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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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Supplications

Lessons on living from my late uncle

Turning on a tune by Egyptian legend Abdel Halim Hafez, my sister Mandy handed her iPod to Uncle Hoda and gestured him to place the headphones over his ears. Seconds later, an expression combining astonishment and glee came over his face while listening to a melody that must have taken him back at least three decades. Our uncle laughed and sang along to the words of “Gana El Hawa, the Love Came to Us,” while swaying his head from side to side, fully mesmerized in enjoyment of the moment.

If there’s anything that I will always treasure about my Uncle Hoda, who passed away last month following a battle with cancer, God bless his soul, it is that he was among only a small number of people that I’ve encountered who lived for the present.

Sunrise in Egypt

I imagine it was Uncle Hoda’s deep connection with God that enabled him to embody this state of being. He spoke with great reverence of the Divine, and the love that sprang from that bond was contagious. Positivity and optimism radiated from him; whenever he entered a room, it was with the lightness and calmness of a person who was content with the joys and patient with the challenges of his life.

As my two sisters and I reminisced in our Whatsapp chat room about our beloved maternal uncle in the days following his passing, we alternated between tears and laughter. I was struck at how profoundly he had affected each of us, given we lived far apart most of our lives, Uncle Hoda in Egypt and us in a scattering of cities around North America, the Arabian Gulf and Europe.

It was joyous to reunite with our uncle during summer holidays, the distresses of our childhood dissolving away in his playful presence. He was consistently ready to offer a smile, which would make his small eyes almost disappear beneath his bushy eyebrows. Whether he was getting us to hum and sing along to the latest Egyptian pop song or sending us into an endless round of giggles during an afternoon drive around Cairo by swerving his car to the right and left in a zigzag pattern, Uncle Hoda always made us feel like the centre of his attention.

As I got older, the ease with which our beloved uncle yielded to the flow of life was deeply inspiring for my spiritual journey. He would constantly seek divert attention away from himself to calm the often-frayed nerves of his siblings.

When a car accident took our beloved uncle to within a hair’s breadth of death 16 years ago, I remember how on emerging from his coma, Uncle Hoda would downplay his pain to calm his rattled and restless sisters. Even as he battled the painful side effects of treatments for pancreatic cancer this summer, our uncle tried to reassure our worried mom that the symptoms were bearable and he was infinitely content with whatever God willed.

Continue reading “Lessons on living from my late uncle”

Opening the door to surrender

Each time I open the door to leave my apartment, I recite three poignant yet simple Islamic phrases in a subtle whisper that’s only audible to me.

“Bismillah,” Arabic for “In the name of God,” I say in a quick breath as I rotate the lock to the right and grasp the door knob. I continue with “Tawakkul ‘ala Allah, “I place my complete trust and reliance in God,” as I step into the hallway and gently close the door. And “Laa Hawla Wa Laa Quwwata Il-la Bil-laah,” or “There is neither might nor power except with Allah,” glides along my tongue as I turn the key fasten the lock until, by God’s will, I return.

It takes about seven seconds to recite these lines before dashing to the elevator to rush to work, run an errand, attend a social gathering or take a trip to a grocery store. The words are modest for the richness and tremendous power they encompass when reflected upon. They embody the essence of surrendering to God, which is what Islam is principally about.

Open door, photo by Brad Montgomery

In the basic definition, a Muslim is one who consciously lives in a state of presence with the Divine. When the prefix `mu’ is attached to a verb of four or more letters in Arabic grammar, it changes the meaning from the action to the doer of that action. For example, the Arabic word “to teach” is “darris,” and a teacher, the one performing the act of instruction, is the “mudarris.”

A Muslim, then, is one who performs “slim,” or “surrender.” When I discovered this simple grammatical rule six years ago while studying my mother tongue for the first time in an academic setting, it provoked an understanding inside of me. I realized that to truly be Muslim rather than simply label myself such, I needed to really experiencesurrender to the Divine, and that meant God should be the focal point of my consciousness.

Continue reading “Opening the door to surrender”

The night of a thousand months

In the name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful
We sent it (the Quran) down on the Night of Destiny
And what will make you comprehend what the Night of Destiny is?
The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months
On that night, the angels and the Spirit come down by the permission of their Lord with His decrees for all matters
It is all peace till the break of dawn
(Quran, The Night of Destiny, Surah 97)

During Ramadan, my perceptions of time somehow become more magnified.

