What is Love Anyway? Part 1: You’re My Honeybunch…

Note: The original post about this turned out a whole lot longer than I anticipated, so I’ll be posting it piecemeal and try to upload each section based on the individual ideas that finally formed my whole opinion.

Today I thought about what it meant to love someone.  Truth be told, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot since I got married and especially after I had my baby. Everyone around me seems to ‘get’ it, but I’m still floundering when it comes to this specific emotion.

When I see couples online declaring their undying loyalty and love for each other, I wonder whether I’m too old, too sensible or simply too boring.  I also wonder whether there’s something lacking in my own marriage. My husband and I don’t indulge in PDAs. We don’t do – and never have done – walks on the beach, watching sunsets or eating from the same bowl of ice cream kind of stuff.

When I show him an update on Facebook where a husband claims he is the luckiest man in the world for having the best wife ever, asking him why he never says the same about me, he laughs and says ‘You wouldn’t believe me anyway so why should I exaggerate?’ and it’s sometimes frustrating to admit he is right.

The part of me that writes fiction in my head may have thought that I would have appreciated a fairy-tale story for myself.  The part of me that deals with the rest of life knows I would probably tire of it long before ‘ever after’ started and want to get on with the business of living.

It’s taken me a long while to understand that though.  In the beginning, I thought we were the classic example of opposites attract, then with time that mellowed into the chalk-and-cheese metaphor and somewhere in the not-too-distant past, there was definitely a phase of ‘have I married the wrong man?’

The problem was that I was doing a lot of unconscious comparing.  Everyone around me seemed to have met their spouse under a shower of sparks, married in a style worthy of photobooks and then have cutesy social media banter.

I met my husband in the most old-fashioned of ways: through an introduction that both of us were reluctant to engage in to begin with.  I agreed to marry him not because of any magical connection, but rather because of a pact I had made with God a few months before.  We didn’t have any professional photography because neither of us thought the cost warranted the end result, we haven’t printed any photobooks because of the same. And he doesn’t have a social media presence so that’s a non-starter.

When I began to question why I doubted my happiness, the most honest answer made me realise how silly (stupid really) my train of thought was.  It seemed that the only reason I wasn’t sure if I was happy was because I couldn’t tell others about it and without a list of likes, shares and comments, I couldn’t judge whether I was enviably blissful or not…

However silly it sounds, that was the most prominent reason that came to mind.  I have never felt so ridiculously childish and yet aware of the power of social pressure.  I am a teacher, a writer and an advocate of making independent, sensible decisions based on faith and fact and yet I fell for it all the same.  Unconsciously perhaps, but not entirely without knowledge either; some part of me knew, which is why I was able to recognise the enemy when I saw it.

It’s taken a lot of thinking and talking to my self, a lot of writing that may never see the light of day, a lot of denial and acceptance of my own flaws, but this is what I have (so far) concluded:

I don’t know if my husband is the best man in the world, the most wonderful husband or my soul mate.  I don’t have anyone to compare him to for those kinds of superlatives.  I do know he is the right person to accompany me on my journey towards my Creator because he brings into our marriage all those things that I never had considered when I was alone.

We are as different as two individuals can be, but again, rather than be a test or challenge to my opinions and beliefs, I am beginning to realise that he presents an alternative, a new way to be.  Because one of the biggest lessons I am learning is that this journey is not about trying to emphasize and strengthen the me that already exists, but rather about trying to become the best version of me I can possibly be.

That could mean having to change habits or ideas that I had considered to essential to my existence, but just like editing a story script, you have to throw out some of your best writing for the good of the final story.  Life is not about me, it’s about my role, my purpose, my responsibility to this existence – that is what should define me.

I think the best lesson my husband has taught me is that he is not the ‘goal’ of my life.  I was restless and felt like I seeking something to fill up a gap in my life or someone to complete me.  Everyone told me that I would find that in my ‘other half’.

I didn’t.

