Ramadan Is Here!

Well, it’s quite a few days into Ramadan actually 🙂 I had grand intentions of writing a Welcome-to-Ramadan post on the first night and send out something inspirational to all my friends and family. Well, a teacher of mine once said God laughs at the plans of Man.   I should have remembered that.

To make a long story short, (concise writing – that is the key) I fell sick. Horribly so. And I’m only just getting back to normal. I can’t even say that for sure. 

It’s been one heck of learning experience though. On the first day, about an hour from maghrib (when one breaks the fast) I was so weak and fuzzy-headed, I could hear an inner voice saying “Hey, whazza matter with you? Pull yourself together!”, but I just couldn’t. I had to lie down, which sent my mother into a worrying frenzy. (You lose consciousness once in your lifetime – five years ago – and suddenly every headache is another sign of a fainting fit.)

Anyway, it’s been like that every day since and I hate it. I seem to do nothing except sleep all day, and I wanted so much to actually do things this year. I just need to figure out what’s draining me so badly.

One thing that has come to my attention is how easily we take fasting as a whole. I mean, after I ate and had something for the pain on that first day, it hit me that maybe this was a little of what I should be learning from the experience of fasting. We eat iftar and nibble our way through to sehri and then call that a fast?  Most Ramadans, I don’t even feel hungry during the day. It’s just like skipping lunch – no biggie.

But these past four days have really hit home. I get to eat and to take something to make me feel better at the appointed time, but the people I’m trying to empathise with – they don’t have anything to eat and they don’t have a point to look forward to when they can say: “Only till then, and it will get better”.

I have a time to hang my hopes on. 6.50 p.m. (local time) and I can feel the weight lift off of me, because I know that the cup of hot tea is just a pouring away. How can the needy survive when they have no hopes? What do they look forward to? Promised help from aid agencies? Or from fellow humans? How many of us extend that help?

The more I think about it, the more I realise how inhuman we have become. We can come up with every excuse not to give, or to share, or to go out of our way to help those less fortunate. How much will it cost us to go without an outfit for Idd and give that money to a poor family instead? Or to reduce the amount we spend on clothes, jewellery, furniture, junk…heck, even food! 

Surely, as Muslims we are used to going without (Remember when Imam Khomeini (r.a.) and the whole of Iran fasted?) We can easily survive on a quarter of the amount of food we usually consume – and use the rest of the money to help re-build the Muslim nations that are being so easily destroyed.

When did the world become such a place that an entire country could be stamped out with perhaps less thought than an anthill would be? And when did we, Muslims, become so indifferent and hard-hearted as to watch it happen and do absolutely nothing?

May God forgive us this Ramadan for our negligence and help us change for the better. We have truly proved the angels right when they mocked our appointment as kalifas on this earth. 

Isn’t it time to join those few who are struggling to bring God’s Promise to pass?

Bint Ali

It’s A Done Deal!

Finally, I’ve signed the contract on Surviving Zahra and posted it. It should reach my publisher in about a week and then we can start on the editing, insha’Allah.

I’m really excited to be into the next phase in the process, but I have to be honest. The editing part is freaking me out. I’ve never had anyone dissect my work or make changes it to. Most of my reviews and features in the dailies go in as is. I even had an editor tell me that she loves my work, because she doesn’t need to edit it – she only reads it for the entertainment! 🙂

Much of an ego-booster as that is, you cannot compare 1, 200 words to 80,000 words. There’s bound to be changes in the book and chances are there will be a lot of them, on every page. I remember reading a quote on a writer’s site where this guy said something in the lines of “My editors didn’t change a single word in my manuscript. That word was on page xxx” (Sorry, I can’t remember the number he quoted, but you get the gist, right?)

I guess the hardest part is knowing where to draw the line. I have to be able to accept when the editing is right and makes the story better, but I also have to be confident enough in my writing to stick to my guns when I know my version is better. My only problem is that I usually bounce from one extreme to the other, and I’ll need find a balance.

