My Future.

Being a Muslim sometimes brings a unique perspective to life.  We live not for this world, but for the Next.  That might sound a little scary because it seems to imply abandoning normal life, but that’s not how it works.   Islam teaches us that we should live a life that glorifies God, that we should through our actions build our Hereafter because our thoughts and deeds literally translate into our Future. 

The most wonderful thing is that it’s so easy to do this.  We tend to make things difficult by restricting worship to acts like praying or supplicating, fasting and performing pilgrimages, but it’s so much more than that.  With the right intention, hanging out with friends becomes worship as does indulging in a hobby or even simply waking up in the morning and going to work.  With the right frame of mind, life becomes a continuous existence of being directly in touch with Him.

With the right frame of mind, when you get what you want you feel a deep gratitude that He has blessed you with so much, and when you miss something, you don’t feel a regret for it because well, it’s simply a temporary incident that has passed away.  And if you really want it that bad, you’ll just ask for it in Heaven.

I do that a lot by the way.  I have a whole list of things I’m ‘Saving for Heaven’ 🙂 When I tell people that, I sometimes get odd looks because for some reason, most of us today are really (REALLY) uncomfortable talking about Heaven and Hell.  It forces us to think of the consequences of our actions and the accountability for those sneaky things we do that we don’t want anyone to know about.  And who wants to think of responsibility when you’re having so much fun living, right?

For a long time, I wondered how to deal with justifying why God created Hell and Heaven and why we will be punished if He is such a Loving and Merciful God.   But things are clearing up a little.

See, it’s not that we’re in this world like lab rats in a maze.  Run the right course and you’ll get to the door with the cheese behind it; run the wrong course and you’ll get a nasty zap!  

Some people believe that if your time runs out and you don’t make it to the right flap, that’s it. It’s all over.  You’re doomed and done for.  No more cheese for you.  Some people believe that every time your clock runs out and you make a mess of it, you’re placed at the beginning and set to find your way again; over and over till you get it right.  The only problem is that you don’t have any memory of the mistakes you made the first time round, so I’m guessing it gets a little difficult to see it as a learn-by-experience process.

People see God as some All-Powerful King ruling over his subjects with an iron fist.  Do something wrong and bad karma will hit you through the Hand of God.  Beliefs like that are abound in all faiths, including Islam.

But in actual fact, God is Absolutely Just.  When He created this world, He did so basing it on that system of Justice, that is why we covet the trait and admire it as one of the most noble in the universe.  According to that Justice, every cause has an effect.  Thus when we do something good or bad, there should be a reaction to that.  Sometimes the reaction is immediate, sometimes it is delayed and sometimes it happens only in the Unseen Dimension so we can’t see it until after the Veils are lifted from our eyes (i.e. we die.)

Take for example, if a person drinks poison.  Regardless of whether they know they are drinking or not, the result will be death.  Will we fault the poison for taking effect even if the person did not want to die or did not know it was dangerous?   The point we will make is that poison has a dangerous effect and as such it has to be true to its nature.

When we indulge in sins, it is the sin that has a poisonous effect on our souls.  Just because we cannot see our souls in the throes of pain or we silence the voice of our conscience until it speaks no more, does not mean the poison is not doing its work.

And what if the person who drinks poison does so because he/she couldn’t read the label on the bottle?  We’d say it was ignorance that killed him/her and how good it would have been if he/she had learnt to read.  So the responsibility shifts to the person too.

For that same reason, we need to constantly seek out what it is that God has taught is good and what is bad.  We can’t see the spiritual effects of our actions so we need a reliable source that can.  Otherwise, we’ll suffer the consequences of ignorance too. (You only need to look around at society to know the truth of that.)

The difference of course is that God is also All Merciful and as such, if you commit a sin out of ignorance, He is more than willing to forgive you for it and negate its effect in the Unseen spiritual realm.  However, sometimes the consequences in the world are irreversible.  If you do something that leads to loss of life, you may be forgiven for it, but you cannot bring back the dead.  That’s not God being unfair, as we so often and easily blame Him for being, that’s us messing up the balance of our own lives.

