A Blessing for Our Children

FullSizeRender-75Our kids are growing up so fast mA. The past few weeks have been a celebration for the kids in our family: our daughter turned 20 and is already half way through college; our son and nephew graduated from middle school, and our niece from high school; one nephew started a hifz program in his Islamic school, another is President of his high school class; and others are doing the million and one things that delight and amaze and enchant us each day. MashAllah. MashAllah. MashAllah. May Allah protect all our kids, guide them, make them strong, keep them safe, and enable them to reach their own unique potential.

I wanted to post a blessing that I shared at my niece’s graduation party, in honor of all our kids.

To Our Dear Children,

May you all be blessed with hope. Never, never give up on yourselves. Know that your dreams are valid and they are reachable; always strive in the direction of your dreams, and we will pray that you get there too.

May you be blessed with joy, so much joy, and laughter, and fun times, and wonderful memories – of friends, and new adventures, and learning that opens up your mind and your world to all the possibilities. Seize them all.

May you be blessed with courage and conviction and confidence – to believe in who you are and where you come from, to stand up for what is right for yourself and for others.

May you be blessed with kindness. Lots and lots of kindness. It’s what makes the world go round. Sprinkle it everywhere you go, with abundance.

And may you be blessed knowing that you are loved, so deeply loved. And that we are here, always here. In your court, by your side, cheering you on every step of the way.


Duas: Our Own Paths to God

salmachurch One of my most fulfilling experiences as a writer has been a message I received from someone who had read a piece that I had written for a national women’s magazine, about a day in the life of my family during Ramadan.

The reader wrote, “
Please accept my intrusion on your privacy, but I read about you online and I read your article ‘Not My Mother’s Ramadan’. 
I am a Catholic woman with a 19 year old daughter who told me two weeks ago that she is in the process of converting to become a Muslim. 
With that sentence, I will tell you that I am afraid, concerned, confused, cautious, curious and searching for answers and direction.”

She wrote that she is a devout Catholic Christian and the Director of Religious Education at her church. Her family life centers around the church. Her daughter sang in the choir, was a teen leader in the youth group, and taught religious classes to the younger children. She said that all she knew about Islam was what she heard on TV or read in the newspapers. That she was scared.

We started an online conversation, which continues today, although we’ve never met. I tried to answer her questions, provide some resources and contacts. We journeyed together as her daughter converted to Islam; met a Muslim man; got married.

We exchange emails every so often. A few years ago, she wrote: “My recent trip to Turkey for my daughter’s Nikkah was an amazing experience. Every day there was something new to learn and to experience about Islam. I can honestly say I am at peace with my daughter’s decision. She will no longer be my Catholic daughter. Yet somehow I realize and accept that we can follow our own paths to God.”

My new found friend started sharing her own experiences about the Islam she has come to know, giving talks at her church and doing media interviews. She wrote, “I think that in a very small way I too have been working at dispelling misperceptions.”

This Ramadan, she promised her daughter that she would fast one day a week in solidarity with her and with all Muslims. “I want to be a part of your 30 days 30 deeds too, inshAllah”, she said. Yesterday she wrote, “Fasting for just one day was so difficult, I am amazed at how everyone can do it. I have been keeping  a chart to inspire myself and keep track of small deeds I am trying to do during Ramadan. It helps me stay connected to my daughter – reminding me what this holy month means to her and to all Muslims.”

Here is someone who didn’t know much about Islam or Muslims initially, or what she did know was largely negative; who happened to read an article and took the chance to reach out to its writer. That initial bold step led us on a journey – to share life moments about faith and family, love and loss, joy and sorrow, and the eternal unconditional connection between mothers and daughters.

My dua (prayer) as part of the ’30 duas’ series is that we try and understand one another, respect one another, make space for one another. And in the words of a wise, devout, loving mother, “realize and accept that we can follow our own paths to God.”

*Not My Mother’s Ramadan article in MORE magazine.