I guess that means a lot of reading, re-reading, taking deep breaths and then re-re-reading. Luckily, I’ve had a taste of critiques from my beta-readers. And considering that they were not professionals and I had to put up with some very unsavoury comments, I think I’ve thickened my skin a little.

A story is something you take out from deep within you. You colour it with your dreams, mould it to your expectations and put so much of your inner aspirations into it, that it’s inevitable to feel a little defensive when someone attacks it.

The only way to handle the criticism constructively is to distance yourself from your work. I find it helps to ignore the manuscript for a while. I just stopped reading it and editing it so that it became a little vague, like a book I had read by another author. That allowed me to then look at the comments as if they were made for that author. I guess that’s part of the writer’s life, placating your (usually emotional) muse with your logical brain.

Wish me luck! I’ll be posting up publishing dates so y’all can go out and buy the book. Trust me, you’ll love the story, even if I do say so myself 🙂

Bint Ali

Current Saying:

“In the struggle for truth, the believer is as solid as steel, but in the midst of friends, he is as soft as silk”
– Iqbal (1877 – 1938)

One To Call My Very Own

It’s here! It’s here! My own copy of Sahifa-e-Sajjadiyyah is finally here in my room and on my bookshelf in all its hardcover, gilt-edged glory! 🙂 Can you tell that I’m thrilled?

Since I began actually reading the translations of the duas, I’ve had to rely on copies from first a friend and then the madrasa library and I couldn’t really finger the books or make comments on the pages when I itched to. Now, (finally!) I can.

I can’t repeat enough times how I think everybody should make sure they read Sahifa-e-Sajjadiyyah at least once (that’s all it takes to get hooked). The words and phrases seem to mirror the soul so perfectly it’s impossible to believe that they weren’t written specifically for you.

On other news, my contract is not yet signed but I think it’s the closest to being so in all the time I’ve had it. Just a couple of things to sort out – one of them a silly mistake on my part 😦 but insha’Allah, things should be on schedule. So far, we’re looking at a publishing date of 1st December. One year to publish a book – and to think I used to wonder why it would take so long and now I’m thinking ‘I need more time!’

I’ve got some scenes of the new book working out quite well in my head. I think this is the method that suits me – letting things ferment in my head for weeks, even months and then just spilling them out when they’re ripe and ready.

I guess that’s how it happened with Surviving Zahra too. I had a lot of scattered pieces and I kept trying to make them fit without actually thinking about it. That was hell. There were times when I couldn’t remember the story line or the plots or simple details and I’d be so tempted to scrap everything and start afresh. And the thought of having to do that was so scary, I almost gave up.

In the end, it was sticking with what I had and working at it that allowed things to fall in place. I think what scares me is that beginning bit, when nothing sounds right and every word is clumsy and no description quite brings out on paper what you’re seeing in your head. The hard part is that you have to keep at it, through the despair and the irritation and the frustration until finally one day, you see the potential in the disjointed paragraphs. It finally feels like a workable draft.

After that, the passion and commitment to the tale carries you on through everything. Right now, Mish and Sam are workable in my head, but they seem intent on escaping the cage I’m trying to make for them with the lines on my paper.

Sam would rather be trying to win over Mish, Mish would rather be talking to Ali and Ali would rather be worrying about Sam and Mish (he’s a worrier – I can tell that from now!)

And to think I have to do this for EACH and EVERY half-finished draft that I have in my stories folder. Suddenly, years seem to too short to work within. I need larger time frames. Either that or I need to work faster.

With Ramadan coming up, don’t forget to keep my sense of organisation in your prayers!

Bint Ali

Another Time, Another Life

Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I wonder where I am. It’s not disorientation – not in the physical sense. I know where I am geographically, but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, this time I have woken up in that other life – the one that flits about in the periphery of my subconscious every so often.

On days and nights like this one, I look around and I see all the could-be’s that seem to have passed me by. I’m not complaining or saying (Astaghfirullah!) that I’m not satisfied with the way things are. It’s just that feeling that sometimes comes over people.

