Friday, November 25, 2011

Overcoming Negativity

There is a saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t out to get you.”

Sometimes when we feel deeply uncomfortable, or even subtly uncomfortable, instead of trying to push these feelings away, it might help to look at them in the light of day. God gave us feelings for a reason. A peaceful person cannot be ruled by emotions, but also cannot ignore them.

Recently I complained to my doctor of panic attacks and she prescribed me Xanex. I found that it didn’t do anything for my panic, but just made me feel sluggish. I wondered if this sluggishness might actually inhibit me from an appropriate reaction to a real and present danger. I did some research about Xanex and found that it is a medication for the treatment of unpredictable and inexplicable panic attacks. It occurred to me that this was not an accurate description of my condition. I have every reason to feel anxious! I’m a woman with four children going through the last stages of my second divorce. Of course I’m a nervous wreck! I got rid of the Xanex and started making some new friends. A lot of times the negativity in our lives is best cured by finding some new positive things to do:

On the authority of Abu Dharr Jundub ibn Junaadah, and Abu ‘Abd-ir-Rahmaan Mu’aadh bin Jabal (r) that the Messenger of Allaah (s) said:

“Have Taqwa (Fear) of Allah wherever you may be, and follow up a bad deed with a good deed which will wipe it out, and behave well towards the people.”

(related by at-Tirmidhee)

Another feeling that sometimes rules me is rage, even though I know the Prophet (s) said, “Do not become angry.” But when you think about US drones killing children in Pakistan, or the Black American political activists from the 70’s dying in prison one by one, or you think about someone who borrowed money from you and refused to pay you back, how can you not be angry?

I once heard a wise Jewish criminal defense lawyer say, “If I judged other people’s actions by what I would do, I would go crazy.” We may not agree with injustice, but we do have to develop a certain emotional detachment in order to effectively fight the injustices day after day, decade after decade. We have to develop strategies for getting the results that we want. Sometimes that requires making a clear statement. Other times the goal requires keeping silent and letting the other party come to the conclusion you want. You don’t always have to tell people everything that you are thinking.

One thing that I have learned from reading pop psychology books is that whatever condition you are ruled by on a conscious level is usually not the true issue. Especially if you are obsessing within a certain mental state, most likely this is a cover-up of your true emotion. For example, grief is a genuine emotion but depression is a mental condition. Fear can be a legitimate emotion, but anxiety is a mental condition. Usually we cling to a mental condition to avoid confronting our true emotion. Very often, the truth is exactly the opposite of our mental condition! It is useful to meditate occasionally when we are feeling overpowered by a mental condition, to determine the actual emotion we are afraid of respecting.

It’s easy to find examples of this from everyday life: a juvenile delinquent sets fires out of a constant feeling of anger, but in therapy he admits that he is in truth deeply sad that his father abandoned him. In order to heal, he may need to go through a grieving period where he could mourn his loss and forgive his father.

A housewife is debilitated by depression to the extent that she can no longer eat. But deep down she is truly angry at her husband for not desiring her, and she is doing this hunger strike to see if he would notice or care. She is suppressing her desires because she is unable to own her personal anger at feeling rejected. By remaining depressed, she mutes the healthy part of her brain that wants and desires good for herself. Whether it’s a sandwich or a man’s affection, she will eventually have to learn how to visualize what she wants and then learn to do what she has to do to attain her goals.

“…Allah guides him who seeks His good pleasure to paths of peace and safety. He brings them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guides them unto a straight path.”

(Quran 5:016)

A lot of the Muslim world as well as a greater part of the entire world seems to be trapped in various negative mental conditions that are paralyzing progress. There is a tendency to react predictably, protesting each affront as it occurs, rather than addressing patterns of events effectively. Albert Einstein said that you can never solve a problem on the same level as it occurs. Problem solving requires some intuitive leaps. On a global level, Muslims and all people who care about promoting the Good in this world probably need to work through a psychological process of coming to terms with grief, anger, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, before they can truly succeed in righting wrongs. We need to learn a sense of detachment to worldly affairs that will enable us to have a vision. Once we have a vision, other things start will start falling into place and our path will become clear.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kindness in Marriage and Divorce

