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A Qur'aanic Odyssey

Umm Muhemmed is an American born development economist who recently began her own hifdh study. Earlier this month, Greenbird Books published her fiction A Qur'aanic Odyssey, a promising book that portrays a knowledge-seeking and Quran-loving Muslim family's journey through the Quran.

We asked Umm Muhemmed a number of questions about herself and her book. Her interesting and informative answers are below:

What’s the book about, and who’s it for?

The narrative is based on Ibrahim aged five, and Amna aged two, who embark on a journey of hifdh al Qur’aan with their mother Khadija and father Abdurrahman. This story emphasizes love for the Quran in a thoughtful manner. Through the eyes and hearts of this young family, we learn about courage and patience. We learn to look inwards and reflect on the journey ahead.  A Qur’aanic Odyssey is for all who are interested, including parents who coach their children in learning and memorizing Quran or more general Quranic study. I also hope to reach out to non-Muslims, especially any who may be linked to cross-cultural families, trying to navigate and understand some of the intricacies of the ‘culture’ of Islam, especially with regard to the Quran. In addition, the text may be used in a classroom environment including by teachers, of any faith or conviction, who seek to present Islam and more specifically the Quran in a positive ‘real life,’ ‘Western’ environment. Through storytelling, I aspire to demonstrate that the Quran and Islam may be complementary to the ‘West’.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

We all wear many hats. I feel very fortunate to have so many diverse roles: as mother, wife, daughter, sister, development economist, author, educator, and, perhaps most importantly, student. In all of these roles, I seek to learn as well as to live Islam in an increasingly true and compassionate way. A Qur'aanic Odyssey is a new outlet for me. It is very different from the academic writing that has occupied my work over the last decade, and yet the process of conceiving and writing the book has taught me endless lessons about hifdh, motherhood, the Quran in general, and of course, the process of writing.

Why did you write this story?

The book arose in part as a response to a superhero figure that emerged in my son’s life, through no introduction of mine, I might add. I was amazed how such figures completely mesmerized my son and so many of his peers. As we had already started on our own hifdh journey, I was curious how I might attract the same interest, harness the same energy for our Quran lessons. Initially, I sought to create a Quran/hifdh game, but my computer programming skills were inadequate. Then, I thought I might simply create a type of Quranic superhero for him, almost in the style of a comic book. As I wrote, however, I found myself developing a series of characters to whom he could relate directly, and who could potentially encourage him on his own hifdh journey, simply by their real life example. I also sought to reach out to many adults who had little or no experience with hifdh and Quran and found that the children’s voices could be straightforward, thoughtful, non-threatening and ultimately very effective in communicating a message.

I have also been inspired by my teachers, especially Hafidha Rayhaanah Omar, founder of Fee Qalbee, who has shared countless child-friendly Quran activities. My own two young children are the source of endless inspiration, along with nieces and nephews. The author of ‘A Muslim Princess,’ Umm Aasiyah Muhammad, also deserves special mention here, both as an author and as the parent of an aspiring hafidha.

With what do you want readers to walk away?

Two main messages. Hifdh may be fun (although it is hard work). Working on hifdh, at home, has the potential to be extremely rewarding for the whole family.  

How might parents/teachers/students find this book useful when reading to children?

Almost every chapter showcases at least one hifdh activity: namely it demonstrates how Ibrahim, Amna and Khadija are learning one of the surahs from Juz Amma. In this regard, parents (and other teachers as well) should inshaa Allah gain insights about how to approach surahs in a fun, loving and thoughtful way. In addition, the book includes ‘hifdh teaching notes’ (immediately following each chapter) which endeavour to go one step further in providing recommendations for how to generate a positive and productive response from our little ones. At the same time, it is not an in depth novel. Each chapter is short, almost like a skit, and is intended to highlight life lessons amidst Quran learning.  The text may be read to children, by children, and/or solely by adults. It is intended to be interactive inshaa Allah.

What’s next for you?

As a person of faith, I don’t think that we fully choose our destinies. I am busy working on hifdh, coaching our children (in Quran and life, in general), writing a sequel to A Qur’aanic Odyssey, and keeping a number of other projects afloat, but one never fully knows what Allah SWT has in store for us. I try to keep a certain pace and focus, while at the same time, being open to the endless opportunities of learning and teaching that come our way inshaa Allah.