At the onset of the Islamic holy month, the 30 days of fasting that lie ahead look lengthy and daunting, especially now as they coincide with the Summer Solstice and many Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere refrain from food and drink for 18 hours or longer. Yet even as we endure some of longest days of fasting of our lifetimes, Ramadan has once again hurried by and I find myself embarking on the sprint through the final 10 days. As the finish line comes into view, I can’t help but wish that it was further afield to give me more time to extract spiritual benefits from the month.

laylat al qadr foto
Mosque by moonlight, (Photo courtesy of Vicky TH)

With little room to scale back my working hours, I rely on evenings and weekends to dedicate more energy to prayer and reflection, Quranic readings, Sufi remembrance and meditation, and the giving of zakat, a redistribution of 2.5 percent of my wealth to the less fortunate. Carving out the hours needed for these acts of worship means I spend less time resting my head on my pillow and more on my prayer mat. 

There is something pliable about the passage of time while fasting. Every second and minute tends to become more palpable when I’m craving a 10 a.m. caffeine fix to get me through then next wave of conference calls and news story pitches, only to look up at the clock and realize there’s another 11 hours and 24 minutes until Iftar, the meal to break the fast at sunset.
Continue reading “The night of a thousand months”

Of Saints and Matchmakers

As I was growing up, Islam’s benevolent female saints existed in my imagination as otherworldly matchmakers.

Common features of my family’s infrequent summer holidays with relatives in Egypt were visits to mosques enclosing the shrines of Sayyida Zainab and Sayyida Nafisa, two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who have come to be regarded as Cairo’s patron saints, may God grant them peace and blessings. My mother, often with her sisters who lived in smaller cities along the Suez Canal, would arrange mini pilgrimages to these grand Cairene mosques for a single purpose: to pray for suitable partners for their unmarried children.

SAYYIDAZAINABCAIRO
Female worshippers gather around Sayyida Zainab’s mausoleum in Cairo

Amidst weeps and whispers, they would gather around the mausoleums of these saints offering earnest prayers to rescue their single daughters and sons from the matrimonial side lines. From beyond the divide between this world and the next, these venerable women of faith would intimately identify with the anguish of being the mother of an unwed child and act as intermediaries with God in removing the obstacles blocking the perfect partner from springing forth – at least that was the hope of my female kin.

While my own memories of these visits are vague and likely layered by personal accounts relayed by my mother over the years, the urgency placed on marriage left me feeling perplexed. The more I found myself becoming the focal point of the prayers, the more frustrating and painful these pilgrimages became.

By my mid- and then late 20s, the cultural pressures to wed young and my inability to make it happen inadvertently alienated me from faith, and obscured my view of the spiritual significance and prowess of these female saints. My only encounters with them were a manifestation of socio-culture pressures that dictate a woman’s value lies solely in her success as a wife and mother, a line of thinking that left me jaded and confined rather than empowered by their presence. Continue reading “Of Saints and Matchmakers”

Seeking the Kaaba Within

I was fully aware that within seconds my body would be drawn into a mass of humanity unlike any other in the world. “Surrender to the experience,” I thought while stepping into the overflowing main courtyard surrounding the Kaaba. The barriers that divide us in our daily lives are lifted here at the seat of the holiest site of Islam.

No honorary titles or entitlements have worth or function, there’s no distinguishing based on whether you are a woman or man, whether your income bracket is high or low. Rather, the bracketing qualities that contain us outside–our nationality, ethnicity, age, or skin tone–are shed at the door. Wherever our outward journeys have started, we all walk barefoot inward into a single circle, devoid of these unnecessary parenthesis appended to our identities.

“The goal of all is the same” no matter what road we took to get here or what quarrels we fought on the way, Rumi writes in Fihi Ma Fihi, It is What It is.

kaaba-night

We are both universal and singular, each worshipper an equal soul before the Creator of all humankind and all being. Here we consciously move together in a unified mass, circling seven times around this stone cube as our prophets, peace and blessings be upon them, and our predecessors have for centuries. It’s become a timeless procession connecting us to the scattered cosmos. With the right kind of openness, the pilgrimage is a truly humbling, enchanting and purifying act of dedication to God, The Gracious One.

The ritual starts at the eastern corner, where the Black Stone is situated, a stone that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, said was blackened by the sins of humankind after descending from heaven as white as milk. I’ve certainly swerved from the path since I was last graced by the opportunity to visit the Holy City five years ago. My soul yearns now for nourishment as I circle the four corners of the central cube draped in black.