Live with them in kindness; even if you dislike them, perhaps you dislike something in which God has placed much good. (Quran 4:19)

marriage1There is almost nothing more damaging to the human psyche than trying hard to please someone who is trying hard to tolerate you. Whether it’s a child-parent relationship or a wife-husband relationship, conditional love creates a type of emotional violence which involves spiritual enslavement of the weaker party. The essential cause is dehumanization of the Other; when one person doesn’t view the other person as fully human. In the classic set-up, the weaker party is striving to be what the other person needs him or her to be, while the stronger party judges whether the other is good enough to merit approval. There are countless personality and relationship disorders that get passed down in this way from generation to generation; it’s like farming pain.

While laying down the financial groundwork for a marriage is important, once this is behind us, it becomes important to explore the hopes and dreams of each party involved, as well as their past. If a new spouse shows no interest in looking at the other’s old school yearbooks or handwritten poetry from days gone by, how can a couple face the future as one? Each party will come to the table with their own set of baggage. Some of this baggage contains real treasures. If the couple cannot discuss the past and explore why the other feels and reacts as they do, how will they ever relate?

In both arranged marriages and love marriages, there often comes a time when one or both partners may come to dislike one another. It is probably impossible to truly get to know anyone on earth without disliking something about them. A friendship or marriage must be sustained on the good will and trust about the intentions of the other party. There may be psychological or neurological reasons for their behavior. But as long as one party is actively disliking the other, there is no way for them to connect on a level of mutual respect and understanding. It is tragic how many cases of personal insecurity could get in the way of truly appreciating another human being.

One man married a certain woman in order to please his mother. She gave him a son, whom he truly loved, but he did not love his wife – perhaps because she was not beautiful enough, or perhaps just because he had not chosen her himself. But he had agreed to the marriage! So he is walking around feeling sorry for himself because he has no feelings for this woman who gave him a son, even though she had never showed him any unpleasantness nor gave him any reason for complaint. Even if they had not ever exchanged any words of tenderness by this point, which must have been at least two years, that woman already proved her dedication to the marriage by willingly and voluntarily subjecting herself to physical pain in order to provide offspring to his family!

What could cause a man to willingly and voluntarily subject himself to physical pain for someone else? Only the most heart-felt, deepest emotion. Even if those emotions were not available at the time, she went through the motions. She made the sacrifice for him. Is that not enough for her husband to feel deep gratitude and friendship? How would he feel towards a man who took a bullet for him? Would he not feel obligated to love and protect him for life?

The ability to find beauty in someone else should not be a huge task. We could easily find something to love about a stranger. Perhaps the angle between her eyes and her nose is very interesting. Perhaps he has a cute way of mispronouncing words. One thing I have come to realize is that the attributes that other people find most frustrating or annoying about me are my best qualities. It is harmful to me to constantly be around people who devalue or demean what I have to offer the world.

A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. (Quran 2:229)

A lot of psychological research is being done these days on the effect of personality disorders on the spouse. A person who truly cannot see any good in a spouse who has done him or her no wrong, who blames excessively, who doesn’t live in the present but lives somewhere else, probably has some kind of personality disorder. Trying to merge lives with someone who has only their own interest in mind is not only frustrating but can be debilitating, especially in old age.

If you don’t like your spouse, and you cannot address your own personal issues that keep you from being able to like someone who is trying hard to be your life partner, it may be most merciful to let them go so they can find someone else. You should never stay married to someone out of pity or a sense of unwanted obligation, because this deprives your spouse of their humanity.

It is easier for a woman to raise children alone than to raise children while buffering extreme emotional negativity in her home. That point being made, if you leave a woman with children, financial support must be provided. While the state mandated child support amount is a must, it is more merciful to calculate the actual costs associated with raising a child. If you cannot imagine paying your ex-wife a check each week for her efforts, it is truly in your best interest to find something about her to like.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mastering Home Economics Key to Personal Freedom

The best time for teaching basic home economics is when children are young. Yet many of us reach adulthood lacking some of the essential skills for comfortable living. In a well-run household, people’s basic needs are taken care of, so that thoughts and conversations can dwell on higher things. When people experience a sense of calm and security in their homes, they can focus on their work better, and enjoy their leisure more completely. When a person embarks upon the adventure of living away from their parents, whether it’s because they got married, went off to college, found their dream job, or simply needed to “find themselves,” some challenges always arise. In order to wear that new-found freedom gracefully, one needs to attain competence in the realms of finances, cleanliness, and health.