Traditions: Fasting, Firni, FIFA, and Fastballs

IMG_5293Last night we broke fast at my brother and sister-in-law’s home. Mona made a traditional iftar – cholay, choora, pakoras, patties, mango lassi, channa, dahi phulki, fruit salad, firni, and the list goes on! No doubt Mona’s dear mom was smiling down from heaven; the last time I had such a feast was when aunty had prepared it, oxygen tank in tow but undeterred in preparing all the delicacies of her famous iftars. My nephews arrived from their baseball games just in time to break fast; Nabeel relishing in his mom’s cooking, Ameer enjoying his slices of pizza. The boys led us in prayer, then Zayd and his cousins ran down to the basement to play FIFA. If anyone thinks there’s a contradiction between being all Muslim and all American, they should have joined us for dinner last night.

Here’s a post from our ’30 traditions’ series on fasting, firni, fastballs and FIFA.

I am so proud of my nephews, Ameer and Nabeel. They are growing up with a strong foundation in faith, coupled with a deep passion for sports, especially baseball. They recite the Quran beautifully, and can rattle off any Major League players vital stats. Since Ramadan has been during the summer, faith and baseball come together. The boys have kept several fasts, some days through blazing practices; on game days they break their fast before the first pitch. Ameer’s favorite break fast meal is Panera’s grilled cheese sandwich or pizza; Nabeel loves his mom’s samosas and salans. At night, they pray Isha and Taraweeh at the mosque with their Islamic school community. After eight rakkats, they shoot hoops with their friends in the school gym. Some nights they stay awake playing FIFA on XBox Live with their friends, all the way to suhoor. That’s when they eat their favorite treat –- firni (rice pudding), the way their Anna used to make it. All American Muslim Ramadan. Love you, my Babas.

Anna’s Firni

2 cups of 2% milk

2 ladles of cream of rice cereal

¼ plus cups sugar

Pinch cardamom powder

Dash of rose water

In a metal pot, add milk. Stir in the cream of rice. Stir on medium heat until the mixture comes to a slow boil. Once the mixture thickens, add sugar. Stir for 5 minutes longer until sugar completely dissolves and no lumps remain. Remove from heat and add cardamom powder and rose water. Cool before serving.



My Dad

IMG_6804Happy Father’s Day Dad. Today, and every day, I want to remind you of the amazing life you’ve lived, the loving qualities you exude, and the way you inspire me each day. A post from ’30 inspiring stories’ from my Dad’s 80th birthday last year.

Today, is my father’s 80th birthday. The kids and I, and my brother and his family, are gathered with my parents in New Jersey. Dad didn’t want a fuss, just for all of us to be together. He is surrounded by his four grandkids, and received video messages from family in Calcutta, Bareilly and Karachi – the best presents he could have asked for he said. For me, my dad’s story is the most inspiring one I know. And on his 80th birthday, when he’s feeling not quite himself – a little less confident, a little more fragile – there’s nothing I want to do more than to remind him of his courageous, gutsy, hard working, inspiring life.

My father, born in Bareilly, India, was the first in his family of four brothers and a sister to study abroad and to attain a professional degree. He really didn’t want to go to England to study; he didn’t feel he could succeed. He was content learning to play the guitar; going to movies with his friend every Sunday – the 6pm show at Chowrangi; collecting stamps – the stamp collectors club would meet every 2nd Saturday evening at the YMCA and dad was its youngest member; and saving his pocket money for little treasures from his family’s auction house, the Russell Exchange, a place so full of history and meaning that a film has been made about it. But his brother-in-law insisted; he believed in my father more than my father believed in himself. The day of dad’s departure, dozens of family members came to the train station in Calcutta to see him off, garlanding him with flowers. His father came too, in a wheelchair. He had suffered a stroke just days before. My dad traveled to Bombay and then took a ship to London. So much hope and pride tucked into a 20 year old setting off for an adventure unknown.

