve them in religious activities (even if at least one a day). There's lots of facebook groups on Ramadan arts and crafts, for example.
Do you have any suggestions on how you make Ramadan easier to observe? 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Condo Gardening As A Beginner

I was never a gardener. It always seemed too much work. I used to watch my mother garden, and see how she toiled away in the heat and how meticulous she was with her plants and think - wow, that's a lot of dedication for some greenery. So I never picked up gardening as a hobby. When we moved to our own place in a condo, I thought we would never have plants or even do any bit of gardening.

BCCB (which stands for Bangladeshi Canadian - Canadian Bangladeshi) is an organization that I am part of. It has over 20,000 members across its various chapters throughout Canada, and one of the chapters is a local gardening club, and I was on their mailing list.

They were holding an Aloe Vera workshop, and it sounded interesting, so I signed up for it. You attend an hour long workshop where they give you a free (yes, free!) pot, soil and a baby Aloe Vera plant. I attended the workshop, and at the end of the day, I now had a plant without any place to put it on my condo.

So I was intrigued. Let's see if I can keep this plant alive, I thought. I mean, water once a week and leave it alone. Shouldn't be too hard, should it?

So I found a place on top of my souvenirs shelf that received a good amount of sunlight throughout the day, and left the plant there. I would water it once a week as instructed. After some time, I saw one of the leaves wither, but the rest seemed to be fine, and even seemed to be growing. This isn't so bad, I thought. It was actually nice to come home and check on the plant.

Then I saw another workshop by the same BCCB group. They were having a lau workshop. Lau, also known as bottle gourd, or kaddu. Now which Bengali doesn't like bottle gourd? And once again, seeds would be given out free, along with soil and pots.

Can I do this, I thought? I mean, for this I would need a proper garden, eventually. That's what my parents' place was for. So this time both my wife and I signed up for the workshop.

The workshop was certainly interesting. We even learned about plant sex! If we ever meet up in person, ask me about that story. But it was definitely enjoyable. I never realized I could sit and listen to an hour of someone talking about lau and be fascinated by it. So when we came home, we found a sunny spot beside one of our windows, put some boxes there and then out pots, and waited.

For some time, there was nothing. I looked every day, and waited. Suddenly, one evening my wife excitedly called me to the window. The baby plant had emerged!

The growth was soon very rapid. It was amazing to see just how fast this plant could grow from nothing. The way the seedlings turned into a plant reminded me of this verse of Allah.

"So observe the effects of the mercy of Allah - how He gives life to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed, that [same one] will give life to the dead, and He is over all things competent." Quran, 30:50

The instructions were to keep the soil moist, but not wet or over drenched. We took care of that, and also made sure there was enough sunlight.

It was soon time to be planting them in the soil, but we had to take care of sudden dips in the temperature. Even in May, we had a frost warning early in the month. The temperature during the day was good, but at nights it dipped rapidly. The instructions we got was to wait for Victoria Day or even the last weekend of May to plant these.

Yesterday I saw creeping vines come out of the plant. This was the sign that it is almost ready to planted into a garden, along with a supporting trellis. So that is my next project. Waiting for next weekend so I can plant them into my parents' garden, and then build a trellis for them.

I also bought a small mini rose plant (called a kordana rose). So that is the extent of my mini condo garden right now, all on top of a box by the window sill.

The plan now is to build a proper shelf by that window, and then start growing sprint onions and perhaps even some micro-greens.

Wish me luck this growing season!