riyada in arabic means "training" or "discipline". It was used by the arabs in relation to horse taming. Sufis refer to their discipline as "riyadat an-nafs": disciplining the soul / training the ego. Today, the word riyada has come to mean "sports". There is an Arabic proverb that says: "The purpose of sports (riyada) is not to win cups, but to discipline the soul". This blog is here to help me discipline my soul and train my body.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tip for Good Health, Religion

We've all heard of the "French Paradox", or why the French dont get fat despite the foods that they eat. There are many explanations like the amounts of coffee that they drink, cigarettes that they smoke, and the resveratrol in the wine that they drink. But another very important reason is the way they eat their food. The French believe that one must sit down and focus on their meals (not eat while watching tv, for example), and to eat very slowly. They say to spend at least 20 minutes on each meal, to savour every bite, and chew very slowly[1]. This, I believe is one of the most important reasons that the french dont get fat.

I started doing this a month ago and it truly makes a huge difference. I eat very slowly, chewing my food as much as I can. In fact, when I'm eating I'm not thinking about the French and their way of eating but the Tibetans. Everytime I eat, I go by this Tibetan saying, "Drink your food and chew your water." Paul Chek elaborates,

That means you should chew your food until it's a liquid, and when you drink a liquid you shouldn't just slam it. You should move it around your mouth as though it was food because that mixes saliva with the water.

The saliva carries the energy from the spleen so it adds chi to the water; it enlivens the water so it'll actually have a therapeutic effect on the body. If you just slam piles of water straight into your stomach it's actually very stressful on the body. [2]



It is like the Prophet (pbuh) said about drinking: "Do not drink water in one breath like a camel. Recite the Name of God, breathe in and out to take three sips, and thank God." [3]


Well, I also think about the French when I eat in that my meal time is for eating only. Two days ago I was in the middle of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai when my dinner arrived. At first I was tempted to eat while watching the movie, but decided that it would cause me to be unconscious of my food and would make me swallow my food before chewing it properly. We have to be mindful of our eating in Islam, and in Zen Buddhism they consider this an important practice that novices must master, which they call Mindful Eating [6]. So, I paused the movie, ate slowly, and when I was done I resumed the movie.

And like the Tibetan saying, evertime I eat I try to chew until my food is almost a liquid. This is great for many reasons. First, it improves digestion. When you don't chew your food enough, it is not digested as well because it is not exposed to the digestive enzymes in your saliva, and also because the chunks that go down are so big that they are not digested well by the stomach and intestines. This means that your body will not feel so good after eating, and it might make it more difficult for you to do your religious duties like prayer. That is why Muslims prefer to eat very little and to chew slowly, so that they always feel light and can perform all their prayers easily.

Also because of this greater digestion, you get more out of your food. When you do not digest your food as well, you do not get as many nutrients from it. Because of this, you need to eat larger quantities to get a sufficient amount of nutrients. By chewing very carefully, you get more nutrients from a lesser amount of food.

This brings us to the third benefit: eating less. By chewing more, you eat less. The longer you chew, the less food that you eat before you feel full. So you are getting all the nutrients that you need from less food, you are getting thinner, and your body feels much better the whole day, allowing you to perform your religious duties easier. All this by chewing slowly and carefully.

Finally, it helps if your food is not hot. I've come to like all my food cold. Today I made the mistake of eating food straight out of the oven and I was so shocked at the amount that I ate. When the food is really hot, it's very hard to keep it in your mouth long and to chew it, and so you just swallow it down without chewing on in. This means you will need far more food before you feel satisfied. I think I ate triple what I usually eat for lunch simply because the food was hot. Cold food allows you to chew it as long as you want, and to enjoy the taste. When it's hot, you don't feel the taste as much (or so it is with me). It doesn't have to be cold cold, just not hot. Personally, I like to eat all my food actually cold, like after taking out of the fridge. You don't have to do that if you dont like it (although I find it tastes better that way), just make sure it is not very hot, so that you can eat it at a slower rate. The colder the food, the less you need to eat before you are full. In fact, one of the most famous Islamic teachings about food is never to blow on hot food so that one could eat it, but to wait for it to cool down.

