The Way of The World

Bismihi Ta’ala

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the constant juxtaposition created by life and death.  We sometimes wonder at the fact that there are births and deaths taking place somewhere in the world every single second, but it only really hits home when you are part of both in your own experience.  Just a few days ago, a young man who was related to a good family friend passed away.  The night he was being buried, I was attending a pre-wedding ceremony in a house just across the street from the mosque.  We were putting final touches to decorations and welcoming guests even as the funeral procession was leaving.

It made me realise that the world truly is a big place, that often we are distanced from each other even when we are standing close together.  We feel emotions when we have a personal interest.  We celebrate when those we care about are happy and we mourn and feel grief at the pain of those we love.  The connection to ourselves is what strengthens our bonds, what ‘involves’ us.

Is that why we also disconnect when things move out of our personal space?  We join in the joy of marrying off the young people in our families, but after the ceremony, the couple is left to handle the rest of their relationship on their own – only they can deal with their daily challenges, because only they are so deeply invested in each other.  When someone dies, we mourn them for a while.  We miss their presence and remember them fondly, however, it is mostly in relation to how they spent their time in this world, how they spent their time with us.

We carry their past along with us into our future, forgetting that they have a current Present that they are living out as well.  A Present in which they may need our help and love more than they ever have.  Because we are not involved in that area of their Life, we have to be reminded to visit their graves or pray for them and many days pass when we forget they ever existed.

And just as we forget, we will be forgotten too.

This is the hardest reality to come to terms with, I believe.  Looking around, when you see the friends that you trust will be there for you through thick and thin, when you look at the man or woman you believe would lay down their life for you, when you see the family that promises that ‘blood will always be thicker than water’, it becomes hard to accept that if you were to be removed from their lives, they would remember you for but a few days before you became a fond memory of someone that once was, but is no longer relevant.

If the people who care the most about us can forget us, then how much did they ever remember us?  I’m not writing this to be cynical or critical of people’s emotions.  I’m sure we all feel sincerely, we love passionately, we care deeply…but we are human and it is part of the journey to understanding ourselves when we realise that our capacity for depth of emotion will always be a) imperfect and b) dependent on how deeply we have acknowledged our own Self.

As long as we live superficial lives on a material plane, it is inevitable that we will feel things at that same level.  This sometimes makes me sad.  Yes, our love will never be perfect, but surely, it can be a whole lot more than what it is?  If we were to become better at being Muslims – at being human – would we not become better at loving as well?

It is inevitable then as a Muslim, when I question myself about life and how it should be led that I consult the lives of those I believe were sent as examples of what we are expected to be.  When I search in history for how the Prophet (pbuh) loved or how the Imams (pbut) loved, I’m sometimes left confused.  Why is their love so different from mine?

When I was younger, I would wonder… why did the Prophet (pbuh) show so much affection for his daughter?  Why did Imam Husayn (pbuh) so openly express his feelings for his daughters, his sisters and his wives?  Over and over, as I heard the story of Kerbala every year, I would sit and wonder why the many levels of love woven within this saga were alien to me.  I couldn’t connect to the levels of emotion that needed to be involved for these events to unfold.  ‘How?’ was the prefix to many of of the questions that kept coming up.

I was brought up in a culture where showing open affection was not encouraged.  It was completely foreign to me that a father should stop in the middle of heading out to battle in order to hug his 4 year old daughter and indulge her in her last request.  In my understanding, children would have been kept away from the presence of adults in such tense times and not even told what was happening.

So for me, Kerbala has not just been a lesson in faith and loyalty, in sacrifice and dignity, in Truth and Justice – it has been a lesson in love and humanity as well.  Every time I think about how deeply those individuals loved each other, it makes me realise how much greater their love for God was that they were willing to give each other up for Him.  There was no resentment on the part of those left behind that they had to fend for themselves against men who had become beasts; there was only a sense of pride in having loved men who were capable of such utter and total submission.

For me, this is the best example of selfless love, an example of a Greater Love encompassing all other lesser loves.  When I think of it in this context, it makes sense that it should be so easy for them to show affection for each other.  When everything is reflected in the mirror of Ultimate Love, it does nothing but shine out visibly to all around.

As followers of the Tashayyu School of Belief, we claim on a daily basis to love the Prophet and His Holy Household (pbut), and we hope to gain their love as well by becoming the kind of people they would want to be associated with.  This would not  only be the greatest honour for us, but a saving grace.  Only those who know how to love truly would stand by us when we need them most.

Because there will inevitably come a time when we will be abandoned by all other people, and it will be the one and only circumstance in which we will need help the most.  God tells us that on “- the day when a man will evade his brother, his mother and his father, his spouse and his sons— (Qur’an, 80: 34-36).  Who will be left for us to rely on on that day then?  The day that you will see every suckling female will neglect what she suckled, and every pregnant female will deliver her burden…” (Qur’an, 22: 2)  Even mothers will abandon their infants… what kind of state will we be in during that time?  How desperate will we be for a consoling look or a comforting word?  And who else will be able to give those out except the Ahlul Bayt (pbut)?

