My Ramadan Diary: Days 1-2

14 09 2007

Well, it’s about three hours until time to break the fast here. I would be lying if I said I’m not feeling the effects (ie. hunger, thirst, sure to be followed by some light-headedness and maybe a little nausea).  However, today has been easier than yesterday.I find that the first three to five days are the most difficult. After that, the going without food and water part of fasting gets easier. The body adjusts.

The greater struggle, the one that does not wear off in three to five days, is the struggle to control the words we speak and the deeds we do.  Which is just as important as giving up the physical.  As the Prophet (saw) said: Narrarated by Abu Huraira:

Whoever does not give up false statements (ie.telling lies), and evil deeds, and speaking badly then Allah is not in need of his (fasting) leaving his food and drink. (Bukhari)

That is the real test. People can be annoying under the best circumstances but on and empty stomach it’s even easier to lose control of your tongue and say something out of anger. 

I have found the best remedy for both struggles is the rememberance of Allah. Keeping myself busy reading the Qur’an, doing dhikr, attending my online Islamic classes, and just generally using the time to reflect on my life and ways to improve myself.  Fasting seems to bring even more clarity to self evaluations.

It’s difficult to explain but knowing that over 1 billion people are fasting along with me is also quite uplifting. I love the unity of it. In some parts of the world now, people are just beginning their fast. Perhaps someone is reading this while partaking of suhoor.  Somewhere else others are breaking their fast, perhaps organizing an iftar for the local muslims or sitting down for a meal with their family. Then, there are people like me in the middle of fasting, closing in on time for iftar, trying to get as much benefit as possible and not think about the hunger. 😀 We are all in various stages of our fasting but all united in our goal. It’s truly beautiful. A mercy from Allah.

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Turn Off That Stove Sisters!!!

11 09 2007

  

Turn off that stove! An 8 Step Ramadan Plan for Sisters

Sister SoundVision Staff Writer

If you’re in charge of cooking in your household, and it’s usually women around the world who are, then you can feel like most of your Ramadan is spent over a hot stove instead of on a prayer mat.

I was once complaining to a friend of mine about how so many Muslim women seem to miss the blessings of Ramadan because of the overemphasis on great food at Iftar time. While I attributed this to a lack of consideration for the needs of women, my friend shared an interesting story.

She was originally from Egypt, and she recounted how her mother and the women in her neighborhood actually competed with each other in Ramadan over food. In other words, they vied for the title of “maker of the best Ka’k (cookies) this side of Alexandria.” And this was despite the fact that male family members and even the Imam were encouraging women to share in the blessings of the month through prayer and mosque participation.

This Ramadan, let’s remove our inner and outer obstacles to spiritual success.

At the inner level, let’s start by ditching any feelings of guilt, competition or jealousy we may have for other sisters. You know who I’m talking about: the ones who can whip up a five-course Iftar plus dinner faster than you can say “what should I make for supper tonight?”The ones who can hold a full-time job, ferry their kids to extra-curricular activities and still hold grand Iftar parties at their homes.

Now we’re ready to do something about the biggest outer obstacle to spiritual success every Ramadan: our families. We love them and yes, their demands for food high in fat, salt and sugar can be indulged once in a while in Ramadan. But doing this every Iftar seems to defeat the purpose of fasting in the first place. Remember, it’s about self-control, even after we’re allowed to eat.

Here is an eight-step plan to help you gain more time in Ramadan for spiritual success:

  1. Call a family meeting-today. We’ve got barely a week until Ramadan begins. Choose a day and time when everyone can be present.
  2. Serve a sample Iftar menu at the meeting (I’ll explain why in point 3)
  3. Start off the meeting with the food. Then once everyone is comfortable, explain very kindly that you will only be making this food five times this Ramadan: once a week and once when guests are invited over.
  4. When the news has sunk in, explain further to your family that you would like Ramadan to be a time for becoming closer to Allah. You cannot do this if you have to spend most of your time cooking and cleaning up after everyone. Be firm but polite.
  5. Discuss the Ramadan meal plan. Ask everyone to share what kind of dishes they would like to eat that are healthy.
  6. Once all the ideas are in, establish a cooking and cleaning schedule so that everyone pitches in. Explain that while you will still be doing the main cooking, other family members will have to help either with pre-Iftar arrangements (setting table, calling everyone, etc.) or post-Iftar ones (washing dishes/loading dishwasher, wiping counters, sweeping, etc.). A sample form you can use is here.
  7. Enforce the schedule by rewarding children. For younger kids, a chore chart with a sticker for each day of help offered could work, as well as a small toy or gift at the end of every successful two-week period. For older kids, you could promise to spend a whole day with them doing something they enjoy after Ramadan or extend a privilege they have (e.g. access to the car if they drive).
  8. For husbands, express your appreciation verbally by saying thank you and explaining how the extra help is a real spiritual boost.