I am still restless, I am still seeking and I still have a gap in my life.  My husband and my daughter (more about what she had brought to me in my next post iA) have vastly changed and improved my life, but they were only a stopgap for the hole in my soul.  They provided distraction with the new-ness of their relationship to me, but with time as that has become natural and normal, I find myself still looking out over the horizon for that something.

It is a feeling that only leaves me during the days of Muharram and Safar.  To be precise, it only completely leaves me when I am attending the majalis of Husayn ibn Ali (a).  In those few hours, I feel at peace, complete and as if I have finally arrived where I was heading to.  This connection that Husayn (a) – and all things associated with him – brings between us and our God is the most priceless gift that he left for us.

Without his grief, we cannot be inspired to act; without acting, we can never truly immerse ourselves in his grief.  It is only by knowing, understanding and implementing the message for which he sacrificed his family, friends and self that we can love him and through him, love God.

And it is this kind of love that I am looking to establish with my husband as well.  That through him, I should find new ways to understand my faith, my leaders, my God; to see them with a fresh perspective and awaken a new aspect of love for them within my self.

When I ask my husband ‘Do you love me with all your heart and soul?’ He inevitably replies, ‘I don’t think so. I want my love to grow with every day as I get to know you more and more. I hope the best is saved for our last years.’

I used to think that was his way of avoiding a lifelong commitment to me (he is a man of his word to a fault).  But now I think he actually means it literally, and I am glad.

I don’t want the heavy responsibility of being the sole keeper of another person’s heart or soul; I have my own to worry about.  I would rather be available as a facilitator, an encourager for him to hand over those precious treasures to their Rightful Owner, in return for similar services.

It might make for a boring marriage with no place for a lot of mush.  We do laugh and enjoy the blessings in our life, but at the end of the day, the reality of the times we live and the burden our brothers and sisters bear worldwide hangs heavy over us.  We know there can be no true happiness without true Justice and no peace until it arrives with our Imam (atfs).

If we can just help each other make it to the end successfully, there will be a real forever to indulge in instead of simply a fairytale ending of this world.

To be continued…

S’lms,

bA

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A Soul Conflicted

Bismihi Ta’ala

If one was to ask me what the atmosphere of Muharram was, I would – without hesitation – reply that it was one of grief, sorrow and a strange, unique energy that cannot be explained, only experienced.  Until last year, that is.  This year, from the sighting of the new moon that is its herald, this month of Husayn ibn Ali (a) has been something new, something other for me.

There is a prickle in my eye in the middle of the day, a scratching at the back of my throat while I put my baby to sleep for her nap, a great heaviness weighing down upon my shoulders when I walk with her on beautiful, warm, sunny afternoons.  All these are familiar to me, I have felt them, as has any mourner in these days; the grief for Karbala springs on us at random moments, taking us by surprise when it comes outside of the mourning sessions at the mosque.

I remember going to the mosque every night surrounded by an electric anticipation of what lay ahead.  The sermon itself would be different every year, but the eulogies, the lamentations, the traditions are not just familiar, but instinctive – a part of our very nature, something that calls to the deepest cores of our Selves, much as Imam Husayn (a) called out on the plains of Karbala for a helper.  We cannot do anything except respond to it as moths do to a flame.

I would prepare for each of these ten nights, meditating beforehand, listening to latmiyya, envisioning scenes, creating a ‘mood’ for myself so that I could immerse myself fully into the aza, the mourning.  I never realised how much of a luxury this was…

This year, I prepare for the nights by keeping track of what time my baby sleeps and when she naps. I try to make sure she has eaten enough because once we go to the mosque, all training and 18-month-old habits are left in the parking lot.  I pack a bag with ‘essentials’ including a dozen varieties of snacks – just in case – although I know most of the effort is wasted because she won’t eat (except the food the other children have brought), she insists on grabbing at random water bottles while I keep waving hers under her nose, she wants to play with baby-rattles that she won’t give a second glance to at home instead of the age-and-place appropriate books and quiet toys I have brought along…

For the first time since I can recall going for Muharram gatherings, I have heard probably one 60 second snippet of the 40 min lecture.  And if I expected my saving grace to be the ghamm, the eulogy at the end of the sermon that is its climax, then that has also been sabotaged.  From the moment the lights are dimmed and the first tears begin to flow, my baby pulls at my handkerchief, clings to my neck and loudly wails: “Mummy hurt. Mummy, no cry” and then proceeds to shed copious tears of her own.