My father’s stories of his years in London are full of the trepidation and gumption of a young man trying to make his way, alone. At the airport when he first arrived, a pen pal that my father had exchanged stamps and letters with for years, was supposed to meet him; he was there, and was paging my father. My father had no idea what ‘paging’ meant and was too flustered at Heathrow to hear his name being called. Dad arrived at the hostel where he would be staying, in an upstairs room; the room was so frigid, dad layered on all the clothes he had brought and sat huddled next to a geyser, which he later discovered he had to put coins in to make it blow hot air. He went to Imperial College London and got his degree in engineering. A few years ago, I had the chance to take dad back to Imperial College. He was greeted so warmly at the Alumni office, given an Imperial College mug, and asked to sign their guest book. You should have seen his face. All the memories came flooding back, as he walked around campus and showed his grandchildren the school he once thought he couldn’t conquer.

Two years into his degree, my father’s father passed away in Calcutta; his mother had died of cholera when he was seven. Afraid that my father would return to India without completing his studies, his family didn’t tell him of his father’s death until just before he graduated – almost two years later. My father worked several jobs to pay for his education – at Hartley’s jam factory and at a bakery called Hot Cross Buns. His passion was to travel and to collect beautiful things like fabrics, wall paper, even a tea set. Last time dad came to visit us in D.C., we had tea in that tea set — the first time he had ever had tea in his treasured tea set that he bought in Germany and that he’s carried around the world for 60 years.

Dad worked for a British aircraft manufacturer for a few years after he graduated, and then returned home to find someone to share his life. My father asked his eldest brother and his sister-in-law to find him, a suitable girl. His requirements were quite straightforward: he wanted someone from a good family background, well-educated, but not too educated, easy to get along with, and someone who was family oriented. His brother knew exactly the right match, and wrote to my father: “We have just seen a lovely young girl from a very good family. She’s not too tall, nor too short; she’s slim, has a long braid and mostly wears saris; she seems fairly quiet. We think you two would get along well.” They sent a photograph also, but it was a photo of my mother and her three sisters. My dad did not know which of the four was supposed to be his new bride. My mom was in the first year of her Masters degree when “the letter” arrived, addressed to her father: “I respectfully ask for your daughter Rashida’s hand for my brother Atiq. He has completed his engineering degree from Imperial College in England and has secured a good job. He is highly qualified, honest and sincere. I believe he and your daughter would make a suitable match. Omeed hey ke ap is rishtay ko kabul farmain gay (Our hope is that you will accept this proposal).” And with those words their fate was sealed – a marriage that has spanned three continents, weathered a civil war and countless moves, celebrated two children and four grandchildren, and thrived for half a century.

A few years ago, I interviewed my dad so I could find out exactly how our family came to America, to record that aspect of our family’s history; it ended up being published in the Washingtonian. It inspires me every time I retell the story, which starts like this: “Where you wanna go? Where you wanna go?” I don’t think my father understood a word the cab driver said. “This is our first time in New York, he told the cabbie at JFK airport in his heavily accented Indo-Pak London English. Please take us to a neighborhood that would be suitable for my family.” The cabbie shrugged as he tossed our suitcases in the trunk. We had left our country, our home, our sense of belonging – and now our fate rested in the hands of a NY cab driver from China. We didn’t know anyone in New York. We had little idea of life in America. All of our belongings – some clothes, a few books, a Rosenthal tea set my father had bought in Germany – was in the twine-tied trunk of a yellow cab.

The stories continue — how my father was willing to travel wherever his job took him, to any state, any country, alone, so we could continue our education without having to change schools; how he could never get mad at my brother or myself, and when he did, he would hold his own hand on top of ours and tap it to show his displeasure; how there is nothing he wouldn’t do, no sacrifice he wouldn’t make, for his family’s comfort. To this day. Even though his gait has become a little more tentative, he’s the first one to want to bring my suitcase in from the car; even though his hands have become a little less sure, he’s the first one to want to make me tea in the morning.

Happy Birthday Dad. You inspire me every day. I love you.