If this plan is successfully implemented, you can extend it to the rest of the year, thereby gaining more time to focus on your spiritual needs. But even if you get more time on your prayer mat than over your stove just one month out of the year, the one where our good deeds count for more, it’ll be worth the effort.

So go ahead. Turn off that stove and call that meeting!

© Sound Vision Foundation  website http://www.SoundVision.com





Coffee? Tea? Yes, Please!

2 09 2007

Whether you prefer a morning “cup of joe” or a “spot of tea” in the afternoon, both are proven to contain significant health benefits. I took the liberty of doing some digging on the net and came up with a few articles on the benefits of coffee and the benefits of tea. This is not meant to be taken as health advice. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks to you as we are all different and health conditions vary from person to person. And of course, As we learn in Islam, everything in moderation….

Ok, First let’s start with coffee:

“Overall, the research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful,” says Tomas DePaulis, PhD, research scientist at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts its own medical research and tracks coffee studies from around the world. “For most people, very little bad comes from drinking it, but a lot of good.”

Consider this: At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson’s, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly half the risk of gallstones.

Coffee even offsets some of the damage caused by other vices, some research indicates. “People who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those who don’t,” says DePaulis.

(Source: http://men.webmd.com/features/coffee-new-health-food)

Recently, alot of buzz has also been generated about coffee’s effect on short term memory:

One benefit of drinking a daily cup of coffee is improved mental performance. Coffee helps improve alertness, attention and wakefulness that can actually improve mental and work performance. Groggy workers often miss important details and may make mistakes that they wouldn’t otherwise make. A cup of coffee awakens the brain and helps you to be more alert in your daily performances, whether as a worker, student or parent.

Another benefit that coffee may provide is aiding in Short Term Memory. The caffeine acts as a stimulant to the brain so that the attention can be drawn to what is necessary to focus on.

Indeed, the brain responds to coffee in a unique way. The extra alertness can often help to focus, concentrate and even remember details at a higher rate.

Coffee also aids workers to concentrate. 200mg of caffeine can significantly reduce the tendency towards sleepiness and convert grogginess to alertness and concentration. In fact, coffee usually helps workers for at least 5-7 hours which can help out for the entire shift.

Also, many workers will find themselves feeling especially groggy after lunch. This is also an efficient time to drink coffee because attention, memory and concentration are most likely a part of the job. There are also studies that have shown that people who drink coffee over the lunch hour are more contented and more interested in their work, as well as more alert. However, it is also important that addiction to coffee can eventually increase the rate of irritability.

It is also important to consider what is necessary to perform at your best. Coffee can actually increase information processing by 10%. This is especially important for repetitive work. Coffee can also help to deal with the problem of headaches. (Source: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/80620/benefits_of_drinking_coffee_why_that.html)

Now for the tea:

A 2006 study published in the September 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded “Green tea consumption is associated with reduced mortality due to all causes and due to cardiovascular disease but not with reduced mortality due to cancer.” The study, conducted by the Tohoku University School of Public Policy in Japan, followed 40,530 Japanese adults, ages 40-79, with no history of stroke, coronary heart disease, or cancer at baseline beginning in 1994. The study followed all participants for up to 11 years for death from all causes and for up to 7 years for death from a specific cause. Participants who consumed 5 or more cups of tea per day had a 16 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 26 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than participants who consumed less than one cup of tea per day. The study also states, “If green tea does protect humans against CVD or cancer, it is expected that consumption of this beverage would substantially contribute to the prolonging of life expectancy, given that CVD and cancer are the two leading causes of death worldwide.”[19] [20]

A study published in the February 2006 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded “A higher consumption of green tea is associated with a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in humans.”[21] [22]