I have no clue how to deal with this and can only pray she gets used to it in the next day or so.

I look at her, this first experience for her of a commemoration that will one day be as much a part of her being (I pray) as it is of mine and of all the Lovers of the Ahlul Bayt (as).  I wonder at the beauty of the journey from being a stranger to, then introduced, familiarised and finally falling in love with Husayn ibn Ali (a) and his companions.  A journey each of us has taken and yet most of us take for granted.  How did we reach where we are? By whose grace and with whose help?  Who do we owe infinite gratitude to?

It doesn’t end there however.

I also used to be passionate about needing to act, to know what is going on in the world so I could be duly incensed.  I would look at photos of victims of war and watch videos of destroyed regions to build up the fury required at such injustice to speak volubly on these issues.  I could handle the fuel I needed to fire up my passion.

These days, one only has to mention Syria or Quetta or Iraq or Palestine and I feel my stomach turn.  I can only glimpse at a photo of a blood-covered child on social media and never, ever, consider opening the articles for fear there will be more. A ‘more’ that I don’t think I can handle.  Forget the fuel; I no longer have a fire burning inside me.

I am all ashes and burning embers and inevitably I come to the same conclusion: only my Awaited Imam (atfs) can fix this, only he can take away their pain and mine in the process.  And yet I am too afraid to call on him to come soon because I know I am not ready for him, which leads me to wonder at my own selfishness even in times as dire as these.

All of this brings me right back to Karbala and I have to ask myself: if I can consider a delay in the coming of the Saviour because I haven’t made the effort to be ready for him, then really, can I lie to myself and say I would have been on the side of Imam Husayn (a) on Ashura without a doubt?  Would I even have come when he called like Hurr did or would I have been an Umar al-Saad – all talk and no action?

I have never felt so many different emotions at one time over one matter.  I am split between wanting to cry when I hear the heart-rending words of a particularly emotional marsiya or nawha and feeling a deep joy when I see my daughter raise her hands in matam for that same poem.  I am torn between revelling in the wondrous beauty of God in the amazing environment I am in – blue skies, green trees, open spaces, cool breezes –  and wondering at the beauty Zaynab bint Ali (a) saw amidst blood, pain, suffering and tears.

I see my daughter make a new connection, learn a new word, hold out her arms for a hug, laughing simply because I am there and even as I wrap my arms around her, I cannot help but think of all the children in the world – victims of war, famine, abuse and other twisted evils – whose instinct is also to reach out for a loving pair of arms, but who are alone, lost and confused and when they come to mind, I am reminded of the children of Karbala: starving, parched, witnesses to the massacre of their fathers and uncles, oppressed, beaten, and trampled beneath the camel hooves along the road to Kufa and Shaam.

Past, present and future all blend into one in these moments and I am overwhelmed by what to feel. Is my daughter any more precious or special than other children simply because she’s mine? We are blessed that God chose not to test us with disability, illness or circumstance – that is all.   Are the innocent, oppressed children in the world to be divided into those in the Middle East and those elsewhere?  Muslim and non-Muslim?  War victims or social abuse victims?  Does a child hurting in Syria deserve more sympathy than a child cowering in the corner of a small room somewhere in England, waiting to be sold off on the human-slave market?  Were the children in Karbala any less child-like because they came from a noble family?  We often make the mistake of thinking of Sakina bint Husayn (a) as an adult because of her speech and manners, but was she not still a 4 year old, with all the innocence, trust, faith and love that only a child of that age can possess?

When I put all this together, I feel that we deserve the Wrath of God upon us: not just those commit evil, but also those of us who are silent at it, who don’t do more – who don’t do all that is in our power – to save these children as if they were our own.