What specific advice do you have to the members of Quran Club?

I am in no position to hand out advice. Suffice it to say, as a revert, who embraced Islam as an adult, I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to hifdh and to have been blessed with the opportunity to share the transformative experience through A Qur’aanic Odyssey.

A Qur’aanic Odyssey by Umm Muhemmed, published by Greenbird Books, is available via Amazon.com.

Check out the book's website at: http://aquraanicodyssey.wordpress.com/

Arrogance, blood and brains: How God prevents certain people from seeing His Signs

I will avert from My Signs those who consider themselves superior without any right, and if they see every Sign they will not believe in it, and if they see the path of reason they will not follow it, and if they see the path of error they will follow it; that is because they denied Our Signs and were oblivious of them. [7:146]

How does God accomplish this—how does He avert arrogant people from His signs? Human biology could be one of His methods.

Strong emotions blind rationality. A few weeks ago I read about a study in which the researchers found that when humans try to think of an idea that they strongly disagree with, their brains receive less blood where it matters, and this strongly diminishes their ability to think about the idea.

When humans are arrogant, and dislike the idea of God and that of submitting to Him, this dislike manifests itself in their bodies by causing a blood famine in their brains whenever they are reminded of God. Instead of thinking of God rationally, they fall into a state of great discomfort that blinds them, as God Himself describes it:

Thus whoever God wants to guide, He makes his chest relax and expand, ready to accept submission, and whoever He wants to render lost, He makes his chest narrow and distressed as if he is climbing into the sky... [6:125]

God has designed humans in a way that evil, arrogant people are prevented by their own bodies from appreciating God's existence. God put His will into the blueprint of all humans, and whenever humans deserve to be rendered lost, their bodies and minds, being extensions of God's will, make sure that it happens.

The more arrogant a person becomes, the harder it becomes for them to appreciate God's Signs, possibly due to a stronger emotional response against God, and thus a greater lack of blood in their brains when facing one of God's Signs. The classic example of this is the powerful Egyptian king Fir'aun, who refused to believe any of the miracles that Moses showed him...until the moment he lost all of his power. When God destroyed his ego, and his arrogance vanished, he could then see the truth:

So We brought the Children of Israel across the sea. Fir'aun and his troops pursued them arrogantly and aggressively. When he was about to drown, [Fir'aun] exclaimed, ‘I believe that there is no deity save Him in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of those who surrender themselves to Him!’

Only now … when you have always been a rebel and a wrongdoer? [10:90-91]

When God wants to create Earth from scratch, He first creates the Big Bang

God says in the Quran:

He is the one who created the skies and the Earth... [57:4]
When God says He created Earth, some people think it means He picked up a handful of gravel and put them into a ball that became Earth. This is a very simpleminded way of understanding God's words; there is a much more elegant explanation.

Atheism's favorite personality Carl Sagan says:
If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

Atheists have been repeating the above statement for years, never realizing that it gets dangerously close to providing an explanation for God's way of creating things, an explanation that's perfectly consistent with science, and that defeats a lot of atheism's arguments against religion.

To mirror Sagan's saying:

When God wants to create Earth from scratch, He first creates the Big Bang

...in a way that results in one particular planet with Earth's life-supporting properties to come into existence, to circle around a star with the Sun's properties, and to be surrounded by the rest of the astronomical bodies in the Solar System and beyond.

God planned the creation of today's Earth millions, maybe billions, of years ago, before the universe even existed. He calculated the laws of physics necessary for Earth to exist, and with the Big Bang He put His plans into motion, which ultimately led to the creation of the Earth, with the exact location in the universe, and the exact physical properties, that He planned for it from before the Big Bang.

Creating Earth in this indirect manner requires vastly more knowledge, precision, elegance, and top-notch engineering than the typical boring religious explanation suggests.

This is always how God works. God is elegant and scientific—and often beyond the intelligence of humans, especially those who think science and God are opposed.

This post does not explain how God created the Big Bang. Either science will discover more about how God did it (the same way it has discovered some of the secrets of how God set up His system for generating rain on Earth), or it is not possible to figure out from inside the universe what went on outside of it.

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