Financial Organization

People who become delinquent in paying their bills very often had the money to pay them, but they became disorganized. Keeping order in your financial life is essential to the smooth transition into adulthood. Some people become obsessed with increasing their income, not realizing that budgeting your money is far more essential to living within your means. Many millionaires fall into debt, while many poorer folk lead simple yet debt-free lives.

Managing finances effectively only requires a basic knowledge of addition and subtraction. But first things first: you need a place, such as a special drawer, where you keep unpaid bills and you need a place where you keep paid bills. Ideally you should keep a set of files separated by topic such as cable bills, utility bills, medical records, pay stubs, etc.

When money comes in, before you start withdrawing cash or buying the latest computer software, pay your bills in order of importance. Don’t delay. Always pay your bills first. Some people avoid the “pain” by refusing to know how much money they have compared with how much they spend. This bad habit needs to end immediately, to avoid lifetime enslavement to creditors. You may need good credit someday, if you ever plan to buy a home or car or have a serious emergency.

As soon as your paycheck clears, sit down and make your payments. Start with your rent or mortgage. Next, pay anything that charges a late fee such as credit card statements, and anything that is a legal requirement such as insurance. Utilities usually do not charge late fees but are essential to normal life so pay those next. After that, fill up your car’s gas tank. Now, check your balance: Do you have enough money left for food and supplies? If you cannot catch up in a month’s time, you need to find a cheaper place to live, get a roommate or find a second job, because you are not earning enough to survive.

Hopefully, you do have something left over, so whether it’s $15 or $150, that is your spending money. A single person can survive on amazingly little money, as long as they never leave home. Once they start going out, there is no limit to what they can spend on clothes, restaurants and entertainment. So, with the spending money you have left over after bills, stock up on groceries and whatever supplies you need to get by. If there is anything left after that, this is your money to do with what you like, whether it’s going to the mall or taking a weekend trip to the next Islamic conference. If you don’t have anything left after buying shampoo, stay home. It seems simple, but it’s not for many of us.


Many young people use their new freedom to stop picking up after themselves. However, living in disorder not only creates health hazards and invites mice, but the Prophet (s) advised us that even looking at filth is demoralizing. These are my basic priority guidelines for home cleanliness.

First, clean up anything that is considered filth in Islam: Feces and urine should be laundered with hot water, while blood or sexual excretions should be washed in cold water. Cleaning the toilet should be done as soon as it becomes necessary.

Second, clean up anything that smells bad: take out the garbage, launder rancid towels. Open all the windows at least once a day to let out the old cooking smells, smoke, and germs lingering in the air. If it’s winter, it’s best to air out the house when you leave, so you don’t freeze.

Third, clean up the clothes laying on the floor, hang up coats, fold blankets. Textile messes tend to take up a lot of space, and while not being hazardous, cleaning them up makes a big difference to the look of a room.

Fourth, pick up and put away or throw away whatever garbage or other objects remain on the floor, then vacuum and/or mop.

Fifth, clear off tabletops and dust them because the sight of clean surfaces calms the mind, and enables you to actually use the tables and counters. If you have a lot of time, it makes more sense to dust first and then clean the floors, but if time is an issue then clean floors are more important.


Many young adults express their new independence by ignoring their bodily needs. If you cannot be bothered to cook, at least eat a salad every day because living on bread and coffee alone will cause your health to deteriorate fast. Living within your means also means living within your energy level. You may have to place limits on yourself in order to stay strong enough to maintain your independence. Get enough sleep.

There are limits to freedom. Those who are able to limit themselves to what is halal – meaning, you can afford it and it is beneficial, will maximize their comfort in this life.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Feeding Your Family: an Art and a Science

More and more Americans are facing financial hardship and even food insecurity. Saving money on everyday expenses has sure become a primary focus in my life. I now spend half of what I used to spend on groceries 10 years ago, even though food prices have gone up and I have four instead of two children to feed. There is practically no limit to how much a family can spend on food, but as long as you have something, you can nearly always get by on what you have, especially with a little creativity.

