Stones and Pebbles

These things we call ‘milestones’ seem to have taken over the world. Since the first day I heard of them, I could not understand where the promotional side ended and the practical one began. I know they’re important, but I wonder if we haven’t misused them over the years.

I mean, you get people setting up markers for the progress of their lives and it’s like a game they are playing. Move the flag far enough so it gives you a good amount of space to occupy, but near enough so it looks like a distance you can cover, while keeping the goal in sight.

Every time you reach your goal, you have to move it forward to another point. It’s a glorified form of ‘existing’ and not ‘living’. Or maybe it’s a way to distract yourself from the real matter at hand – Life.

I mean, if we step back and remove all the milestones, do away with the short-term and long-term goals that occupy our hopes and aspirations, then what are we left with? Barren land? Nothing to move towards. Nothing enticing on the horizon to glimpse at. No motivation.

But what if it’s this barren land that is the true plain on which life must be lived. How many times have we been told that the only hope, the only aspiration, the only goal worth living for it Allah (SWT)? We say it, but we never live it.

If we truly aimed for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and considered everything else to be secondary, then it wouldn’t matter if we were heading towards the next bright marker or standing still – as long as our attention and intention was for Him.

I’m not saying that we should give up planning our lives – we need those mental maps. Even in self-improvement and spiritual growth, we need to set goals for ourselves. However, when these plans become the current aims of our lives and distract us from our growth towards Allah (SWT) then they become forms of shirk.

A shirk so subtle that we don’t even notice when we sacrifice our loyalty to God for it – on the simplest level, it may involve delaying or missing prayers in favour of an interview or meeting. On a deeper level, who can tell what sacrifices we make without knowing?

Life is simple. Islam is even simpler. When you think about it, the purity of Truth is what makes it so uncomplicated and the fact that something so profound can be so easy, so…neat is what baffles the mind.

So why then do we insist on complicating our lives? All these things we run after – jobs, relationships, friends, money, praise, status – at the end of the day, which of these will take us to heaven. Which of these will raise us in front of Allah (SWT)?

Try asking yourself that next time the world carries you away. It’s the perfect cold shower for the material-craving ego.

Bint Ali
Current Saying:
”The Value of each person lies in the good he does.” – Ali ibn Abi Talib (a)

Made it…

I made it. I’m not at liberty to specify what ‘it’ is, but suffice to say that what once would have been the longest period of time in my life, was just another week. Okay, who am I kidding – it WASN’T just another week, but I didn’t lose control, I didn’t mull, I didn’t obsess and I actually was quite constructive.

Apart from the skit – which I am now planning to do after Fajr tomorrow – I managed to get a proper working draft of the synopsis assignment done, designed a logo, wrote up a circular, organised a rehearsal, caught up on most of my mail and basically did stuff I had been putting off for a long time. I guess a girl needs some stress in her life to get her moving!

Despite all this, I’m not too sure I’m happy with how things have gone. Sure I solved the problem in one way, but was it the right way? That one I’m still working out. For now it feels like a tie between handling the issue and distracting myself from it so much that I didn’t have to handle it. I don’t like the latter, even if it is a vast improvement on being out of control.

I’m currently beginning my second read through this fantastic book that I found on my shelf (in the lot of books I got from my cousin). It’s called When You Hear Hoofbeats Think of a Zebra by Shems Friedlander. The book is a series of talks on Sufism – but far from being unrealistic or confusingly poetic, it’s a fresh, fast and upbeat look at how to involve Allah (SWT) in every aspect of your life.

Shems asks a lot of questions that strike deep at the soul, and I love how he chides the reader in such a gentle, loving way. I would recommend this book to anyone who believes in God – regardless of their faith.

In his first ‘talk’, he addresses the title of the book. When we hear hoofbeats, chances are we think of a horse. Rarely would we think “That’s a zebra approaching.” Life makes us like that – conditioned to a set of standard responses. We forget to look for and discover the beautiful mysteries Allah (SWT) has hidden in every one of His creations and the great lessons He keeps for us in every second of our existence. Nothing He creates is in vain so how can we imagine that even one second of our life is meaningless? Can we not instead think that very moment is a new opportunity to grow closer to Him?

We must begin to think outside of the usual responses, to seek out new experiences, to ponder and begin once again to wonder. Perhaps that is a zebra’s hoofbeats you hear, after all.