If you fail a crucial exam because you didn’t study for it, no matter how much you regret it later, you can’t turn back the clock on the F you’ll get.  We call that learning a hard lesson, don’t we?  It’s funny.  We follow the same system in our daily lives and yet fault God for doing so.  In reality, the only reason these things seem unfair to us because we can’t see the Whole Picture. 

Life is all about taking on the responsibility for your actions onto your own shoulders instead of sweeping it under the carpet and hoping things will work out on their own.  I wonder why we can find it within ourselves to admire and even envy the artist who will stay awake at night trying to capture that elusive picture in his head, or the entrepreneur who will work 18 hours a day for seven days a week to build up his empire and yet we scorn the man or woman who will wake in the middle of night to prostrate before God, or who will shun the material culture and speak of long-forgotten virtues? 

Why is one considered admirable and the other a freak? 

Why does speaking of God or even thinking of Him make so many of us fidget and wish someone would change the subject? 

Maybe it’s because the Truth forces us to face our own flaws and misconceptions.  It forces us to be truly humble.  Not just about our talents and possessions, but our very own worth as human beings.  In Islam, Pride belongs exclusively to God.  The word Muslim means “to submit” or “to surrender” to Him. To accept that you know nothing and He Knows Everything; that you are nothing and He is Everything.  Accepting slavery to Him allows us to become free in the truest sense of the word because He Created everything in this universe to serve His slaves.

I am not free.  I have gathered so many things that hold me back; so many regrets and so many farfetched hopes.  I can flashback over all the years I’ve lived on this earth in the blink of an eye. Decades worth of experience and they are as insubstantial as a strand of will-o’- the-wisp.  A few more decades and my time will be over.  That is inevitable.  And on nights like these, I wonder at what kind of Future I have created for myself to meet me after Death opens its door and I walk into Life…

S’laams

bint Ali.

Sailing the Stormy Sea

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and this question came up:  Who is the captain of my ship?  It’s something I’ve wondered over often and I don’t think I have the answer down pat yet, but every time I turn it over in my mind, it seems a little bit clearer than it was before.

Growing up teaches you a lot of things, shatters a lot of ideals and bursts a million childhood bubbles.   As you mature, the world seems a lot colder, less friendly and almost hostile sometimes.  You redefine the meaning of friendship, you suddenly see the flaws of family and when you look in the mirror, sometimes a stranger stares back. 

Once the world stops revolving around you, it’s tempting to think that you are a peg on it as it spins irreversibly and uncontrollably into the future.  Tempting to think you have little or no control.  But that would be unfair, wouldn’t it?  Life has to have purpose and meaning – everyone accepts that, regardless of what they believe in.  How can you add meaning to it or define its purpose if you have no say in the matter?

From an Islamic point of view, it’s a matter of Balance as always; the fine balance between Freewill and Predestination.   There are things beyond our control: relatives, physical ability, intellect, wealth, circumstances, how long we live.  And there are things within our control: character, principles, ideals, efforts, reactions, what we do with our lives.

Now, here’s the interesting bit.  You can’t really know or choose what happens tomorrow, but you can choose how you’ll react to it.  And when you decide that, you are actually choosing what happens in the Hereafter, building your life there.  It’s like a choice hidden within another choice.  By deferring our control to the Next Life, God is actually putting our Real Life in our hands.

This life on earth is a stormy sea.  Even in moments of calm, you can feel the breeze of the next swell.  We each have our own ships on that sea.  You can sail alongside other ships, but you can’t sail in the same ship as others.  The questions we need to ask ourselves are:  Do we know where we’re headed?  Do we know how to get there?  Are we floundering aimlessly and drifting where the current takes us? 

I believe it’s a journey you can’t do on your own.  Not if you want it to have meaning.  You need to seek out a Trustworthy Source, someone who knows what lies ahead and can advise you on the best route to take and someone who can help you when the storms are particularly overwhelming.   You could rely on other human beings who have sailed ahead, but at the end of the day they can only know so much.  Besides, it’s a human quality to hurt each other and let each other down – consciously or unconsciously. 

The only One who knows the Sea inside out and each storm on its surface is God.  And He wants only the best for each and every one of us, so it is beyond Him to harm us or hurt us.  Would He create us, give us the entire universe as a playground to learn in, and then turn on us and find perverse pleasure in our pain?  That makes no sense.

