I Was Here…Wasn’t I?

I sometimes wonder if the things I do and say affect the lives of others in a particular manner. I don’t mean in the sense of the inevitable ‘every action has a reaction’ way, I mean a ‘this changed a life’ kind of way.

People will often talk about the ‘aha!’ moment when an event, a conversation or something they read irreversibly changes the way they see things. Some ‘aha!’ moments are huge, others are tiny, but together they form the thread that leads us forward in our lives. Without these instances of enlightenment, we’d stagnate.

I’ve had a few biggies over the past years. The death of a family member, the casual comment of a friend, seeing how the lives of those around me changed – each one catapulted me into my present, one realisation at a time.

But more recently, I’ve been having a series of the smaller variety of aha’s. Simple ones that seem at first to be part of the daily routine of living, but that in hindsight (when they refuse to fade into the memories of yesterday and persist in being part of today and tomorrow) are liquid revelations flowing thick and fast and blending into a new way I see life.

And the more I learn, the more I seem to enjoy my Now and for no other reason than that I am in it. People attribute being happy-for-no-reason to enlightenment, or love, or success.   But I’m nowhere near being enlightened, I’m (definitely) not in love, and success…well, I’ve stopped working at the magazine, I hardly write articles – even the publication of Surviving Zahra seems to be something happening to a different me in a slightly different timeline.

Which is why this is getting slightly ridiculous and mildly worrying.  How long can a person stay on a high? And isn’t it dangerous if you don’t even know why you’re on that high?  And most important, what happens when you begin the downward fall towards attaining splat-dom?  (Did I say ‘mildly’ worrying?)

A side-effect of this ‘state’ – dunno what else to call it – is that I seem to have lost my competitive edge (or blunt excuse for one that I had). I’ve never been motivated much by the need to be better than others, and apparently this is an essential quality if you want to survive in the Big Bad World out there. You need not only to passionately want to be better, but also aggressively want to be The Best.

I would say that I think that’s hogwash, except that it might offend people. But then considering the fact that none of them are reading this, I could just say it anyways. 🙂 But again, being the optimist I suddenly I am, who knows when I might get an influx of interested visitors? After all, there have been a lot of unexpected happenings this year, haven’t there? 😀

Back to the point though…I do know that my pathetic lack of competitive drive hasn’t left a gaping hole in my character. It’s simply been replaced by another milder, yet more urgent need: to leave a mark. Not with the work I do or by creating some great masterpiece that will be in a museum of the future, but in the lives of those who know me.

If people were like canvases, and their lives a composition in progress, I’d say that my painting had been coloured in by a variety of artists, and every stroke is one I can contemplate and appreciate with fondness.

Have I managed to leave equally indelible marks on other people’s lives? Do I breeze through the lives of those around me like an elusive wind, felt and then forgotten when it’s gone or do I plant seeds that will bloom even after I am long gone? And if I plant seeds, then will they bear flowers that are pretty to look at yet pass on with the seasons, or will they bear strong sturdy trees that will provide shade and shelter for a lifetime?

I’ll probably never know, but I do hope I’m scattering acorns rather than dandelions along the way…

Bint Ali

“The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe. “
-Peter De Vries, editor, novelist (1910-1993)


Have you ever watched smoke rise? Not the billowing kind from raging fires – the thin delicate kind that comes from burning incense. It’s the most mesmerising, beautiful, amazing, fascinating thing. I should know. I’ve come from doing just that: watching smoke.

If you want to understand how a concept can be real and yet intangible or how science and art are two sides of the same coin, or if you want to twist your mind around how something you want to capture is escaping you because you can’t touch it, go burn some incense and watch it.

It’s even more amazing if there’s no wind to dictate how the smoke should billow. The swirls and undulations are hypnotic; they seem almost alive and intelligent. And to think that each pattern is unique; that with every second, beauty is created and then lost forever.

But what for? Is it simply to make us stop in our tracks, turn to stare at it and wonder why we’ve never done so before? I can’t think of why God would make smoke so beautiful apart from to show us His Design. To encourage us to sit back and wonder in awe at His Majesty and then to surrender to the love of such a Perfect Creator.

I would never have thought that a simple plume of smoke could put things into such a clearer perspective. Shows how much I’ve thought! 🙂

Speaking (writing?) of thinking, I did something today without allowing myself to think too much beforehand. I gave the Surviving Zahra manuscript to one of my tutors to read and comment on. Considering he’s male, non-Indian and non-Muslim, I don’t think I could have found a more foriegn reader for it – which is what I really should have done waaaay in the beginning when I had the draft ready.