In May 2006, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine weighed in on the issue with a review article that looked at more than 100 studies on the health benefits of green tea. They pointed to what they called an “Asian paradox,” which refers to lower rates of heart disease and cancer in Asia despite high rates of cigarette smoking. They theorized that the 1.2 liters of green tea that is consumed by many Asians each day provides high levels of polyphenols and other antioxidants. These compounds may work in several ways to improve cardiovascular health, including preventing blood platelets from sticking together (This anticoagulant effect is the reason doctors warn surgical patients to avoid green tea prior to procedures that rely on a patient’s clotting ability) and improving cholesterol levels, said the researchers, whose study appeared in the May issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. Specifically, green tea may prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type), which, in turn, can reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, the researchers wrote.[23]

A study published in the August 22, 2006 edition of Biological Psychology looked at the modification of the stress response via L-Theanine, a chemical found in green tea. It “suggested that the oral intake of L-Theanine could cause anti-stress effects via the inhibition of cortical neuron excitation.”[24]

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial done by Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, 240 adults were given either theaflavin-enriched green tea extract in form of 375mg capsule daily or a placebo. After 12 weeks, patients in the tea extract group had significantly less low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and total cholesterol (16.4% and 11.3% lower than baseline, p<0.01) than the placebo group. The author concluded that theaflavin-enriched green tea extract can be used together with other dietary approaches to reduce LDL-C.

A study published in the January, 2005 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded “Daily consumption of tea containing 690 mg catechins for 12 wk reduced body fat, which suggests that the ingestion of catechins might be useful in the prevention and improvement of lifestyle-related diseases, mainly obesity.” [25]

Antioxidants in green tea may prevent and reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine study published in the April 13 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study examined the effects of green tea polyphenols on collagen-induced arthritis in mice, which is similar to rheumatoid arthritis in humans. In each of three different study groups, the mice given the green tea polyphenols were significantly less likely to develop arthritis. Of the 18 mice that received the green tea, only eight (44 percent) developed arthritis. Among the 18 mice that did not receive the green tea, all but one (94 percent) developed arthritis. In addition, researchers noted that the eight arthritic mice that received the green tea polyphenols developed less severe forms of arthritis.

A German study found that an extract of green tea and hot water (filtered), applied externally to the skin for 10 minutes, three times a day could help people with skin damaged from radiation therapy (after 16-22 days). [26]

A study published in the December 1999 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “Green tea has thermogenic properties and promotes fat oxidation beyond that explained by its caffeine content per se. The green tea extract may play a role in the control of body composition via sympathetic activation of thermogenesis, fat oxidation, or both.”[27]

In lab tests, EGCG, found in green tea, was found to prevent HIV from attacking T-Cells. However, it is not known if this has any effect on humans yet. [28]

A study in the August, 2003 issue of a new potential application of Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences found that “a new potential application of (–)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate [a component of green tea] in prevention or treatment of inflammatory processes is suggested” [29]

(SOURCE: WIKIPEDIA)

Benefits of Black Tea:

Black Tea:

The USDA recently stated that drinking black tea may lower bad cholesterol levels and could one day be used to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

While studies show that black tea may lower the risk of heart disease, more studies are showing the benefits of black tea in relation to lowering the risk of cancer. Black tea can relieve diarrhea, lower cholesterol levels, and even help prevent tooth decay. Black tea has been shown to normalize blood pressure, expand the airways of asthmatics, and has recently been shown to lower the risk of lung cancer in light smokers.

White Tea:

This tea is said to contain even higher amounts of the cancer fighting antioxidants than green tea. White tea may also prevent and halt the progress of bacterial infections such as strep,pneumonia, etc. And like other teas, is shown to have dental benefits.

A few tips to get the most out of your tea (source: Harvard women’s health watch)

  • Drinking a cup of tea a few times a day to absorb antioxidants and other healthful plant compounds. In green-tea drinking cultures, the usual amount is three cups per day.
  • Allow tea to steep for three to five minutes to bring out its catechins.
  • The best way to get the catechins and other flavonoids in tea is to drink it freshly brewed. Decaffeinated, bottled ready-to-drink tea preparations, and instant teas have less of these compounds.
  • Tea can impede the absorption of iron from fruits and vegetables. Adding lemon or milk or drinking tea between meals will counteract this problem.

So, next time you put the kettle on, think of all the benefits you are getting.

A worthy post to check out on coffee and the unfortunate trade practices surrounding it:

http://intuitivemuslima.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee/