Unpretty Truths

Bismihi Ta’ala

There’s plenty of excuses for not writing, but that’s all they are. Excuses. There’s plenty I’ve wanted to say, so many times and then simply not said (read ‘written’).  Perhaps in typical ostrich-fashion, I have hoped that ignoring the issues will make them go away and that I will then be able to live life normally.  However, life is no longer normal.  Not for any of us.  I don’t think it ever will be.

I watch the world a lot these days.  I feel like an observer, seeing the way in which people live out their lives and wondering curiously at how they manage to do it and whether there is something wrong with me for not being able to do the same things.

It is the month of Ramadhan and people around me are laughing, enjoying the atmosphere of spirituality, cooking, sharing food, breaking bread together … even looking forward to (and shopping for) the Day of Idd already.  And me? I feel disconnected.

I have never felt less connected to God then I do now.  When I recite the verses from Dua al Iftitah and say:

My Lord, You call me and I turn away from You

You show affection to me and I show hatred towards You

You display Your love for me and I do not respond

as though I am above You…

I feel as if I am truly living these words, passing every day in oblivion of what is expected of me as a Muslim, as a submitter, as an abd – a slave.  Where in my life is a reflection of Islam?  I pray out of habit, not attaining the heights of ascension that salaah is supposed to bring; I fast, but spend my day distracted by chores from seeking Him out; I give charity, but selfishly, in order to protect my family and wealth.  Often these days,  I am faced with my own ingratitude, my hypocrisy and I am afraid to face my Lord at the end of the day, and more so at the end of my life.

I watch my daughter cry when she is hurt or afraid, when she wakes up in the middle of the night and reaches out for me, soothing only after her hands have found my face and her nose has nuzzled against my neck and even as I comfort her, I am painfully aware of all the children in the world at this moment who are afraid, terrified, facing horrors that adults would not be able to handle, children who are reaching out and crying for a familiar face, a soft hand, a loving heart…and grasping at empty air or worse, at an enemy.

I sit to eat iftar and complain inwardly at the hours I have had to stand in the kitchen and then find I cannot eat, because I know there are women who have nothing to feed their families except rotting or stale food that they have had to spend hours scavenging for and I cannot give my food to them or bring them to my table.

I step aside and watch myself, amongst my family, my friends, my community – I watch us distracted by the ongoing Euro or watching tellie to pass the long afternoon hours, waiting for a meal we are assured will come. I watch us as we moan about how the hours are dragging past.  I watch us as we pass our time chatting, laughing, having fun, wondering where to get the best deals on Idd outfits and every time I blink, I see the starving, the oppressed, the martyred, the slaughtered, the maimed, the forever-grieving, watching us back.

Most days, I feel so helpless that it seems to me I might be bordering on the brink of a depressive sinking. There so much I am not doing that it seems like there is a massive height to scale and barely enough time to get started.

I wonder why it is that we are so easily misled, so smoothly deterred from our path.  The sirat was never promised to be easy or to be flexible.  It is straight and narrow, the Truth allows few detours if you want to toe its line.  We will not get anywhere if we are already starting to allow compromise on issues like hijab or things that Islam has clearly categorised as haram or halaal. Getting confused at such a basic level only indicates how much work we have to do in terms of educating ourselves with regard to Islam and the School of the Ahlul Bayt (a).

The world will not get better or change without the coming and the help of the Saviour (atfs).  He is the True Muslim, the Sincere Submitter and it must shatter his heart that he is prevented from reaching out to those innocent children, from helping those weeping men and women, from bringing justice and eradicating injustice; prevented from restoring the balance that only he can…by us.

By our unwillingness to begin to act, to behave like Muslims, by our laziness to walk the talk, by our selfishness in wanting to follow Islam on our terms or on terms that will make living life in the present world easier for us.  Where is the depth of feeling for humanity and oneness with the ummah that motivates one to action, to sacrifice?

We all think it in vogue (excuse the term) to speak volumes about Husayn ibn Ali (a), about his sister Zaynab bint Ali (a), of his family and companions.  We talk of women role models and the sacrifices of Fatimah bint Muhammad (a) or her mother Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (a).  But that’s all we do.  Talk. Post. Tweet. Like. Comment.  The easy, click-a-button stuff.

These people sacrificed their lives…figuratively as well as literally for the Truth.  We can’t even put on a jilbab or refrain from putting on make-up in the name of Islam; in fact, we get defensive at the mere suggestion that hijab may have nothing to do with fashion.  Do we really have it in us to give our loved ones for the service of God if we can’t even give our loved things or simple habits / opinions for His Pleasure?

Until we learn that we are here to serve – both Creator and for His Sake, His creation – we will keep living in this bubble that we are actually waiting for the re-appearance of our Imam (atfs).  We are not the ones waiting.  Those who are suffering in whatever corner of the world they are in, those are the ones waiting.

We are the ones setting up obstacles on the path for their salvation.

If we find ourselves looking forward a little too eagerly for Idd, perhaps we should take a few minutes as we consider the henna-stain designs we want to trace on our palms* to think of the women whose hands are being stained with the tears and blood of their children, their spouses, their very own hearts.  Not just to think, but to then consider what action we can take to ease their burden, because their pain is (or should be) our pain and we would never sit back and allow these things to happen to our own.

Even if all we find ourselves capable of doing is praying for them, let us not append their needs at the end of our general requests because it’s ‘the right thing to do’.  Let us at least pray sincerely, imagining the faces of those we love in those situations so that our supplication to God stems from a deep, desperate place within our souls and pierces the Heavens with intensity.

S’laams,

bA

*Remember the back of the hands are off-limits if you’re going gloveless.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Reality

Bismihi Ta’ala

2016.  That’s sixteen years after the whole Millennium aka Y2k (who even remembers that term?) Fiasco-That-Wasn’t.  Babies born in that year are teenagers on the brink of youth now… And I was already an adult then.  I lived through what was a momentous time for our generation and then it passed us by and faded into the past.  That’s how history is made, I guess.

But not all history fades away, does it?  We still remember events and people who had an impact on our present, we keep their memories alive because what they left for us in the world helped us to reach where we are today.  What we have learned from their cotributions has left us feeling indebted to them despite the fact that they are strangers to us in all other respects.

When I look at the events unfolding in the current times, I wonder what it is that we will chose to remember and what we will chose to forget.  Keeping a memory alive isn’t about recording it down on paper – there’s thousands of books filled with ‘memories’ that no one cares to recall.  Keeping a memory alive is about re-living it over and over again until it becomes so much a part of us that we begin to own it on a personal level.  Forgetting it would be like forgetting who we are.

I often wonder what memories are important for me to pass on to my daughter.  Will it change her life if I forget to note down when she first sat up or started to crawl?  Will she feel less complete if I don’t mark out when each of her teeth emerged?  Is it important to her self-development to know how we spent sleepless nights wondering why she was cranky and listless only to have her fall fast asleep in the morning after volunteering a polite hiccup of a burp.  (How can such a small amount of ‘nothing’ cause so much trouble?)

I also wonder how to pass on the memories or habits I think are important to her – praying, reciting Qur’an, talking regularly to God, giving charity, helping others, contributing to society, exploring, reading!  So many things that I want her to learn to do like second nature instead of having to stop and think about when the last time she did them was and whether that action was ‘due’ for some attention.

I realised the answer lies (yes, I know it’s cliché, but then what Truths aren’t?) in how I live my own life.  Really.  I mean, we say it all the time: practice what you preach, lead by example, walk your talk… but it’s so true that every second of your life is observed by your children and they will learn best what they see you express non-verbally.

The other day I asked my husband why in spite of all my efforts to teach our daughter how to stack a set of rings on a stand, she still prefers to just toss them aside or chew on them, while on the other hand, despite all my efforts to keep her away from phones, she already pokes her forefinger at a blank screen or tries (tentatively) to swipe across it.  He was busy reading news on his mobile at that time and didn’t offer more than a curious grunt in reply.  Which got me thinking.

My conscious attempt at teaching her a new skill was focused on a few minutes daily, while she was observing our unconcious use of our phones all day long.  Wasn’t it inevitable that she would pick the habit that she was exposed to more frequently even though we have never taught it to her or even directed her attention to it?

On that basis then, will she really learn to be concerned about the affairs of the ummah worldwide if I only expose her to it on the news for a few minutes everyday?  Will she learn to give up her own luxuries (and hopefully a few needs as well) so that she can give to the less fortunate if we only speak of them once in a while during a crisis?

Will she be able to long for her Imam (atfs) if we only remember him by reciting Dua al-Faraj once a day or Dua al-Nudba on Fridays? Are the weekly acts of worship or the daily ones for that matter enough to make true Muslims – in the sense of ‘Submitters’ – out of us and her?  Are these habits that I will be teaching her or traits she can imbibe into her character?

‘Islam is a way of life’.  A simple statement repeated a million times over and memorised by every Muslim child.  But it’s comprehensiveness and depth is lost on the majority of us.

The challenge is not being a Muslim or proclaiming the faith, it is in actually living the reality of submission every single moment.  It in waking every morning with a heaviness in your soul because you are incomplete without your Imam (atfs).  It is cradling a sadness in your heart because your brothers and sisters are undergoing unspeakable sorrows and you can find no way to help or save them.

The challenge is remembering that reality is not only about what is happening in the small area of your personal life, but what is happening on a global scale.  Reality is about the interconnectedness of everyone and everything and what it means for humanity as a whole.

Most of us live in little shells surrounded by our own comforts and grievances, popping our heads out once in a while to see what’s going on around us and then withdrawing back into those shells.  We begin to think that our lives are the center of the world, albeit unconsciously. We are neither conscious nor aware of the constant passage of time and the fact that we are steadily moving forward towards an end.

Every night I go to bed making a promise to myself to be more present so that my daughter will learn to be the same. Every morning I wake up and promptly forget that promise.  It’s a vicious cycle that I don’t seem able to break out of.  Yet.

However, no one will teach my child the lessons I want to on my behalf.  She is my responsibility and guarding her is my priority. If I truly believe that, then I have no choice but to make the changes I need to before it is too late.

Maybe if I can start to be real for my self and my daughter, then I will one day be able to be real with regard to my Imam (atfs) and my God.

S’laams,

bA

 

 

The Year That Wasn’t

The year is coming to an end.  Another one.  The entire world is a different place from what it was last year.  So much more barbaric inhumanity prevalent, so much less generosity and love.  Are we truly regressing as a society?  Have we lost the ability to think or feel?  Is all hope lost for us?

A few years ago, it was all the rage to believe that the future held an invasion by aliens from outer-space, an attack that would cause all of humanity (or was it just the Americans?) to rally together and join hands against a foriegn force.

Today, we are under attack, yes, but the alien is within us – it has surfaced as an ability to be so cruel, so brutal, so hateful, that we no longer recognise a human being in the other person we are looking at and in doing so, we are losing our own humanity.

I am sitting here, having spent the last couple of hours trying to get my daughter to sleep in her own little crib and after days of attempting to do so (with no success), I have settled her next to me and realised that this co-sleeping habit may seem like an inconvenience (and perhaps a dangerous habit to some), it is actually a wonderful blessing in disguise.

How can I ever express enough gratitude for the fact that my child is healthy, is warm, is breathing and has the energy and freedom to cry for my company? Or that I have the ability to provide her with all that she needs or even just wants?

Nothing breaks the heart of human being more thoroughly than not being able to provide a loved one with what it is that they have asked for, and never more so than when the heart is that of a parent.

Yet, how many thousands of parents in the world are at this moment unable to give to their children even something as basic as a place to sleep or food to eat.

I feel guilty for having so much, I feel afraid that the reason I am not tested is because I am too weak, I am terrified that thinking that thought might bring upon me these tests, because I know I am too weak to bear them.