Bint Ali 

Current Quote:
“This body we live in is a kingdom and a grave. It is a kingdom where our heart resides. It is the grave of our soul.” – Shems Friedlander.

The Old Man is Snoring

Remember that rhyme “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…” Well, that’s the story of my life right now – sans the apnea-impaired codger. The Buzzy Spell is still going strong (which reminds me, I need to put ‘watch Aquila and the Bee’ on my list of things to do when I get time, right under ‘breath normally again’)

Remember all the other stuff I mentioned? Well, the list just doubled. The play we were doing has been postponed due to exams and other commitments, so now I have to write another shorter skit to take its place. The catch is that the script has to be ready by tomorrow morning (yes, you read that right) and the play ready for presentation in a fortnight. The only upside is that it’ll probably have just three or four characters so it should be okay to practice.

And then the magazine awaits with its deadline in neon, foot-high letters. I’m trying to ignore the glare with little success, because every time I take a break I can see it flashing in the corner of my mind.

I haven’t even begun work on the Library project for the madrasa and there’s the magazine birthday party (we’re 5 years old!! Yeah!!) and the Workshop Weekend all within the space of three weeks.

The only downside of all this work is that I’m not writing what I really want to. And I need to fix that. I have to get that book synopsis out – it started off as a writing assignment, but now I’m thinking why not? Why not work seriously on a book about hijab from the hijabi’s perspective? I really want it be a collection of stories exploring the special relationship between a Muslim woman and her veil. The real view we have of it, not the one that’s regurgitated and sieved through a dozen stereotypical and clichéd versions of the imprisoned woman who has no rights and no say.

I know there are women who suffer, but they are the ones who need aid, not the rest of us who are proud and happy with our hijabs.

At the end of everyday, when I sit down and think about all that I haven’t done yet. i keep reminding myself that the main question is not how much I’ve done, but what my aim was in doing it. There’s this beautiful story I read the other day. It goes like this:

Once a man was riding his camel through an open desert plain and he stopped to pray and rest. When he dismounted, he could find nowhere to tie his camel so he took a small stick and stuck it into the ground to tether the animal. Later, when he was resuming his journey, he thought to himself, “Let me leave this stick here so that if another traveller comes behind me, he will not have trouble finding a place to tie his animal.”

After a little while, another rider came along. As he passed by the stick, he paused and thought, “Someone might stumble or trip over this stick.” So he pulled it out and threw it away before riding on.

Which man did the right thing?

Their actions were contradictory, but because of their intentions, each is considered noble. This is exactly as it is in life. We look at things we do and sometimes we don’t understand or know what the repercussions will be. However, as long as we have attuned our intentions with the pleasure of Allah (SWT), there can be no doubt that only good will come of them – whether obvious or not.

Bint Ali

Much Ado

Weaver birds, nostalgia, forgotten memories, over-talking …it’s been a busy three days since my last post. I never cease to amaze myself in how things catch me unawares. I will go for weeks without any incident in my life, just living the usual daily routine and not getting myself in too much trouble and then wham! every thing spins out of control all at once.

The brightest part of these days has been the little birdies on my windowsill. When I first started putting out seeds for them, they ignored my offering for 48 good hours. And now, they recognise the soft scratch of the shutters as soon as I open them. The other day, one little bird mistook my opening scratch for my closing one, and flitted up before I had put my hand away – I don’t which one of us jumped away faster!

At that time just after dawn, when you want those precious minutes of shut-eye and sleep beckons with its most siren call, the birds come up and start pecking at the last few grains. And then they start scratching at the window and generally making a fuss when there aren’t any more left. Owl that I am, I’m still getting used to the natural alarm-clock and the concept of waking that early.

And then there’s been the Attack of the Past to deal with. I’ll be sitting doing some writing or working on a crochet piece and suddenly, out of nowhere, I remember things that I had forgotten so completely, I have to stop and consider whether these memories are really mine or belong to some other person from whom I heard of them.

The most recent one was that of having my brother climb up on a chair and pick out a hanging plastic shard from our chandelier (the kind that everyone used to have one of in the 80’s). We’d use those fancy, pointy spikes to follow the verses of Qur’an as we recited them. There was something about pressing that edge down on the paper and following it across that made the Arabic words easier and added a sense of special-ness to the reading.