IMG_0767Happy Father’s Day to all our dads! Today, we have two posts; the first, a letter Saanya wrote to her dad as part of ’30 gratitudes’. The second post, something I wrote about my Dad on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

From Saanya to Papa:

My dad and I are too similar for words. He and I have the same taste in music, clothes, cities, movies; we share the same opinions and reactions and expressions; and most importantly we are both obsessed with Manchester United! My dad and I have always had a special relationship — from when I was younger and I would run down the corridor of our Geneva apartment and we would wrestle and call it ‘ruff stuff’, to when he coached my soccer team and always pushed me to try harder, to the countless science projects we did together, to the fits of tears after a hard day of school which he always cured with a hug and a tub of Ben-and-Jerry’s Pistachio ice cream. Papa has always been there for me, whether it was to share a laugh or to comfort me when I am upset. Papa has always pushed me to be my best, whether it be in sports or school or on the stage, but he has never put pressure on me. With Pa, a bad grade is cured by an anecdote of one of his mishaps at Westminster, a friend problem is resolved by a father-daughter trip to the mall or the tennis court, and an accomplishment is always accompanied by more than the sufficient amount of teasing. Love you Pa.




My dad had a fall a few days ago, and is generally not doing so well (please keep him in your prayers). I knew the one person in the world who could cheer him up is Zayd, so we’re in NJ visiting for a few days. They have always had a special bond. Dad calls Zayd an ‘all rounder’; he couldn’t be more proud of him. Zayd wrote this letter to Nunno as part of our ’30 gratitude’ series; clearly, the feeling is mutual.

Dear Nunno,

I wanted to tell you that I am very grateful that you are my grandpa. I love that when we just walk in the door to your house, no matter what time, you are there to give us great big hugs. As soon as I start to talk to you, you let out a laugh before I even finish my sentence. Then you laugh again when I start speaking again. My favorite thing to do with you is snap circuits or any experiment kit. Remember when we made that ever-lasting top. I learned a lot form you. Without your help I could not have done any of the experiments I can now. Especially snap circuits, but I still have trouble with those. By the way, your high-ceiling house is amazing for helicopters. I can’t wait to come again and fill my ShopRite truck full of fruit ready to go!




Gratitude: A Million Little Things

cupcakeIn the midst of a difficult time, it’s especially important to remember what we have to be grateful for. This post from 2012 ’30 gratitudes’  is a welcome reminder of an important practice.

On January 1, 2012, I took a small cotton candy pink notebook that Saanya had bought for me, “Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake” emblazoned in white on its cover, and wrote a gratitude for that day. I asked the kids to do the same. Nothing too deep or too long, just a few words of thanks at that moment. Saanya simply wrote, “It was a good day.” Zayd said, “very joyful and playful puppy.” My thought, “devoured Babushka’s jam tarts!” In the midst of a trying time, I wanted us to find a ray of hope. There always is.

We continued to write, each day. The entries are a chronicle of the million little things that make our days and our lives complete, but that we often don’t take the time to notice. Here are some of our simple gratitudes:

Saanya: Reading a really good book (Jan 14); Downton Abbey marathon (Feb 14); cuddle session with Luna (Apr 30)

Zayd: Didn’t have to do homework (Jan 5); Having dumplings (Jan 30); doughy chocolate chip cookies (April 7)

Salma: Here’s to green juice (Jan 28); Oh, the cherry blossoms! (March 20); Zumba’d with abandon (April 10)

Gratitude: Faith, Family, Hope

IMG_6337It is a very difficult time for our family right now. My mammo jaan passed away yesterday. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (“We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”). The eldest of my mom’s siblings, he had gentle eyes, a warm smile, and a ready laugh. He was both quiet and social, caring and loving, and enjoyed a good conversation, the company of his family, and life itself. It’s one of the hardest things to see our beloved elders getting old, suffering ailments, or passing on. They are our backbone. We rely on them to keep us steady, to keep us on course. Please keep my family in your prayers, iA I will do the same for yours. Here’s a post from 2012, another year full of challenges, and my abiding gratitude for the deep embrace of family.