Like when you move to another country or another house, but years later you still feel a certain tugging at the heart when you think of your old home. No matter how young you are, the feeling is old. It’s mellow and shaded with parchment tones, slightly crumpled, a little worn and yet when you slip into it, it shapes itself to your every emotional curve, like that familiar, faded t-shirt you always reach out for when you want comfort.

The really interesting bit about this feeling is that it comes with the knowledge that you cannot go back and pick up what you missed. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

You see glimpses of your childhood dreams in the lives of other people and you wonder whether they ever dreamt about those things too. And if they did, why are their dreams coming true and not yours? Oh dear, that sounds a little bitter, doesn’t it? 😦

But honestly, there is no bitterness in the question. Just plain curiosity. I guess many people ask the same questions every day. Why do other people have opportunities and experiences that they don’t value or take advantage of when you would do so much with the same? But then, who says they are not appreciating their life? Can you decide that simply because they’re not doing with it what you would? Of course not.

So, I can’t bring myself to begrudge them – that would be plain stupid – but I do wonder what Allah (SWT) is trying to teach me when He puts me in places I haven’t chosen to be in and keeps me away from those He knows I’ve always wanted to be in. And more than that, why does He then keep showing me people (I don’t mean the obvious instances from daily life) who have those very things? Why throw it in my face unless there is an obvious message I don’t seem to be able to read in all of it?

At the risk of sounding dramatic, on nights like this, I feel like I’m sitting on the shore of a lonely beach. The waves are coming and going out, taking everything – the shells, the grains, the water, the infinite number of beach debris out there to the vast expanses of the ocean, but I’m not allowed to even get my feet wet. Things are slipping away, moving on, going ahead – except me. I seem stuck in one place and one moment. Every minute that passes is one more opportunity that escapes my grasping fingers and I can do nothing, but let it slip away and watch it disappear.

Sure, there is the future and it hold so many unknown treasures, any one of which may have my name written all over it. Or not. But it is a fact that there are some things that will never come back, some possibilities that are lost forever, some experiences that will stay eternally in the realm of imagination.

And those are things worth being nostalgic about once in a while.

Bint Ali

Current Saying:
“Why are women … so much more interesting to men than men are to women?”
– Virginia Woolf

Blocked, Blocked, Blocked

I often joke that I don’t really suffer from writers’ block in between periods of constructive writing. Rather I manage a few hours of writing between a lifetime of WB. But I am seriously blocked today. Which is why I’ve had to force myself to log into my account and start typing up this post.

They (before you ask, I’m referring to The Wise Ol’ Writers) say that the best cure for a block is to write. It doesn’t work for me in a creative sense because my blocks are usually based more on a fear that manifests itself in a physical form.

My fingers feel heavy and my entire body needs to be lugged to the computer room. The air seems thick and even as I open the pristine white plain of MS Word or (my recent favourite) RoughDraft, I feel like I’m slowly swimming through a sluggish bog of reluctance. Every word is dragged out of my fingertips, and the worst bit is that I end up writing mostly non-creative stuff anyway!

Bah! I need to sign my contract, and I also need to get my next assignment done and sent out so I can manage to schedule my fiction assignments along with my editing and learn as I work. And there’s Mish’s story to get done. I see the scenes in my head and every time I play them, the characters become more and more real. They just don’t want to be captured in words yet.

How can I possibly explain the mischievous charm that allows Sam to get away with everything selfish he does? Or the magnetic charisma hidden behind Ali’s silent, lanky frame? Then there’s Mish – is she giving me a hard time! She has to change so much and yet stay essentially the same. And then of course the entire plot line is so controversial, I’m not even sure it’s printable or acceptable.

Maybe that’s what’s scaring me the most. That people aren’t ready to read what I have to say. Besides, I can’t just concentrate on telling my stories and the world be dam*ned. Every piece of Islamic literature carries with it a responsibility. I have to think about the message it will pass on as much as the entertainment quality of the tale.

Actually, that makes me feel much better. I think I can handle a task that has some kind of outlined goal. If I have something stodgy and boring to worry about, my creativity can sneak in through the back door 🙂

Bint Ali

Current Saying:
To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”
– Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)