Starting at Zero

Eid al Adha is a holiday synonymous with sacrifice. According to the Quranic story, God asks Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his son. Ibrahim is willing to make the sacrifice. God sees that he is willing, and replaces the child with a lamb. Lasting three to four days, and celebrated by millions of Muslims worldwide, the holiday begins on the 10th day of the Muslim calendar lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, at the time of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The NYTimes explains what Muslims do on Hajj.

Just like there are pilgrims traveling from all over the world to visit the Kaba, women bring that religious experience into their own homes and communities.

For the past two years, I have joined women from around the world in a program called Pilgrims at Home. Born during the pandemic, PAH is an initiative of Rabata, the global women’s seminary led by Tamara Gray. Volunteers of five women come together to improve and strengthen their spiritual muscles in a friendly competition, where each act of service is awarded points. The game basically takes every act of prayer or remembrance and gamifies it.

The points are not arbitrary.

The designers wanted to encourage us to do things that we normally find too hard, too burdensome. For instance, the full recitation of Sura Baqara, the second chapter of the Quran is 130+pages, 3 juz long, is awarded 18 points. For the vast majority of millennials, I would say this is not a sura we sit down to read in one sitting, like we would consume a Jodi Picoult bestseller. (The truth is I can read 100+ pages of fiction in one sitting, but I could not make myself read the Holy book, and I found this very peculiar; more on this in a different post.).

In fact, I cannot recall the last time I read the full chapter of Baqara. Reading a third of the chapter is 6 points. PAH awards 5 points for fasting (days right now are 16 hours long); 5 points for praying Tahajjud an extra prayer before fajr, which itself comes in at 4AM. That means that sitting down to read the Holy text is weightier than fasting an entire 16 hours in the summer heat. The allocation of points made 100% sense to me. Do the hard thing, the game says.

Being a “morning person” takes on a whole new meaning, when I’m up for 6 hours before 9AM in the morning.

I was waking up before the birds. Literally before the larks, to have my first meeting of the day with my Rabbi. Any subsequent meetings seemed easy and manageable.

The level of peace and serenity was unreal. Not only is the whole house sleeping, the entire world is sleeping at 4AM. I had intense period of productivity, reading, reflection, and time to complete what I deemed was important. Sometimes that meant planning the homeschool year, sometimes that meant journaling, but it always involved my sharing my more intimate thoughts with the One who created me.

I found less anxiety to my days, more peace. I found my behaviors toward my children were also more peaceful, whether because I was fasting or because I had gotten the right start to my day.

I am not saying that everyone should wake up at 4AM to pray.

I am just saying that I could not imagine doing this a year ago.

The benchmark I use is seeing how much more I can do each day, and this time of year is when I see how much I can stretch.

Each day I start at zero points, according to this spreadsheet.

Each and every day, we all start at zero.

Metaphorically, quantifiably we are zero.

In the greatness of the universe, we are zero.

Our fears, anxieties, worries, insecurities — these are all zero. Submission means being able to hand over these things to the One who can actually change my reality.

An Alternative to Talk Therapy

I used to spend a hour or so on the phone each and every day, two years ago. Talk therapy, I suppose it’s called. With my friends, we would talk through our problems, our strategies, and tactics for getting things done. After two years of doing Pilgrims at Home, I realized my friends had a purpose and my faith have a different purpose. God often sends Helpers as an answer to prayers. He sends signs that tell us what is possible.

This year, I replaced talk therapy with tahajjud.

This year, I had the fortune to lead a Pilgrims at Home team, a local team of sisters who are part of my homeschooling cooperative. I have a renewed, deepened commitment to the women I work with. I appreciate that they took a risk, took a chance on doing this experience with me.

New Insights

I also have a deepened appreciation for the women I have never met.

On the Day of Arafat, Rabata does a 2+hour virtual masjid where women come together to worship, and to share their duas. There are so many women who pray for one thing: a pious spouse, an imam of the household. So many things I forget to show gratitude for. If I had the worry of bills to pay, food on the table, the caregiving demands of frail parents, I doubt I would invest so much into myself. Most of my team members have young children and babies, so we are cargiving, working, juggling home and career in various iterations. We were dealing with sickness, loss and grieving. We were dealing with so much.

The program has also deepened my relationship with my husband.

He was able to care for the kids in the morning, when I was napping so that I could get my ibadaat done. (He was sleeping too). He understood how important this time of year is to me, how much I relish the competition with myself, how much I like to push. He even took a day off (which he never does during his busiest season) this year to focus on what we both agree is most important.

I could never be described as competitive. And here I was, competing against yesterday’s score. I wanted to improve because there was a carrot that I truly believed was a carrot.

PAH provided insight into myself, my husband, sisters, and my family.

It gave me a chance to truly pause on all the various commitments I made, and reconnect with what is important to me.

Just last week, I got a speeding ticket.


A mom in a fast car, with two babies. It is the epitome of upside down. Why was I rushing? To get to something faster.

There is no shortcuts to reading Sura Baqara.

There are no shortcuts to getting close to our Creator. There is no short cuts in faith. That’s exactly why Pilgrims at Home is so alluring. The premise that we can be better, if only for 10 BEST days of the year keeps me moving towards this goal each and every year.

Message me if you want to do it.

Photo by Rachel Claire on

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