This year has been the most difficult I’ve faced. Between parents’ illness and surgery, death in our extended family, and some things I don’t have the courage to write about yet, I was put to Allah’s test. Some days I’m not sure if I passed. But I’m standing, held together by faith, family, and hope. And for that I am so grateful.

Without the deep embrace of my family in all its layers, there’s no way I could have gotten through. They formed such tight concentric circles around me, falling was out of the question. Each doing what they instinctively knew could help – unflinching shoulders to lean on, cry on; hands and heart held tight night or day; phone calls and emails of support and sustenance; prayers in overdrive and hugs in abundance; and all the practical things from cooking to babysitting, that make getting through trying times a little easier.

Hard times are a fact of life. Getting through them is an act of faith. Having family like mine is a pact of love.

Gratitude: Heaven Lies Beneath Their Feet

momFeeling thankful for the mothers in my life, at a time when they are going through so much; praying for their health, their strength, their resilience. A mother’s love, a mother’s care is the most precious in the world. Here’s a post from 2012, ’30 gratitudes’, in honor of all our moms.

I am grateful for the mothers in my life – my mom, and my mother-in-law,  my khalas and mamis who love me like a daughter, and all the other mothers in my family, young and old, from whom I continue to hone my own mothering skills.

I probably call my mom three or four times a day – to share a quick thought, find out for the umpteenth time what spice to put in what, ask a mundane question about what to wear or what to gift or what to do – things no one else in the world would find the least bit interesting, but she’s always there at the other end of the phone, seems like almost waiting for my call. Of course there are the big things too – the problems and struggles and major life decisions, that I would never get through without mom by my side. My mom-in-law, “Maman”, is larger than life, in the best sense of the word. She’s someone who sees art in a cloud-filled sky, hears a symphony in a downpour, and dances to the sound of cicadas. She’s taught me so much about living joyfully, loving unconditionally, and persevering boldly. And her special chicken sandwiches have sustained us through many a hard time.

I don’t know anyone kinder, more giving, or more compassionate than my Dr. Khala. I can’t remember a milestone in my life, either joyous or painful, where she hasn’t been by my side. And I don’t dare say thank you – that would just upset her. Bari Khala exudes a serenity and peace that makes you feel so calm and comforted and ensconced in her presence. It stems from her strong faith and her gentle disposition. Khala Jani has a resoluteness that’s both caring and spirited; she’s the head of our DC/MD/VA clan, always clipping articles or connecting us to issues or people of interest. Mami jaan is incredible, a perfect balance of traditional sensitivity and worldly intelligence and someone for whom I have so much respect and admiration; and I love Talat mami’s contagious laugh and fun loving spirit and wish I could see her more often.

We lost two beautiful mothers last month. My sister-in-law’s mother – a gentle soul with a huge heart, who would make sure everyone was well fed, even strangers in far off villages to whom she would send money without anyone ever knowing. She knitted little sweaters and caps for both my children, even for Saanya’s favorite doll. And my cousin’s mother-in-law – such a graceful woman, quiet and cultured with a sweet smile. Her son told me, “some people lead with their intelligence or their looks or their position, for me it was always my mom. She was the coolest person I knew, and the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.” May Allah look after them both. Ameen.

Gratitude: Life

orlandoOn this day of horrific violence in Orlando, it saddens me to share a post from the first day of Ramadan in 2012, when another heinous act of terror took place, then in Aurora, Colorado. Praying for all those affected by senseless tragedy. Life is Life.

On the first day of this blessed month, we all woke up to a tragedy beyond belief. Twelve people dead and dozens wounded in an act of terror that has terrorized our conscience and our country. I tremor when I think of those children, those mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, out for an evening of fun. How many times have we enjoyed family movie night, to return safely home. But for the grace of God…

This senseless violence puts in relief, in too tragic a way, the most fundamental gratitude of all. For life itself. Our lives are so tenuous, our time here so limited. What matters most is not the years lived, but the difference made; not just the joys experienced, but the suffering alleviated. On this first day of Ramadan, I thank God for life itself. For a chance to do, to feel, to love, to serve, to be.