When I started this post, I thought there would be a cynical grain running through this post.  I wanted to write about how it was the way of the world to forget and abandon; that we should never rely on it or expect anything from it more than a superficial level of loyalty or a false sense of commitment.  And I still believe this to some extent.

However, I also realise that the world and those who pass through it are not made of the same material.  We enter this world and leave it, much as we enter a room or an institution of education or a place of work.  We do not become the room or the place, but we are influenced by it and sometimes, we in turn influence it.  We can be completely immersed in our place of stay or totally excluded from it.  One thing is for sure, the more different we are from our surroundings, the more we stand out.

This is why the Prophet (pbuh) stood out, why each and every Imam stood out and why Kerbala stands out.  These people passed through the world, but did not take from it anything that would change their essence.  Instead, they left imprints, echoes that we can still hear down the centuries telling us clearly what is right from what is wrong.  People whose love was so strong, so all-encompassing that it continues to overcome the boundaries of Space and Time.

If only we could drown in that love, immerse ourselves so deeply in it that we would get carried along with its current to our final destination…



The Fear of Truth

Bismihi Ta’ala

Life goes on.  There used to be a television show by that name when I was young and for its time, I think it was quite a ground-breaking series, addressing social issues that needed to be talked about and changing the way people saw the world around them.  For me, just the title was enough of a thought-provoker.  Over the years, even as the names of the characters and the story lines have faded away, the fact that ‘Life Goes On’ has lingered on.

Things happen.  Good things, Bad things, Amazing things and Horrible things, but all of them pass away and we move forward.  Or rather, we are carried forward – whether we move or not is something we decide for ourselves.  When I look back at the past few years, I wonder at how much I have been carried and how much I have moved.

3 years ago my life was very, very different and I was different too.  3 years ago, I was going through a phase in which I had begun to step outside of my self and when I looked back from that ‘other’ point of view, I barely recognized the person I was becoming.  It scared me to think that I would stay that way permanently because it was a such a sad place to be.

When I look back, I can’t trace exactly how long that grey phase lasted.  If I was to estimate idealistically, I’d probably say six months or so.  If I was to be realistic, it was probably more like two years or more.  Sometimes, you sink so far into yourself, into a place where you shut out the light of everyone around you that if you let down a single shutter of the hundreds of windows you have closed, and a tiny ray of light penetrates through, it totally blinds you.  Sometimes, you only notice in hindsight that what you thought was full of colour, was really just a lighter shade of black.

I often wonder if I didn’t have enough ‘heart’ to remain in that emotionally traumatic place or if I had too much ‘head’ that enabled me to consciously drag myself out of it.  At that time, the thought that I was incapable of feeling as deeply and as vastly as the movies I had watched and the books I had read had told me I should, almost destroyed me.  I felt as if I was not human enough, simply because I was able to sit back, look at the facts, accept my mistakes and trust that with time, everything would become normal again.  I felt cold and clinical because I was able to keep moving, to self-analyse, to ‘know’ that there nothing grand or special about my little story and that as big, huge and life-changing as it seemed, it was only affecting me and no one else.   That there were 7 billion other people out there, each having their own stories – and some of them were way bigger than mine could ever be.

That doesn’t mean that it didn’t feel like I went to hell and came back again.  It was out of that dark place, after all, that I began my Letters.  And it was by writing the Letters that I was able to understand and learn so many things.  It was through the Letters that new people entered my circle who have enriched it and who have made me aware of things I had long forgotten and ignored. (Thank you all.)

Since then, I have moved on and I think I’m finally catching up with my Present.  However, what I find odd (and a little disturbing) is that in everything that has saved me and carried me forward to brighter promises of a different future, I have not found (yet) the depth of emotion that I had discovered within me while I sat in the shades of my soul.  This often worries me.

When I was angry, boy, was I angry.  I believe I compared it once to ‘an ocean of rage‘ and indeed, even in hindsight, I can remember the overwhelming feelings washing over me in waves of reds and blacks.  I can remember feeling very afraid under it all, that I would be swept away by those waves and never be able to find my way back.  When I felt hurt, it was so strong it became a physical pain that began in the moments before I resurfaced from sleep and stopped only after I fell back into unconsciousness.  These negative feelings were so powerful, they seemed to have a life of their own and took mine over.

Now, when I sit back and try to find those depths, they elude me…  Yes, I am happy – but in a calm, satisfied, content sort of way.  I am grateful, but with a down-to-earth, no-fuss thankfulness.  My world is full of colour, but it is real, normal, flawed, sometimes-yummy-other-times-yucky.  There is no heightened sense of delirium, no cloud nine, no seventh heaven phenomenons working in my space.

I wake up each day knowing that I have felt the Hand of God work in bringing me to where I am, but it was not a case of Him scooping me up out of one situation and dropping me in another.  It was more of a gentle nudge that He gave me, and then a series of stumbling steps that I took and suddenly it seemed the path ahead had set itself right and I could continue strolling along it.  The feeling of leisurely ease is much the same as one would feel if one reached out to straighten a crooked frame on a wall and then sat back and had a cup of tea in satisfaction.  There was little fuss and no drama.  So much so that now it seems to have been an almost effortless  journey.