I yield my body to the crowd that surrounds me in every direction, letting it move my limbs. I’m here for my soul, after all, and as we give thanks and make prayers to the Infinitely Compassionate One, drawing our attention to the Kaaba as birds circle above us, I concede any claim to the personal space that I normally protect.

Sometimes I find my body being drawn inward with an uncontrollable force, and it is suddenly so close to the edge of the Kaaba I can almost touch it.
Continue reading “Seeking the Kaaba Within”

Between 33 Beads

My glossy burgundy subha had been dangling there for weeks, unused, upon the embroidered cushion resting casually against the Malaysian wood chair in my living room.

The prayer beads were almost camouflaged as they nestled into a tawny-coloured pillow cover I purchased during a trip to Istanbul six years ago, the image of a traditional Turkish tunic woven upon it in numerous shades of brown, gold, red and grey.

It was almost camouflaged. But mostly just overlooked.

I knew it was there, after all, for that is where I always placed the subha once I’d finished with it following an early-morning or late-night period of worship. Gliding each of the 33 beads slowly and methodically along the string with my index finger and thumb, I would repeat some poignant devotion between each click of a bead: one of the 99 Glorious Names of God, or a Quranic verse, or a phrase of sufi remembrance, all in an earnest effort to draw my attention to the Divine.
prayer beads two.jpgYet supplications, as important as they are in maintaining a consistent state of peace of mind and presence in Islam, are all too often left to fall by the wayside as I get swept up in my life.

I find excuses for being too busy to do more than my daily prayers, and too distracted to remember that dhikr, a form of devotion involving repeated acts of remembrance recited silently or aloud, is just as important to sustaining a well-rounded spiritual routine.

For as many times as I may neglect them, though, those beads always lure me back, usually when a circumstance of life reminds me of my fragility.
Continue reading “Between 33 Beads”

Becoming spiritually punctual

(A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post)

Before I genuinely began to cultivate and nurture my relationship with God, I regarded the five daily prayers that Islam enjoins on believers as laborious. It seemed impractical to expect that I would be able to stop what I was doing during my busy work schedule to take time out and pray.

Working as a news wire journalist, I was often spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the office or at conferences, interviews and meetings, barely able to make time for a lunch break. If I wasn’t working, my time was divided between house chores, errands, family and friends, and exercise. I was punctual with everything in my life, except that I was late five times a day.

 
Women praying at Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Mandy Merzaban photo

In my mind, it was not viable to expect that I could wake up before the crack of dawn to pray the early-morning prayer, fajr, otherwise I would be too tired to work effectively later that morning. It also seemed inefficient to interrupt my work meetings to pray duhr, the mid-day prayer, and asr, the afternoon prayer.

Making the sunset prayer maghrib was often a challenge because the window to pray is typically quite short and coincides with the time between finishing work, having dinner and returning home. So, in effect, the only prayer that was feasible for me to pray on time was isha, the evening prayer. For most of my life, thus, I would at best pray all five prayers in the evening, or skip prayers here and there to accommodate my immediate commitments.

Without realising it, my inconsistency and approach to praying trivialised the principle behind performing prayers throughout the day. I believed in God and loved Him, but on my own terms, not on the terms very clearly set out in the Quran and Prophetic teachings. Yet praying the five daily prayers, at their prescribed times, is the backbone of being a Muslim; we cannot stand upright in our faith without them. It is one of the essential practices that God has called on those who endeavour to live in Islam, a state of existence whereby a human strives to live in submission to God.

When I came to truly understand the importance of prayer, the realisation was both overwhelming and quick. It dawned on me that if I was not fulfilling this precondition, then I really could not claim to be Muslim. Even if I desired to have a solid connection with the Almighty I was not taking the necessary steps to do so. I promptly reoriented my life and it has now been a year and a half that I have not intentionally missed a prayer time, whether I am in the office, mall, grocery store, out with friends or travelling.

Looking back, I see how wrong I was about the impracticality of Islamic prayers, which are succinct and straightforward notwithstanding their resonance. When I moved from trying to fit prayers into my life to fitting my life around my prayer schedule, I instantly removed a great deal of clutter from my daily routine. Since regular prayer promotes emotional consistency and tranquillity, I began to eliminate excess negativity and cut down on unnecessary chitchat, helping me be more focused, productive and patient.