Reciting was just not the same without huddling over the wonderful pages with a huge shawl covering you, nose close to the book, and fingers grasping that plastic pointer and marking faintly line after line of achievement.

Remembering the slow balding of that confection of light and plastic made me realise just how far out of reach that childhood and those times are. The hopelessness of wishing to ever go back, even for a moment, to the past and bringing back some of the innocence it had is the greatest reminder of where we’re heading…where I’m heading. It impresses on me how much of the journey has passed me by, how much has gone without being utilised or taken advantage of. How much of it there is to make up for.

And then as if to counter my inability to bring it all back, I went and shot my mouth off today. I always (!) do that when I have a sense of pending accomplishment. So when I was asked for my opinion on a subject, instead of the more sophisticated, and wiser (and safer) option of saying I would send an email with my comments, I started to explain everything I could in a space of ten minutes. Not. A. Good. Idea.

Maybe that’s why I hate the phone so much. I know what a potential mess I can make of it. 😦

On the writing front, no word from the Publisher yet, but they did say in a week or so – I have to give them another 7 days at least. No word from the Sports Editor either. I DID call him and asked him about the article, and he said not to worry about it, he was working on it. That was on Tuesday. At this rate, this paper is going to destroy my reputation before I even establish it!

Am working on the Sahifa-e-Sajjadiyah project in the background. I got lovely Arabic text and now have to get the English part printed. Then begins the study – which is kind of scary. Everyone says this is one book with so much depth and we don’t even know much about it. I just hope I can manage to do what I want to with it.

And finally, the guy whose book I was to critique. Oh my! What can I say? I want to have more Muslim writers publishing their work, but I’ve always maintained it should be work of a high standard. This just isn’t. How do I say that nicely, without offending anyone? Critiquing is hard, but necessary. I guess I’ll have to do the kind of job on it that I’m hoping the publisher does on mine!

Bint Ali

Current Read:

Magic Seeds by V. S. Naipul

The Simple Life

Where to start? That is the question. Contract is coming within a week. I was so excited I misread their last mail – something I seem to do quite often recently (I blame the high school lesson on speed-reading – it’s addictive).

The netball experience was amazing. I loved watching those girls – they had so much talent, masha’Allah! It was all I could do to keep myself from jumping up and wanting to join the game. The school was really hospitable, everyone friendly and offering tea and lunch and all kinds of things. Which I had to politely decline.

It was surprising to find myself comfortable in a totally strange zone. I think perhaps that growing up extended into how I was able to handle it all. Maybe I finally passed that point in time when things seem to be shifting in perspective (again) and the Big Issues just don’t seem so Big anymore.

Life happens. And it mostly it happens in a very simple, straightforward manner. We just seem to find it so important to complicate our existence – as if that’s what gives it more meaning – that we make mountains out of every excuse of a molehill we can find.

Hasn’t Allah (SWT) told us over and over again that this world is just a play and a sport? A stage upon which we refine our act and audition for our place in the Hereafter? If only we would learn.

While I try and figure that one out, I have to make yet another phone call – to ask about when the netball piece will appear. I chickened out today. Which just proves that practice does not make it easier to handle a phobia. Plus, the editor had promised a photographer and we waited for him from three hours, but the man/woman never appeared. That is not a good omen. But I’m praying for the best … this piece could open doors to more sports writing. (Me, a sports writer? My friends are chuckling if they’re reading this).

On a more positive note, I did start working on my second manuscript – I still can’t figure out why me hero would do the unforgivably bad thing that he does do and get forgiven for anyway. I can handle the other bits fine, but WHY is the problem.

Hey, before I end off, I got a call from a local organisation today asking me to review the first chapter of a sci-fi manuscript from a writer under welfare. The poor guy almost fell for the oldest trick in the book and actually considered paying a publisher to handle his manuscript, but he couldn’t afford it and approached this organisation for funding. They in turn asked me and I get the first chapter tomorrow.

If it’s worth supporting, I just might have a paid project on my hands 😀

Bint Ali
Current non-Islamic Read:
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller)
Current Saying: :
“Everything has a foundation, and the foundation of Islam is love for us, the Ahl al-Bayt.” – The Holy Prophet (s)