The Barometer of Islamic Society
In many countries, a yearly address is given to highlight the current status of society such as the State of the Union address delivered annually by the President of the USA. These addresses tend to focus on economics as economics is the largest factor in voting and politics, as though money is not a measure of happiness in life, it correlates with political satisfaction. Yet, as Muslims striving in the cause of Allah , we should have our own criterion to determine if our society is in a positive state or in a decline. We should not depend on rulers or mass media which are not always honest or may be under coercive measures and far from independent, to avoid bias or false perceptions.
Secrets of a Productive Muslimah – Ramadan Edition
By: Zohra Sarwari
At ProductiveMuslimah, we believe the ultimate secret to a successful Muslimah is that she strives with sincere intentions and uses all the resources around her to achieve the highest stations in Paradise. We are always looking for the ‘secrets to productivity’ and wanted to explore how some of the Muslim women today manage time effectively and perform the best in all the roles they hold being a mother, wife, daughter, professional, activist and more! Ramadan is an especially important time for sisters to reflect and gain as much reward and forgiveness as possible from Allah . So we decided to get some of the ‘Productive Muslimahs’ of our time in the hot seat to find out their top tips and secrets to become a Productive Muslimah!
We are very excited to be joined in this special Ramadan edition by Sister Zohra Sarwari, an international author of ten groundbreaking books, coach to women and children, business coach, entrepreneur, public speaker, mother of 3, and founder of SuperCharge Homeschooling! She is in our ProductiveMuslimah hot seat today, so we asked her to tell us her secrets on how she manages to stay productive during Ramadan while juggling her family, her work and her writing!
1) We’re very excited to have you share your Secrets as a Productive Muslimah so thank you for joining us! First, tell us who inspires you to be a Productive Muslimah?
Bismillah, wal Hamdullilah. Jazak Allaah Khairan for having me here and for thinking of me as a Productive Muslimah. Alhamdullilah, my inspiration is my Lord. I love Him so much, and am thankful for guidance and everything else He has given me.
2) Masha Allah you currently home-school your children and have set up a fantastic website, full of resources to help parents with homeschooling (SuperCharge Homeschooling). What was the deciding factor that led you to homeschooling your children? What benefits have you seen that could not be achieved with regular schooling?
The deciding factor for me was when I learned what would benefit me after I die. Since my children would be one of those cases, I needed to invest in them so that they may benefit me when I need it most insha’Allaah. Benefits I have seen are alhamdullilah many. Better tarbiyah, praying 5 times a day, fasting the month of Ramadan and other days, learning the Qur’aan, and wanting to memorize it in sha Allah. Also graduating from secular studies early in sha Allah.
3) What advice would you give to mothers who find the idea of homeschooling daunting? Is it accessible to all?
Lol….homeschooling is TOUGH. I will not lie and say it is super easy. As with anything else you must put in the time and effort to achieve the results that you want. However, my secret ingredient is making du’aa to Allah and asking Him for help in whatever areas that I need. Alhamdullilah that is how I have made it this far, believing in my dream of raising righteous children for the sake of Allah, and asking Him help doing it. Without Allah, I could not have done it. Alhamdullilah. (All praise truly belongs to Him.)
4) Alhamdulilah, the blessed month of Ramadan is upon us. How do you manage teaching your children during this busy time?
During this beautiful month we cutback on the dunya studies, and focus more on fasting, reading the Qur’an with meaning (tafsir), and learning something new for our deen. In sha Allah this year’s goal is to memorize Allah’s names and attributes; while we have done some of them in the past, this year I really want us to know it inside out in sha Allah. Again, all with the help of Allah .
5) For mothers, Ramadan tends to be a month spent living in the kitchen, and when they’re not there then they’re engaged with some other household responsibilities. How can they make time for themselves to be spiritually productive and to feel that they have made the most of productivity during Ramadan?
First of all, the concept of us cooking all day must be deleted especially in this month. We need to make a schedule and write down what we are cooking which days, how long each meal should take, and if we are eating leftovers the next day. We should really try to make it where our meal or meals do not take more than 1 hour each day. I personally like cooking extra and eating leftovers. As much as I love my family and friends, I do not like to attend iftar parties, as it will take away from my ibadah time. This month we have no time to waste, and Allah knows best. Also while cooking they [sisters] could listen to the Qur’an or a lecture so that they may be rewarded that way as well in sha Allah.
6) It is important of course, to get the whole family involved in activities during Ramadan. How can mothers work with children to instill an understanding and spirit of Ramadan within them?
By making a schedule of exactly what they are doing each day, and what their goals for Ramadan are. Ramadan should be fun for kids, and they should get rewarded for even the small deeds that they do.
7) What is your role as a wife within your family during Ramadan, and how has this helped your family’s overall productivity?
My role is to make sure I wake up early and cook and get food ready for everyone, to inspire them through out the day, reward them here and there, and share our schedule daily so that we are all on the same page. This way they see the goals we have and they want to achieve it as well in sha Allah.
8) Jazakillah khayr for all of your advice Sister Zohra. Can you give us any last words of advice to mothers so they can enjoy a productive Ramadan? Any advice, tips, something that worked with you, anything behind the scenes, something you tried last Ramadan that worked wonders?
I would say make your intention to make each Ramadan as if it is your last one. Think of each day as one you may not be here for next year. Plan accordingly, be happy, and be SUPER patient as shaytaan is locked up! Make a schedule and stick with it. Ask your kids to share any knowledge that they obtain during dinner time. Make Ramadan about fasting, not about eating. How you behave and act is what your kids will learn in sha Allah! Jazak Allah Khairan!