Meeting your family’s basic needs on a limited budget is an art and a science. Not only does it generally involve cooking from scratch, but careful shopping.

One of the hardest thing about being an adult is the incredible burden of knowing that if you don’t make the effort, the little people will not eat. If you don’t feel like shopping, they will run out of milk. If their only protein source is milk they will become anemic. Every doctor’s visit is like a parental report card. Is my child within the normal weight range?

My first advice for new brides is to have patience with yourself. It probably takes a full decade for most homemakers to get used to being the family cook. Before I married, I used to dream of all the wonderful family warmth and togetherness I was going to create with my womanly talents.

Well, cooking with children underfoot is a totally different experience than cooking while single. I used to find the smell of sauce cooking for hours while I slowly stirred in the herbs very relaxing in my youth. Cooking is rarely relaxing with small children underfoot, in fact it can be downright infuriating sometimes. When they get older they will be able to help with many things though, including keeping the younger ones out of the veggie chopping zone and even sometimes helping with the chopping. Ready-made foods that you warm in the oven are something children can prepare themselves, and has the pleasant side effect of heating the home. When my eldest turned 11, I finally pulled out my dream chest of recipes I had copied down and saved, starting when I was 11. As soon as children acquire basic math and reading skills, they really enjoy following recipes together with their mother and alone.

Yet when scarcity strikes, how do we make sure our kids have enough good food? Lentils and dried split peas are the cheapest iron, protein and fiber sources you can buy. Varying carbohydrates like bread, rice, pasta and couscous makes the same old things seem different. When cooking meat, mix it with other things like beans and vegetables. Homemade soups can be a meal in themselves. Ice cream is absolutely the cheapest source of healthy calories, containing both calcium and protein. When things are discounted, stock up. Try to reserve money for this because you never know when paper goods will be on sale, which are some of the more expensive items on the list. Frequent dollar stores. Their inventory often fluctuates, but they nearly always have things you need. Asian groceries often have the best prices for produce and spices.

Learn from people who have lived in war-torn countries. I knew a Palestinian woman who had dedicated an entire room in her home for shelves filled with canned and dried goods. By combining coupons with sale prices, she was often able to fill up her grocery cart for a fraction of the normal cost.

Plan ahead for emergencies. There will be times when you are too tired or stressed to cook, or you are having a hypoglycemic attack. These situations might cause you to order take out food. One restaurant meal could equal an entire week’s worth of the cost of groceries. So don’t get too crazy in your cost-saving at the supermarket, and if you do go to a restaurant, go alone. Make sure you have some frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, hot dogs, mixed nuts or hommos on hand when possible. Even though these things can cost $5 or more an item, that is still less than what you would pay at a restaurant after you have run out of food at home and everyone is crying. Dinner entrees can be frozen for later use like lasagna, pesto or haleem. Many working mothers have a day in the week set aside for cooking and freezing food.

The Lipton/Knorr broccoli alfredo mix, which is always under $2, is my family’s favorite default food. You can add some fresh broccoli and a toddler will actually eat it. Not only that but you can teach an 8 year old to make it. I also try to add dried parsley to nearly everything, as it is a ready source of protein and vitamin C that little kids don’t notice. Incorporating the cheaper vegetables and fruits into ones diet on a regular basis like chopped celery, carrots and potatoes can add bulk to nearly every dish. Radishes and apples can be added to salads. Don’t skimp on fruit juice despite the cost, because the lack of it nearly always leads to colds and flu in my home.

When we are facing scarcity, we often need to try to live our lives completely within a circle nearby. We can save a lot of money on gas when we do our business and socialize locally. Whenever people are getting run down, it’s time to slow down on the activities. We have to make sure we are well rested and wearing lots of layers so we don’t get sick in the winter cold, despite the food situation.
Most of these things I have mentioned are pretty intuitive to most people, but probably the most important thing is to remind ourselves of what we already know. All the requirements for basic human living is ingrained in our true nature.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. Visit