Right now, I can’t seem to accept that I did something that drastic, it feels kind of like I opened the door to the most personal aspects of my life to open scrutiny. Over the next couple of days, if I allow myself to remember that fact I have to meet the verdict on Monday (or sooner) whether I like it or not, I’ll probably be incapacitated by fear and freeze where ever I am.

Such are the trials of the writing life, eh? I think it’s pretty much the same for any art form. It’s a gift to be allowed such a channel to express yourself, and a curse when you realise that not everyone will want to hear what you have to say or that you may not be able to say it as well as you think you can. 

50-odd hours to count away then.

In the meantime, my new resolution is ‘Learn how to do Graffiti’ – all I need is to hunt down a mentor/teacher.   The should keep me occupied.

Bint Ali

Current Saying:
“Longing for this world brings about worry and sadness, doing without in this world brings ease to the heart and body.”   
– Prophet Muhammad (s)

In the Midst of An Epiphany

Last night I did something I haven’t done in ages. I looked up. I mean, when I was standing outside under an open sky. I was searching for answers, and realized that while I usually look up at an angle to see the moon and the stars, I hadn’t looked up in a long time. You know, where you lean your head back until you can feel the strain on your neck and look straight up.

And because it was a clear night after a long time, and the stars were scattered all over the sky in a way I hadn’t seen for too long – something happened. For just a fraction of a second, I saw not just the vastness of space, but it’s depth as well. It was like being sucked into a vacuum and the moment stretched and then it spat me out again, too fast for my own liking.

I felt as if I could see and sense the distances between each star and as I moved forward into the almost-infinite, there was a feeling of shrinking into oblivion at the same time. I should think that’s what it feels like to be at the wrong end of a plunger.

And then everything became two-dimensional again. Space was a flat dome above my head and the stars were little pinpoints of sparkling light. And try as I might for the next fifteen minutes or so, I could not re-capture that feeling again.

But a fraction is all you need sometimes for your entire world to change. The earth moved forward in that fraction and so did my life.

I’ve always said that the biggest issue we have as human beings is our fear of change. And here I am rebelling against it with every cell in my body. For the past five years or so, I could have drafted out for you my every week in advance, because each day was a copy of the previous one. I could even predict when I’d be rushed for deadlines and when things would be stressful, because that too followed a fixed pattern.

And every day I wondered why the world had forgotten me; how I’d managed to step out of the moving lane and ended up standing on the kerb watching everyone else pass me by.

Suddenly, change is the dominant word in my life. Less than six months into the year and I’ve had to deal with more things than I had to in the past half-decade. And the surprises keep coming. At first the change was exciting. It was things I was okay with – scary things, but stuff that I’d dreamed of anyway. But now, the change is different, it’s foreign territory, it’s things I haven’t asked for or thought of, and yet things that I must accept if I want to move forward (to where ever it might be that I’m headed).

And when the change takes you from one end of the spectrum and snaps you right across to the other end; when it leaves you in one place long enough to get used to that area and then expects you to do an 180-degree turn and head for the other end…that’s when things start getting hairy.

Right now, I wish someone would come and just give me the solutions, or whisk me away to some utopian dimension where I could play with lines and colours all day long and stare at the stars and wonder all night long.

What are the chances of that happening though? And would I be able to handle that kind of change anyway?


Bint Ali

Current Saying:

“May you live in interesting times.”

– Ancient Chinese curse.


Understanding Relationships

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is relationships. All the various kinds that we gather up, look after, obsess over, neglect, discard … it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day they define our lives.

Some people come into our lives in a flurry of feelings and reactions. They storm in, take over and sometimes whisk away, leaving only pieces to pick up – like some internal hurricane on a rampage. Some of these stay on and life around them is like sailing on a volatile, heaving sea of emotions.

Others come into your life almost like the child who slips into class late, noticed only from the corner of the teacher’s eye. They come in, sit down and put their feet up and you never question what they are doing there, because the moment they appear you can’t imagine what life is like without them.

I know people who fit both these categories. The ones who demand constant attention and who need me to keep up with their pace of attention, and the ones I talk to once in a month in passing, for five minutes – usually about how we need to meet more often. Both enrich my life in different ways.