Also, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said,

"Leave the food to cool for hot food has no blessing." [4]

And it is reported that he, peace and blessings be upon him, said,

"Eat cold food, because it has the blessing of abundance. If you are heedful you will see how much more you must eat when you eat warm food..." [5]



Anyway, just try not to eat your food when it's hot (warm is good enough), and eat very slowly. It will have more blessings and abundance, and your body will thank you!


Note:
For Sufi works about the proper way to eat see Book XI of al-Ghazali's Revival of the Religious Sciences, entitled Manners Relating to Eating or Alaa' ad-Dawla as-Simnani's Aadaab as-Sufra (Table Manners).


wassalam


-----
1. Wyatt, Caroline. "Aged 11, I was too big for Paris"
2. T-Nation: "Deconstructing Paul Chek"
3. Reported by Tirmidhi
4. Reported by Tabarani. This Hadith is further supported by a Hadith graded as Sahih (authentic) by Imaam Hibbaan which is as follows: When Sayyidatuna Asmaa bint Abu Bakr (Radhiallaahu Anhuma) used to cook Thareed (a special type of food), she used to cover it a while till the steam stopped, then she used to say, ‘I heard Nabi (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) saying, ‘Verily it is greater in blessing.’ (Saheeh ibn Hibbaan vol.7 pg.321)
5. Imam Birgivi. The Path of Muhammad, pg 16.
6. I added this paragraph after reading DA's comment to the post.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

in jordan...

assalamu alaykum


well im in jordan and trying my best to stay away from the computer as much as possible. so im gonna talk briefly about what's going on.


first of all i'm here till early september... just gonna relax, read, swim, workout, eat good clean delicious food, etc.
Also, alhamdulillah matters of worship have become much better. i'm doing all my prayers on time (except fajr which i keep missing), and not only that, but i'm doing as many as i possibly can in the mosque. so far i've done at least one in the mosque each day, but usually two prayers. i'm gonna try to increase that to three or four but i cant always make it to the mosque. so alhamdullillah this is great and i hope i get used to this and continue it when i'm back in egypt.

also i brought with me a CD i bought from the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo after one Jum'ah prayer. The CD is a program containing Ibn Raslan's Zubad with commentary by Shaykh Ali Gom'aa. The Zubad is a simple 1000-line poem in Shafi'i fiqh, explaining everything one needs to know from aqeeda (creed, set of beleifs) to practice (everything about prayers, fasting, and much more). With this program I get to read the poem while listening to commentary and explanation by Ali Gom'aa. Everyday I listen to a 30-minute section. There's about 55 such sections.

I'm also going to try to get in contact with Shaykh Nuh Keller's people (or the SunniPath people) to see if there's any courses I can take while i'm here. I doubt it though.

finally, i brought three books with me from the library of the American University in Cairo. Why? Well they are out of print and I can't buy them except used and for at least double the price. So I borrowed them from the library and plan to make copies of them here in Jordan. A copy with hardcover and everything. they will look just like the original (except with a plain hardcover).

the books are:

- The Exoteric Ahmad Ibn Idris: A Sufi's Critique of the Madhahib and the Wahhabis: Four Arabic Texts With Translation and Commentary.
- Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition
- Sufi and Scholar on the Desert Edge: Muhammad B. Ali al-Sanusi and his Brotherhood


So, in regards to religion everything is good so far, alhamdulillah. With health and fitness the same. I'm planning to swim on all my rest days from the gym, inshalla.

Also i'm experimenting on my eyes. I believe, no i KNOW that i can improve my vision and i'm doing a full attack on my eyes until my myopia decreases (inshalla). I dont want to discuss everything i'm doing now but i'll get into it later. Or better yet, I won't get into it later, because I dont want to be spending too much time on the computer. Of course I know i'll end up discussing it sometime this week. so we'll see.