I can find no excuse – not one – for myself. That is why I am sitting here, writing this.  Because words don’t seem to be enough, but they are the only thing I have at this moment and if I was to die on this night, I can at least say, I made an attempt to begin a journey even if I haven’t figured out where I’m headed and what I want to achieve.

This Muharram, I may not be shrouded in a cloak of uninterrupted grief as I have been before, but I am stabbed at irregular intervals by sharp daggers that hook their barbed blades deep into my heart causing indescribable pain and if I pull them out by force, they leave behind ragged tears that leak out an intense, restless darkness whose source I cannot explain.

The traditions tell us that the tears we shed in Muharram for Husayn ibn Ali (a) act as a balm for the grieving heart of his mother, the Lady of Light, Fatimah al-Zahra (a).  Maybe if I am lucky, the unshed tears that my daughter prevents from escaping will be the same for my tattered soul.

S’laams,

bA

It Begins…

Bismihi Ta’ala

A full circle once again.  The new year brings with it the Season of Sorrow for all the Lovers of the Holy Household of the Prophet Muhammad (s).  I’m not going to write about the history of this period (you can read about that here) or give a specific opinion (go here for that) or even start a campaign (there’s some here).  

This year, what I want to share is the renewal of this journey for me, accompanied with a new partner. My little girl: Innocent, Untrained, A Blank Slate, she will only learn what I and those around her teach her and the burden of that knowledge bears greatly on me.  More so in these days ahead.

Because Muharram and the Month of Husayn ibn Ali (a) comes only once a year, and while every day is truly Ashura and every land, Karbala, these two months that are upon us are special in their atmosphere and influence.

This is her first Muharram, and mine?  I don’t dare count how many I have lived through because for the first time, I am approaching this season with a sense of dread.

For so many years, through my childhood and youth, Muharram was a time of revelation and revolution, a time for change and revival, for inspiration and spirit.  I looked forward to the start of every year because there is so much to learn from the universities that our pulpits become in these days, because I knew I would be – for a while – a part of a bigger picture of change.

This year, I reflect on that and wonder – how much have I really changed in all this time?  Has any one Muharram made me a different, better person?  Or have I simply continued to live as I would have with or without attending the sermons and being reminded of what was sacrificed and achieved in Karbala?  

If I haven’t changed, then how is it that I face my Imam (a) every year, shedding the same tears, making the same pledges, promising the same changes…and then not fulfilling any of it?  How have I repeated this process over years and years without the slightest realisation of the shame my false claims bring?  How have I held my head high and stated I am a ‘Lover’ and a ‘Mourner’ while all the while, my Imam (a) watches me and wonders at my blindness to my own hypocrisy?

More importantly, if I haven’t changed, then how can I expect to make my daughter understand the true meaning of what happened fourteen centuries ago on the desert plain that has now become the most famous and sought after piece of land on earth?  

How can I show her what inner revolution means and how the love for Husayn ibn Ali (a) is its best and strongest catalyst?  

How can I teach her the lessons of courage, strength, loyalty, patience, faith and piety that can only be found in Ashura and its aftermath?

So I sit here, at the start of this year, reluctant, grieving and ashamed.  And also afraid. I don’t know how to start from the beginning, I don’t know how to backtrack and I am fully aware that the time I have lost is gone forever.  I am victim to the very regret that God has warned us about in The Qur’an over and over again – victim to the oldest trick the devil holds up his sleeve.

I cannot let this happen to my daughter though.  I can’t allow the cycle to be repeated.  If there is anything I hope to achieve in this and Muharrams I may have left in my life, it is that I will try with all my heart and soul to make sure that she takes from every year the best and deepest lessons; that she truly makes herself a receptacle for all the enlightenment that this event holds.

If I do this, then perhaps, if our Imam (atfs) should appear in her lifetime, she may – I pray – be a companion to him as sincere and loving as the ones Husayn ibn Ali (a) had on that long, scorching, torturous day that began in 62 A.H. but has not ended yet in the hearts of his lovers.

Sl’ms
bA