The only thing is: I never made these friends. In all my life, I cannot remember one instance in which I set out actively to make another person my friend. (well, maybe one – but that’s another whole issue in itself.) Every friend I have is a blessing who came along unasked and who would have been lost to me had it not been for their own initiative and love. I don’t question why I’m so lucky to have them, I just accept and am grateful.

Which is probably why I’m finding it so hard to assess the whole business of creating and nurturing relationships on my part. Do the more passionate, energetic kind last longer than the slower, mulled kind? Or are they just more fun?

Does it really matter if you have instant chemistry with someone? What if you find yourself slowly and very sensibly accepting a certain bond – should that evoke a sense of foreboding?

The more I think I about it, the more I believe that many of these questions would never come up in the life of someone (male or female) who had observed hijab as it was meant to be. But unfortunately, I haven’t that luxury. It took me years to understand the concept, even more to begin practicing it properly and I’m still on rocky terrain now and again.

Some days, I think of all the things I want and have to let go off and it hurts more than it should. On those days, all I want to do it go to sleep and wake up to find everything sorted out for me. To find that I have no decisions to make, no choices to enforce, no struggle to rein in flights of fancy…

And on other days, I actually find “common sense” appealing enough to base my life decisions on. Those days are more stable, but they’re also more scary – like I’m on the brink of losing a part of me I haven’t quite got to know well enough yet.

I used to think of desire as this out of control emotion that was obviously noxious and easy to avoid, because that kind of total abandon has never been my cup of tea. But desire can be so much more: it can sweet and gentle; it can be innocent and (seem) pure; it can even be sensible and logical.

The really dangerous part is that it’s always promising – like an undercurrent, tugging gently at the edge of your mind – and whispering seductively in honeyed tones for you to give in to it ‘just this once’ or ‘just to see what happens’.

In the right circumstances, I’m sure it’s the driving force behind everything we do as humans – from inventing cures for disease to falling in love.

The questions I’m asking myself right now are: Can any relationship work without it? Can it be nurtured if there isn’t that initial connection? Can it be constrained by reason?

And why is it that it so ruthlessly targets the impossible?

Bint Ali

Current Saying: 

The hardest-learned lesson: that people have only their kind of love to give, not our kind. 
– Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)


Allah (SWT) says: 
“Call upon Me, I will answer you.”

I think these are the most beautiful and powerful words I had ever read. The simplicity of the whole process and the guarantee of a response is more than any person could desire in a relationship. The emphasis in Islam has always been to rely totally and completely on Him. To abandon the notion or misconception that you have any power of your and to surrender to the fact that you are helpless except when He helps you.

It is the classic process of humbling yourself before Him and being empowered in the process. The only thing that stops people from doing such a simple thing is their ego.

Which is probably why I’m sitting here, writing this post. I’m finding it terribly hard simply to ask – and that even from God.


Don’t get me wrong, I ask plenty. It’s just that I seem, over the years, to have created boundaries around the kinds of things I ask for. I find myself prioritizing inside my head: ‘What’s noble enough to ask for?’, ‘Is this more important or that?’, ‘This is a silly, worldly thing, I can’t ask for it!’ and on and on.

I’ll put things in little groups, the stuff I know is petty but I want anyway, the stuff I want because I know that it’s good for me, the stuff that we’re always told to ask for …and apparently this is very, very, VERY wrong.

Sure, I’ve heard the story where Allah (SWT) tells Prophet Musa (a) to ask for everything from the salt for his bread to the string to tie his sandals (different versions I’ve read include grass for his goat). The point being: ask.

My block is that some of the things I so badly want seem to be as a result of character weaknesses and because I can’t control myself as much as I need to. So I deprive myself from asking because I think this is a personal battle I have to overcome and deal with inside.

But then, how can I fight a battle outside of thhe jurisdiction of God? Everything is from Him and everything returns to Him. The battle may be inside of me, but the situation was destined by Him, the strength I need to overcome it will be from Him (whether I acknowledge it or not) and success will depend on His Will too.

Trying to think that I can manage on my own, that I have to struggle on my own, that I have to succeed on my own … all of it is beginning to sound like it has been tainted with a hint of shirk (polytheism).

So here I am, on this night, typing these words and making a resolution. I will ask. I will ask more often. I will not be ashamed to ask. I will ask for the things that the weakest part of my soul desires selfishly. I will ask for the things the strongest part of my mind reasons to be important. I will ask. And I will keep on asking. And then I’ll ask some more.

And He will answer.

Bint Ali

Current Saying: 
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Thomas A. Edison