peace!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Second Encounter

Bism Allah,


looks like it's been a week since I last posted, since my previous post was from last friday about how I saw Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl at the mosque next to my place but didn't speak to him. Well, I decided to go to the same mosque again this week to see if he'll be there, and he was! In fact I entered the mosque right behind him. The khutba had started so I couldn't talk to him until after the prayers. First I approached the young guy (well, probably my age), who was with him, and asked him about the professor's health and how he's doing. He told me that he's good and that he's staying here for the summer and took me to talk to him (they were on the way out to their car). So I did go and talk to him. I'm leaving Cairo on sunday for the rest of summer, after which he will be going back to UCLA so I knew this would probably be the last time I see him (for now, inshalla). But I told him that I attended his lectures at AUC that I'm thinking about getting a degree in Islamic Law and he told me about the best 4 places in the world that I could go to. Well, the four best professors in the world that I could go to, each at a different university. It's not about the university but about the professor. For example I told him where I was thinking about going, and he told me that the famous professor in Islamic Law there might move from there to go somewhere else, so that there would be no point in going to that university if he's not there anymore, and should go to the university that he will move to. This meeting, therefore, might have saved me from going to the wrong country, because that professor has not told anyone yet about his plans to move, and now I know that I might not want to go to the university he's leaving, where I was thinking about going.

I'm very thankful to Allah for having provided me this meeting with the professor, both for all that he told me about where to go, and for meeting Professor Abou El Fadl himself. He seemed like such a nice guy, and inshalla I will meet him again sometime. Too bad I want to avoid going to the States, otherwise I might have applied to go learn with him.


Alhamdulilah, wassalam.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Lost Opportunity

assalamu alaykum,


sometimes for friday prayer (whenever i can) i go to the Sultan Hassan Mosque, 25 minutes away by taxi on Fridays. Well, I couldn't today, I woke up late and everything (ive actually not been able to go almost every time, i tihnk i only went twice so far). But hopefully i'll start going there more. It's a beautiful mosque, one of the largest in Cairo, and the khateeb (the guy who gives the Friday khutba or sermon) is the official mufti (the guy who makes fatwas) of Egypt, Ali Gomaa. I really like this guy, he's highly educated, and very well informed in philosophy and in western thought.


Well today I couldn't and ended up going to the mosque next to my house, and I was surprised to see Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl there. I've attended two lectures he gave at the American University in Cairo, and I took out one of his books, The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses, but I didnt get a chance to finish it. It started out great and he has a great sense of humor as well, hopefully i'll go back to it some day. sheilaX has posted an interview with him from his recent trip to Singapore where he was promoting his new book, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. He is Professor of Law at UCLA where he teaches Islamic Law and other law subjects.

When I heard him speak about Islamic Law in his lectures, he said some amazing things, some beautiful things, and it made me want to get into it more. Then I remembered how my Muslim Political Science professor said that there are almost no western scholars who actually understand the inner workings of Islamic Jurisprudence. They understand the basics, and the principles, but they dont really understand how it really works. You have to go through the traditional fiqh teaching and to become a scholar to truly understand how it works. And I thought, wow, it would be amazing if I could become a scholar in Islamic Law and a faqih. I would be doing something amazing and my knowledge would be very rare in the west. I'm still thinking about getting a degree in Islamic Law, but I'm still not sure.


Well, I wanted to go speak to Professor Abou El Fadl after the end of the friday prayers but he was busy doing the sunna (extra) prayers. Now he has a brain tumor I believe, and needs a cane to walk and usually has a nurse that goes everywhere with him. So I wasnt surprised to see him sitting on a chair next to the old men in the back rows at the mosque. But I was truly surprised when he was doing his sunna prayers standing, not from the chair. Usually old men and those who are unable to do the prayer as it is supposed to be done, are allowed to do it from a chair. This is even more so for the extra sunna prayers because they are not obligatory, and so I expected him to be doing them from the chair. But, he was doing them while standing, even though it was very difficult for him. There was a young guy next to him ho would help him stand up after the prostration, with much difficulty. May God multiply his rewards for his striving and his effort.

I really wanted to go talk to him, but he seemed tired even earlier during the khutba, and I was worried about disturbing him. Maybe he needs to get back home and rest, or to take medication. I just didn't think it was right of me to go and bother him. But I feel like I missed out on a great opportunity. I mean here's this genius professor, living somewhere near my place, and I feel its a great loss that I cannot go and visit him and learn from him. If only I had asked where he lived and if I could visit when he was feeling ok. There's so much I could learn from him, and so much advice he could give me.