Over a short period of time, what amazed me was how easy and fluid the prayers became. Performing the early-morning prayer actually gave me a burst of energy during the day and, gradually, the prayers that I had initially perceived as cumbersome became an essential facet of my routine. With God’s help, I would find ways to make a prayer regardless of the hurdles. While in Canada for the summer, I would often catch duhr prayer in a department store fitting room, with the help of a handy Islamic prayer compass application on my Iphone.

“’Verily the soul becomes accustomed to what you accustom it to.’ That is to say: what you at first burden the soul with becomes nature to it in the end.”

This is a line drawn from a magnificent book I am in the process of reading by great Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali, entitled Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of Religious Sciences. Al-Ghazali describes a series of formulas, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, which we can repeat to help us attain greater proximity to the divine and purify our hearts.

Women praying outside Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by Mandy Merzaban

At each turn in my quest to enrich my faith, I have found that what at first appears difficult becomes easy when performed with sincerity. Soon after I reoriented my life to revolve around prayer, the five prayers felt insufficient in expressing my devotion. I examined Hadith, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and discovered there were optional prayers I could add to my routine. Since then, I have not let a day pass without praying them.

To supplement my prayers, I have integrated various zikr, or remembrance and mentioning of God, into my days. Zikr, including repeating such phrases as “la illa ha il Allah” (There is no God but God), habitually draws our attention back to God.

Among the many rich invocations mentioned in Ghazali’s book is this one which I have started to incorporate. As we leave our houses each day, if we say “In the name of God” (Bismillah), God will guide us; when we add “I trust in God” (Tawakalt al Allah), God will protect us; and if we conclude with “There is no might or power save with God” (La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), God will guard us.

I suppose to an outsider, these acts of devotion can appear a bit obsessive, and I have had a couple of people say this to me. Yet it is an obsession with the greatest possible consequences that can improve rather than disintegrate one’s disposition. The more time I devote to God, the greater the peace of mind I find filling my life and the more focused I become on what is important – such as treating my family and friends honourably, working hard in my job, giving charity with compassion and generosity, and maintaining integrity.

Remembering God throughout the day, through prayer and invocation, truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches; you erase obstructions that would impede faith in its purest form.

“Truly when a man loves a thing, he repeatedly mentions it, and when he repeatedly mentions a thing, even if that may be burdensome, he loves it,” writes Ghazali.

Remembering to remember

The other day I was chatting with a friend about Ramadan, and he asked me how I would characterise zikr, a term that comes up frequently in the Quran which expresses the idea of ‘remembrance of God’. We need not be sitting in a dark, quiet room in a meditative state, to be mindful of and remember God, my friend quite rightly stated.

At the time, I was sitting with my mom in the family room in our family home. As I browsed the web, she was intently watching an Oprah show re-run, which she likes to do for afternoon breaks on weekdays. A few minutes later without warning, my mom kissed the palm of her right hand and then clenched her fist lightly to kiss the tops of her fingers curled into her palm, her eyes still fixed on the television screen. She did the same with her left hand and then mumbled a short phrase of gratitude to God under her breath for something.

My mom has periodically performed the same gesture during the day throughout my life, usually when something she sees on TV or in her surroundings causes her to realise and appreciate the blessings in her life. She’ll stop momentarily to give thanks for the home she owns, the food in the fridge, her health, the peacefulness of her surroundings and the peace of mind this has afforded her. While taking in a daily dose of talk shows, my mom’s very honest act of remembrance displays how easy it is to be mindful and conscious of God at any time.

Whether we are watching television, cooking, cleaning, working, exercising, driving, shopping, or socialising, we can take a minute to ponder how at that moment, we have a great deal of blessings to be grateful for. That is how I define zikr; it is the act of being mindful of God continually throughout our days so that we attain a state of consciousness where we are continually aware of His presence.

Regardless of the uncertainties and challenges we may face at any given time – and there will always be something – zikr as a continual practice allows us to maintain enough perspective to identify the blessings we already have so that we are not overshadowed by the misgivings, doubts, problems and complex dilemmas that we will inevitably encounter.

“There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish for the heart is the remembrance of God.”

This is a Hadith among the collection of sayings of the Last Prophet, Muhammad ﷺ, which succinctly describes the power of heedful remembrance of God. When something is polished, light shines through it or reflects off of it more radiantly than when it is stained or soiled. Having consciousness of God throughout the day helps you regulate your emotions and reduce the impact of negativity which can cloud your mind and darken your heart.