We do feel grief and hurt in our lives, but each of these experiences enriches us.  Teachers will tell you that each student is unique and has an individual learning process.  Some seem to imbibe information effortlessly, for others every fact and formula is a battle.  But if allowed to learn at their pace and in the manner best suited to them, each one will reach the required goal.

It’s the same for us. Some people need to struggle and break free of constraints in order to develop and grow in character, other people would simply crawl into a corner and fade away with they were put in the same situation.  That’s why He had tailor-made each life to suit the soul living it.

The destination is the same for all of us.  We are all heading back to Him and He wants us to arrive in the purified condition that He created us for. But the journey differs for everyone.   It’s up to us to understand this and put in the effort required in our own education. 

S’laams
bint Ali

Creating More New Memories

A little later than promised, but here they are…

III. The Klassy Kaka

Okay, first of all, before anyone starts applying their own interpretations, Kaka is a Gujarati word (synonymous with Chacha) which means ‘uncle’.  So who is he?  The local chemist!!! 🙂  I met him the other day when my sister went hunting for all kinds of ammo against the murderous mosquitoes that buzz and bite with no sympathy in these parts.  Apparently, since I’m ‘new blood’, they’re homing in on me.  That means burning those funny smelling…sorry, scented coils, having a mosquito-repellent thingy AND using half a bottle of insect spray in my room. Every night.  I’d be swathed in a net too if I’d let her.

So we went to the chemist downstairs to get the necessary and who do we meet but the sweetest old man ever!  He’s tiny, fragile almost, with huge glasses, a gentle look in his eyes, balding, has a BIG smile and speaks with a laugh in his voice.  He actually spent time discussing how the little buggers just wouldn’t die these days no matter what you hit them with! 😀  Well, except if you hit them with a nice flat piece of cardboard – on either side.  Then they go satisfyingly ‘squish’. 

I call him klassy because he’s definitely sharp ,  running that shop and knowing all the meds and keeping track of the money, but he seemed just happy to be alive and doing what he was.  And I should think it’s impossible to walk out of the little apothecary  – it suits him to call it that – without a backward wave and a smile on your face.

IV. What Does Her Heart Hide?

One thing I’ve noticed since coming here is the number of old people around.  It gives this place a homey feel.  Children make me joyful, but old people fascinate me.  We look at them as individuals who are finishing their journey, with no more to give to the world today because their time has passed.  But they hold a wealth of information and wisdom that only that amount of experience can bring.  Plus they make you feel like a child again no matter how old you are.

We have plenty relatives here that I haven’t met before.  One of them is a grandmother of sorts. When we went visiting (the old-fashioned way, with a box of biscuits!), I couldn’t help but be reminded of the elegance that some women seem to possess as a birthright.  She’s in her 80’s, but she holds herself with the grace of a 20-year old.  It made me proud to be female and more so to be Muslim.  Because every thing she said was laced with this deep belief embedded within her.  Her gratitude for the past, her appreciation of the present and her hopes for the future, all related to her faith in some way.

I’ve been spending the recent past thinking a lot about the things that I have left behind and those that it seems inevitable I will leave behind.  As I watched her talk, I wondered what things she had left in her past and if they ever haunted her.  Does anyone think to ask that?  We often hear of the hardships our grandparents suffered, of the experiences they had, of the happiness in their lives.  But who ever tells us of the sorrows buried deep within?  Who looks for the ‘if only’s and the ‘I wish’s?

Often I think I have reached a point in life where I’m content.  Or as content as I can be.  It seems to me that everything is fine, if not perfect, just the way it is and I can go on this way for as long as I have to.  But is that really true?  If it was, why would this whisper of wishes murmur in my ear in that moment of silence just before I fall asleep?  Or brush against my hair when the wind blows? Or fall gently on my face when I stand in the path of a shower of sea spray?  This whisper that says: “Close your eyes and reach out just a little, you will find what your fingers seek…”  But time and time again, my hand has grasped nothing but thin air.

I want to grow old with elegance like the grandmother we visited.  I want to one day have the aura she had.  Are the empty pockets essential for that?  That shade of sadness that is not quite there.  And not quite not either.   If I could figure out how true that statement was, I would reach out more often and embrace (w)hole heartedly the feeling that comes from realising that once again, something is missing by my side.

S’laams
bint Ali