Oh well. May God restore his health and his strength, and keep him for the sake of our ummah, because we need minds like his. Sure, even I disagree with many things that he has said, but anyone who listened to that lecture he gave about Islamic Law at AUC must admit that he has an incredible mind that we really need, and ideas that we must always keep in our minds.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israeli blockade

My parents are in lebanon. they were planning to go back to jordan tomorrow by plane, but Israel attacked Lebanon's airport, and imposed an air and sea blockade. So my parents might try to go back by land, but the lebanon-syria, syria-jordan borders are now so jammed with traffic that it would probably take 10 hours at the border. israel is also thinking about blocking off lebanon by land as well, so there's a chance they'll be stuck there for who knows when. israel also basically cut off the capital Beirut from southern Lebanon by destroying the bridges and roads.


update:

i heard that even the land routes out of lebanon are blocked now and that only people who left very early in the morning where able to make it to Jordan. so my parents are stuck in lebanon until this is worked out.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Gom Jabbar

“A duke’s son must know about poisons", [the Reverend Mother] said. "...Here’s a new one for you: the gom jabbar. It kills only animals.”

Pride overcame Paul's fear. "You dare suggest a duke's son is an animal?" he demanded.

-Dune



At the beginning of Dune, Paul Atreides is brought into the presence of the Reverend Mother Mohiam in order to be tested. Now obviously if all of us humans were living at a level above that of animals, such a test would not be necessary.

Seest thou such a one as taketh for his god his own passion (or impulse)? ... Or thinkest thou that most of them listen or understand? They are only like cattle;- nay, they are worse astray in Path. (Quran 25: 43-44)


And that is just what the Gom Jabbar test is for: to see if Paul can override his own natural impulses. In the test, he puts his hand in a small box that causes him excruciating pain, but he knows that if he pulls out his hand he would die instantly. Now an animal, even if it knew and perfectly understood that it would die if it pulled out its hand from the box, would still pull it out as soon as it feels the pain. This is a natural reaction or impulse that the animal cannot override: it is hardwired to pull its hand away as soon as it experiences pain.

The Bene Gesserit believe that animals react only by instinct, their base emotions, and drives. They also believe that humans can use their self-awareness to combat instinct. That is what Paul did, when he faught his instinctual drive to run from the pain.



But everyday I see people failing the Gom Jabbar test miserably, even when it is far easier. Almost every day I see people, for example, who are really overweight and who have failed to lose any weight for years, even though they really want to. I see them sitting on the dining table, and just eating everything they could get their hands to. They know that they shouldn't, but they don't seem to be able to override their base desires. They dont seem to even try. They simply shut off all rational thought, and all the knowledge of how much further this takes them away from their goal, and simply let loose on the food. Eat, eat eat. It boggles my mind and I can't understand it. When there's food infront of them, they are simply animals, and they dont even try to override their desires, even when they know that they should! I just can't understand it. It seems really easy to me: my desires say yes, but my rational mind say I have a greater desire: to be healthy, and I sacrifice this worthless short-term pleasure for a greater long-term benefit, a benefit that would keep me happy all my life.

I mean, it's not like you are throwing away 10 minutes of extra pleasure in return for nothing. You are giving up 10 minutes of extra pleasure (because you can still get plenty pleasure eating healthy food), for a lifetime of happiness and satisfaction with your weight and health and body. But what these people do at every meal is opt for a little extra short term pleasure and a whole lifetime of dissapointment at their weight and health. I really can't understand it. I mean they spend their whole lives, every other minute, suffering from being fat, suffering because their knees hurt, beacuse their backs hurt, because they can't walk easily, because they look at the mirror and think they're looking at a poster of the Michelin Man, because they are always out of breath. You can't override a simple desire in order to get rid of all that?!

And this food example is just the most ready example in my mind because I see it everyday. But there is a little Gom Jabbar test in everything we do. Tell me, can't you override the desire to have a second look at that girl over there? How will that glance benefit you in any way? What do you get out of it? That's another thing that always boggled my mind, even though I fall for it myself. It doesn't benefit me in any way, but still sometimes I can't resist to give her a second glance. Why? I really can't understand. And what happens if I look? Eye zina, and the decrease (or extinguishment) of the divine light in one's heart and face. That divine light that illumines one's face if he prays late at night. That divine light that enters one's heart if he purifies it with God's remembrance (not that I have any of either at the moment, may God save me!)