I think it is relevant to note that I am writing this entry on what I would call an ‘off day’ for me. I woke up this morning with a mind consumed by apprehension due to a series of uncertainties in my life. Three weeks ago, I found out I would need to start searching for a new job because my current contract would not be renewed due to downsizing. This among other anxieties both related and unrelated began to swirl in my head.

What zikr does for me is it sieves and refines the enormity of my dilemmas so that I am not swallowed by them. Self pity is inevitable, but within the routine of remembrance my sojourn in utter discontent is far shorter. By practicing zikr, I am forced to identify at many points of the day what I am thankful for, and by virtue of this I can get right back to enjoying the blessings of this moment rather than dwelling on difficulties that are destined and unavoidable. Remembering God and being appreciative of our blessings, whether substantial or subtle, becomes part of our habit and routine.

One of the triggers for me in discovering how to live in submission to God (Islam) was hearing a sufi sheikh say, “Don’t try to fit God into your life. Make your life revolve around God.” I was attending the sheikh’s weekly sermon for the first time, on invitation of a friend. I don’t typically enjoy sitting through religious sermons, but his simple words struck me, and I made a note of them on my BlackBerry.

The phrase lingered in my mind for days, waking me up to the fact that I was so far from doing that; God rarely crossed my mind. Many of us are accustomed to thinking about God when things in our lives get rough or we’re faced with a moment of desperation that compels us to reflect. Once circumstances ease, however, thoughts of God often return to the backburner of our minds. Zikr involves carrying that remembrance we are so good at when we are suffering to times when things are going well.

The point of zikr is to draw our attention back to God throughout the day so that we don’t get too caught up in the facade that daily life proves to be, in good times and in bad.

It can be spoken or silently expressed in the heart. You may hear a Muslim say or repeat “la illa ha il Allah”, meaning “there is no God but God”, which flows smoothly off the tongue and is designed to draw one’s attention back to the Divine so that we can reflect and be grateful.

‘Subhan’Allah’, which means ‘Glorious is God’, we will say or repeat when we witness a miracle of nature or are reacting to a turn of events that shows the inherent destiny of things.

‘Allahu Akbar’, or ‘God is the Greatest’, is said frequently to acknowledge His Glory and the view that He has a Hand in everything that happens in our daily lives.

‘Alhamdulillah’, or ‘All praise is due to God’, is a common method of expressing gratitude for all of life’s twists and turns, knowing that they are all tests and blessings.

‘Astaghfirullah’ is an Arabic phrase meaning “I ask God forgiveness”. When something or someone agitates us and we feel we have reacted too harshly, Astaghfirullah enables us to express that we are aware of our mistakes and ask for forgiveness then and there.

The simple yet rich line that begins the Quran is also recited regularly. ‘Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem’, “In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful”, is said before eating, getting out of bed, working, travelling, preparing for a public speech—anything. Sometimes I say it before turning a corner while driving.

My friend was perfectly right. You don’t need to be in a state of meditation or prayer to remember God; you can do that at any time and anywhere. Practicing zikr disciplines our thoughts and enables us to exude the positivity and peace that God intends for us.

“They are those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of God—surely in the remembrance of God hearts can find comfort” (13:28)