Well thank you to Sister Zohra for the wonderful advice and practical tips – there you have it sisters! Let us know your thoughts and comment below, and don’t forget to look out for our next instalment of ‘Secrets of a Productive Muslimah’!
Purifying the Heart
Are you having a hard time sticking to your new year resolutions? Perhaps you’ve been frustrated and disappointed over and over again seeing your grand plans of change fall apart?
Don’t worry, I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.
Let’s try again. This time, with the proper understanding and knowledge of habit-making.
Why I Got Interested in Habits
I remember coming out of the conference hall, all excited and motivated to be a better Muslimah. Listening to humbling reminders from an all-star shuyukh lineup and having conversations with numerous inspiring Muslimahs (or Muslims, if you’re a brother) tends to have that impact on people, especially me.
I went home and drew up a master plan of what my days would look like:
Tahajjud at 4 A.M., followed by an hour of the Qur’an, followed by some revisions for school before praying Fajr. Then I would burn the track before getting ready for school. I would then be on time for all my classes, come home, spend another hour with the Qur’an and listen to more lectures online. In between, I would pray all my prayers on time, including all the sunnah prayers, both before and after.
Things went great on the first day. I was roaring with enthusiasm. By the third day I was exhausted, but I pushed myself. By the fifth day, I had significantly reduced my sunnah prayers and my running shoes stood dejected by the door. By the seventh, I had suffered a total burnout.
I got depressed, demotivated and soon returned to my old ways. The cycle then repeats when a new conference comes into town. Instead of changing small habits over time, I tried to change my whole being in one shot.
And I know many of us are stuck in the same cycle too. A great tool that you can use to keep track of your progress achieved toward building (or destroying) a habit is ProductiveMuslim’s Habitator.
“In order for us to realize our God-given potential within our lifetimes, we must break the cycles of stagnation that prevent us from doing so by abandoning methods that have proven ineffective in fulfilling our responsibilities as people committed to Islam. We can accomplish this only by changing our current condition — this requires courage, commitment and above all, critical introspection.” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Agenda to Change our Condition)
The Heart, The Brain, and Habits
In my quest to learn more about habits and how we can change them, I decided to look at both Islamic and Western literature to compare them and, In sha Allah, get an understanding from both perspectives. Surprisingly,many of the actions recommended and concepts spoken about in both literatures are somewhat the same. The crucial differentiating factor, however, is that Western literature tends to focus on the brain as the main cause of actions and habits, while Islamic literature brings them back to the heart.
In this two-part series, we will explore how we can inculcate better habits in our lives. The first part will explore habit-making through purifying the heart, while the second part of the series will touch on habit-making from the perspective of cognitive science.
At the end of each part, I will share some small actionable steps that we can take to better ourselves, one habit at a time, In sha Allah!
Habits and the Heart
Prophet Muhammad said: “Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
As Muslims, we should be clear that in Islamic thought, the center of consciousness and conscience is actually the heart and not the brain as Western science tells us. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf said in recent times scientists have discovered that there are more than 40,000 neurons in the heart that communicate with the brain, meaning that not only does the brain send messages to the heart, but the heart does the same to the brain as well.
In a study conducted in the 1970s, for instance, two physiologists discovered that when the brain sent messages to the heart, “the heart did not automatically obey the messages. Sometimes the heart sped up, while other times it slowed down, indicating that the heart itself has its own type of intelligence”. 
That said, the study of the brain is a relatively new science, while our knowledge of the heart and soul will always be limited as the Qur’an has mentioned:
“And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.” [Qur’an: Chapter 17, Verse 85].
In a hadith found in the book “Purification of the Heart” by Imam Al-Mawlud, it is written that no one fully believes until his desires [and thus, actions] are in accordance with what the Prophet had brought [Imam Nawawi, #41]. Due to this, Imam al-Mawlud explained that there is thus no salvation “like the heart’s salvation, given that all the limbs [and organs] respond to its desires”.
The basic rule then, according to Imam al-Mawlud, is to ask Allah for assistance, and then work to consistently purify the state of our hearts.
Feel the Fear and Be Productive
This is the fourth of a series of 7 articles on ‘Productive Thinking’. The series aims to address the challenges that Muslims face on many different levels when it comes to productivity. These levels include: the mental, emotional and physical levels. This series will tackle thinking and mindset on the mental level; negative emotions like anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, fear, etc., on the emotional level; and habits on the physical level. (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)
This article covers the underlying fears that we have when it comes to taking action and being productive. I will also share practical strategies to deal with and overcome any fears.
A few of the main challenges when it comes to productivity are procrastination, being overwhelmed and self-sabotage. Most people try to learn new systems, tools and techniques to overcome these challenges without fully understanding the challenges. In the first article, we talked about the four dimensions that we live in, namely spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. Tools and techniques are important but if we don’t understand the unconscious fears that are triggering these fear responses, then we will not be as effective as we could be in doing our best to be productive.
So why are we talking about fear? It is because fear is the reason behind why we procrastinate and the underlying factor behind many things that we do to procrastinate. By understanding and having some awareness around what fear is and how fear gets to us, we’ll be more aware and better equipped to deal with any challenges. Awareness is the key. With awareness, change is possible.
The Nature of Fear
Most common fears that cause us to procrastinate are:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of loneliness
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of making a mistake
- Fear of making the wrong decision
- Fear of unworthiness
- Fear of success
- Fear of disappointment
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being uncomfortable