In so many ways, I feel like I am only emerging from a deep slumber now.  That being able to so seamlessly adapt to new circumstances and new experiences has almost been like a healing, restful sleep and with this awakening is coming a sense of restless energy to get started on the rest of life. Now that everything has evened out and fallen into place, what next?  Where do I go from here?  There are so many options, so many possibilities…

But if I invest in them, then I will be embedding myself deeper into circumstances, which then awakens the strongest emotion I currently feel…fear.

A fear that comes with the knowledge that all this will – must – come to an end some day.  It is the reality of life.  If not today, then tomorrow and if not tomorrow, then the day after, all things have to pass away.  Is this why I am reluctant to immerse myself into Today more deeply? Because if losing something Yesterday that was fraught with doubt,  suspicion and shadow was such a traumatic experience, what would it be like to lose something that is real, solid and full of health and energy?

The tightness in my throat as I voice these thoughts, the flutter in my chest as I write these words, the hesitation in my fingers as I type out these statements tells me that the thought of losing something that I haven’t even allowed myself to become fully attached is strong enough to stir my soul.  That I am not so distanced from this world and its people that I can fly to my Creator without a second glance behind, even if it was in a simple, straightforward manner.

Shouldn’t my fear be for the opposite? Should I be afraid that I may never achieve the connection with God that I am seeking in Life?  What if I get so attached to this world that I lose the biggest Treasure that has ever existed?  What if I never feel the fear of losing the Pleasure of God?  The fear of displeasing Him?  The fear of not becoming the kind of human being He created me to be?  The fear of finding myself before Him with only the burden of shame and regret upon my shoulders…?

When I think these thoughts, I am left in awe for the people who gave up so much, who sacrificed those they truly loved, who laid their hearts bare in front of God and felt only His Love in every moment of their existence?  How is possible to understand the capacity and strength of their feelings?  I feel like a child, attached to a plastic toy, unaware of her own heart and its true volume.  I feel like I have wasted this precious asset that is my soul and that I have done nothing to tend to its wings and that it may never learn to fly, let alone  soar.

I guess what I need to figure out is what is stronger: My fear of staying forever grounded or my fear of flight…?



Saturated and Stagnant

Bismihi Ta’ala

I’m in a bit of a rut.  And the need to vent is extremely strong so please, feel free to skip this post if you have enough of your own ‘stuff’ to deal with.  I’m simply indulging myself and taking advantage of the fact that I have a place to come and rant.

Time is passing.  No, actually it’s slipping away. I can feel it sliding through my fingers, every second gone before I can even count it.  Of course, it’s been doing this since the day I was born, but I have never felt it as strongly as I do right now.   There are so many things I dreamt of doing, so many things I still want to do and yet, I have neither the will nor the energy to do them.

So I’m watching Time go past and I’m angry at myself for being such a passive observer.  I look back and wonder “What exactly have I achieved?”  Oh, I’ve *done* lots of things.  Tried my hand at this or that, organized an event here and there, written a few words…but so what?  Have I made a change or a difference?  Have I in any way done something that I can carry into the next Life?  Have I packed even bare essentials of any sort?

Reuben Blades has been quoted to have said: “I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.”   I think I’m a prime candidate for such a society.  After all, I have all the information in the world.  There’s translations available today of books that my parents didn’t even know existed, Youtube videos of every lecture in every corner of the world for Muharram, Safar, Ramadhan and other random days, Facebook pages where you can interact with scholars and recitors, all kinds of organizations and courses available in English…what is lacking in terms of quantity.  As Muslims, we truly are the best informed ummah that has ever been.

Then why has there been no change in society for the better? Why are things getting worse and not better?  Why are evils unheard of attacking us within our own communities?  Why?

I’ve been told that I ask too many questions sometimes.  And I know I do, but that’s only because

a) I’m always thirsty for information and

b) I want to figure out what to do with that information.

Right now, I’m doing neither.  I’ve stalled on information seeking, because I sometimes feel saturated with facts and trivia and ‘data’ that is doing nothing inside of me except taking up brain-space.  I don’t know what to do with what I know, what would I possibly do with more of the same?  And that’s what’s making me angry as well.  Why don’t I know?  Me, an adult, someone who has been blessed with an opportunity to study both secular and Islam studies, why am I so stagnant?

Right now, every time I head in one direction, I seem to be hitting a brick wall.  If I seek to escape one routine, I simply end up in another.  There is no forward movement.  I am not travelling through Time, forging ahead and moulding the minutes into a shape that will encase my journey in history in some way.  Instead, I feel like I’m simply standing limp as Time passes over me, around me, through me…without so much as a hiccup.

There is a fear in my heart and soul that should the world end before I do or I before the world, that what lies ahead is not something I want to discover.

Remember me in your prayers as we go through the Days of Fatimiyyah please.