A prayer to keep

As state-sanctioned violence is inflicted on peaceful civilians across the Arab world, I repeatedly find myself overwhelmed with emotion. My stomach gets tangled in knots as I watch footage and read article after article about brutal crackdowns of protesters in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, among others. Hardening my emotions is difficult while people suffer severely as I sit in relative comfort, the troubles of my life dwarfed in their magnitude.
Prayer held in Tahrir square during Egyptian Revolution
Other than staying informed, which is crucial, I ask myself what we can do at times like this to offer support to people whose stories of repression, struggle and courage have moved us to tears. Over the past several weeks, I have donated to charities, including Islamic Relief, the Red Cross and International Medical Corps, hoping to assist those most affected in some small way. 
But as we circulate knowledge, and share thoughts and ideas on the current events transpiring in the region, we sometimes neglect the most powerful tool of all in helping those who are suffering: sincere prayer to God. In these days of fixation on mass media, prayers can easily be sidelined and underestimated as we are drawn into the vast influx of information on our Twitter and Facebook feeds. We often call on each other to say a prayer for those suffering, be they in Libya, Yemen or disaster-stricken Japan. But how often do we get down on our knees, silently focus our hearts and minds, bow down our heads and actually ask for His help?
Growing up, I always saw my mom, a devout lover of God, pray every one of the five daily prayers that God has enjoined from those who worship Him in Islam, an Arabic term meaning ‘submission to God’. There is not a time in my childhood in Canada that I remember her not waking up in the early hours of the morning to conduct the sunrise prayer. She always woke up automatically without an alarm or call to prayer. Yet she never compelled me or my sisters to pray – and I have great appreciation and admiration for her for leading by example rather than coercing us to do something that I believe would be meaningless unless it is done from the heart out of love and genuine dedication. She always strived to instil in us a love of God, and when I asked her to teach me how to perform the ritual prayers at the age of 15, she did so carefully and patiently. Prayers can become mechanical and meaningless if performed without presence of mind.
 After that, I went through phases of praying all five prayers, of praying some of the five, of praying all five in the evening, and even of not praying entirely. I could never find real peace of mind in the inconsistency of my faith. But something shifted for me last year. A series of events in my life leading up to the death of my father opened my eyes to my spiritual connection with God. I won’t go into detail about these here, but it was after this realisation that I first read the Holy Quran and began praying each prescribed prayer, as well as many optional prayers, consistently and, importantly, on time. For me, it was not praying five times each day that made me a Muslim. It was discovering that I am Muslim – that is, realising that my state of mind is one of submission to God – that made these prayers indispensible and enjoyable.
God calls on us to be steadfast in our prayers repeatedly in holy books. The opening surah (passage) of the Holy Quran is rich in its succinctness. Surah Al-Fatiha (The Opening) in seven concise verses encapsulates the love and mercy God offers to all human beings who turn to Him in belief and worship. In one line of that passage, God enjoins us to turn alone to Him in worship and to seek assistance from Him alone.  “It is you we worship and You we seek for help,” is a line from Al-Fatiha that always lingers on my tongue when I pray.  A Muslim observing the prescribed daily prayers will recite Al-Fatiha at least 17 times every 24 hours, and some will recite it more than double that number if they offer the optional prayers as well.
If God is most-certainly listening, then we should be asking for what is good and just for ourselves, those we hold dear in our lives, and human beings who are suffering anywhere. Dua’a is an Arabic term meaning supplications, which essentially involve asking God with a dedicated heart to fulfil your requests for yourself and others, so long as these pleas are righteous and legitimate. Prophet Muhammad is noted in Hadith (stories and narrations about his life) as having said: “There is nothing more dear to Allah (God) than a servant making dua’a to Him.” 
There are multitudes of prescribed, carefully  worded dua’a that can be recited for various purposes in our daily lives, although as long as our supplications come from the heart with genuineness, I truly believe we can ask God for His guidance and assistance in any way, any language, any time of the day or night. 
My favourite time to offer dua’a is before the sunrise prayer (Fajr). I wake up anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before the Athan (call to prayer) to offer an optional prayer and then kneeling humbly with my hands cupped before me I give dua’a for my father who passed away last year (الله يرحمه /God bless his soul), my family members and close friends and anyone else who I feel may need God’s light to help them through a period of trial or suffering. For the past two months, this has included Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis fighting for freedom from repression and corruption, and Japanese struggling to come to terms with a natural disaster that has shaken the foundation of thousands of lives.
There is a peace and tranquillity of mind that I have at fajr that I do not feel with the same magnitude for the rest of the day. I have read a Hadith about how angels assemble at dawn around worshippers, and I trust this wholeheartedly because there is a sense of serenity and nearness to the divine in the early hours of the morning that is very difficult to articulate.
 “And the servants of the most gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, Peace! 
 Those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord prostrate and standing” 
Quran (25:63-64)
While I cannot claim to be an expert on faith, I am someone who has been drawn to an effort to uncover the layers of my spirituality and understand my connection with God. Whatever way you happen to pray, I hope that you will do so sincerely and not underestimate just how powerful it can be to turn our attention to God and collectively ask for His guidance and help. I believe God listened as protesters across Egypt stopped at every prayer, many of them five times each day, and collectively turned to God asking for Him to grant them patience and strength to defeat repression. And I believe that if each of us, together, prays for people who are suffering across the Arab world, and around the world, that He will hear our sincere wishes and answer them, by His grace.

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