Which brings me to something that I'm still struggling with: doing all my prayers. Most times it's about forgetfulness, but sometimes it's not. It's laziness. Why can't I override this ridiculous little desire to be lazy, to just sit there, while I know my whole life on this world and the next are at stake! Why? How could I be so stupid, so weak. How can I be in this worse than an animal? I'm giving away my spiritual advancement in this world, and acceptance in the next. I'm not doing right the most important thing that I am here to do. Why? Because I cannot override this tiny meaningless little desire. Every day, I fail the Gom Jabbar. There I was writing about how it boggles my mind that people are sacrificing their happiness in their lives for 5 minutes of extra happinness at meal time, whereas I am sacrificing my eternal happiness for... nothing. Not even for 5 or 10 minutes of happiness. All I would be losing out on is 5 or 10 minutes of, I dunno, sitting there. I can't believe it. This is insane. And it needs to stop.


O God, make me stronger!
I'm off to do my ablutions for prayer. Wassalam.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Suhba

Assalamu Alaykum,


Egypt's heat is killing me... I haven't been able to write anything in a while because this heat just takes all the power out of you, and you just can't do anything. The problem is, I have a great disliking for air conditioners, I prefer to melt in the heat than to turn one on. I also want to get used to the heat. I feel like we're pampering our bodies too much, keeping the temperature perfect all year long, and I decided last summer in Egypt that I will never use the air conditioning, but make my body get used to the heat. One draw back of course is that it takes me a very long time to fall asleep, I wake up with a wet t-shirt and pillow from the sweat, and i'm probably losing lots of water and minerals from the sweating. Too bad I ran out of ZMA and have no multi-vitamin or mineral around.


Well, I woke up and fall asleep again at lest 5 times today. In one of those times I dragged myself out of bed, gravity pulling me down and the sun pushing down at me from above, and sat to watch the Iqra' channel, and to my luck found a discussion with the shaykh Habeeb Ali al-Jafri whose very existence always reminds me that all is not lost in the ummah and that there is much hope and much goodness around.

Well, today they were discussing where the education of the du'aat, those who call and invite the Muslims to guidance, went wrong. The discussion then branched off for the rest of the episode to talk about the importance of suhba in the education of the du'at and the teachers of Islam. Nowadays the word suhba usually refers to a certain talk that a Shaykh says, but its true meaning is companionship. Suhba was the way students accompanied their teachers wherever they went and served them in order to benefit from them and learn from them. Well, Shaykh Habeeb gave lots of examples from the Qur'an and the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (the way he acted toward his shaykh Imam al-Shafi'i), may God be pleased with them both. I'm not going to try to recount what he said because it was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes, but I will only say that I finally, for the first time, truly and sincerely asked God to send me a shaykh that I can accompany, a wali to purify me and help fix me upon the path of the Prophet (pbuh).

I don't know why but I've never really wanted it before. I would think about it, and I might even pray for it, but I'd know deep down that I wasn't being sincere about it, because it would conflict with my own desires. But now I realized I'd be willing to give anything up for accompanying a good shaykh who will strengthen me and guide me upon the path. I realized that I would be willing to give up anything that I liked in order to purify me heart and move upon the path to Allah.

So please pray for me, right now, and ask Allah that he send me a good shaykh, amen.

As I said before, I'm reading The Hundred Letters by shaykh Maneri, which are wonderful, and I finally decided to go to the bookstore and buy On Disciplining the Soul and Breaking the Two Desires, a translation of two books from Imam al-Ghazali's Ihyaa. The first one is called Kitaab Riyaadat an-Nafs (like the name of this blog), and the other is about breaking the two main desires: gluttony and sexual desire. (There is an excerpt in the link above, from the chapter on the importance of good character, which I wish everyone would read).

My own cousin told me how much he benefitted from applying the Ihyaa. He used to be a very unruly young man, always getting angry quickly, shouting at his parents, doing some drugs, etc. His main problem was his anger and temper. He bought the Ihyaa and read it all and applied everything he learned from it and truly changed his personality.


I ask Allah that I benefit from the works of the great Imam as well. Aameen.