How can I truly sympathise with someone if I am not willing to take on some of their burden?  Doesn’t that work against the idea of an ummah?  Would I survive with this kind of attitude if I lived during the time of the Prophet (pbuh)? Do I have what it takes to be a true Muslim?  Will I be able to deliver when the time comes for me to be called?

Having children expands the area of influence that one considers when deciding on what to think or act upon.  Everything becomes connected in terms of importance. It is no longer about how you can influence the world, but rather about how you can influence the world so that it becomes a better place for your child(ren) to grow up in.

With all these thoughts, the one thing that becomes more and more obvious every day is that there is very little I can do to change what’s out there.  The only aspect I do have some control over is the kind of environment I provide for my daughter within my family.

That leaves so little room for mistakes and trial-and-error that it makes me realise why our literature emphasizes preparing for parenthood from one’s own youth.  My daughter is observing and absorbing me on a daily basis and I have very little time to sort myself out and become the role model for what I want her to be.

Every day that I fail to better myself is a day lost for her to learn from.  Every time I slip up, she has an opportunity to learn that mistake (as opposed to learning from it). Life has become more challenging, more confusing, more fearsome.

But it has also become more fulfilling.  There is a sense of purpose in even the simplest of acts.  A salaam in the morning seems to mean everything to this little child, teaching her to raise her hands in du’a comes coupled with the aspiration that she will constantly turn to God in her times of need, reciting the shahada or a short surah before bed is an attempt to instill a lifelong habit.

Introducing this new individual to her Creator is a task that is both intimidating and inspiring.  And with the start of the new year, it will be almost one year since she came into our lives, one year by which to judge our success as mentors, as guides, as teachers, as guardians…as parents.

One year of many such years that await us…insha’Allah.

With S’laams

bA

 

The Birth of Fear

Bismihi Ta’ala

Has it been a year already? I was a little shocked when I saw the time-stamp on my last post.  I’ve been so close to writing a new post so many times, I think I had convinced myself that I actually had succeeded in doing so.

The tagline on my blog says ‘A Fresh Look at (Muslim) Life’ and my life has definitely been refreshed in the past months while I have been away.  Perspectives have been altered, experiences have widened and everything looks just a little bit different.

People say life moves on unexpectedly in a moment.  It does.  And sometimes it doesn’t.  So much is no longer the same since I last wrote.  I now have managed to settle in one place that I can call home, I have someone new in my life (and she’s part of the reason why I didn’t know what to write about most of the time and the few times I did, I didn’t have the time to!) and my life is changing every day.

The journey to parenthood has been interesting for me. From the moment I discovered I was on the brink of entering the hallowed halls of motherhood (a discovery that took me so much by surprise that I remained quite unconvinced of it until I actually held my baby – and about which I am still in denial on some days) to the day she was born, I have felt as if everything was happening around me and I was merely an actor in a script – doing what I was supposed to, when I was supposed to, but hugely disconnected from the actual reality of the situation.

It has taken months for me to begin to accept that this is a lifetime commitment, to realise that life will never be about just me ever again and to understand that this is a journey that will bring out the best – and the worst – in me.  Suddenly, my relationship with my own parents is beginning to make sense in a way that it never did before.

I now look at my daughter and feel a sadness when I realise that she will never know me as I am today, that she will never have a concept of my youth, of my innocent ideals and my impossible dreams – until she has a child of her own to look at. She will never see me at my best as I will see her at hers. And while I will be able to empathise with all her experiences and challenges of growth, she will not believe or appreciate my capacity to do so.  She has missed the start of my life just as I will (God-Willing) miss the end of hers.

I will never be only her friend, because that is not the path of my choosing. Instead I will be- I already am –  ‘the parent’; the one who will be there to guide, to direct, to point out the right from the wrong, to repeat, to remind, to preach.

I will be the one who will put up boundaries that she cannot cross until she is ready; the one who will seem unfair, unreasonable and even tyrannical; the one will always remind her of the boring, realistic side of things; the one who will see the hard ground below when all she will want to do is catch the wind and sail upon the clouds in the open sky above.

Even though she will believe that she broke free and ran out into the fields of her dreams, in reality it will only be because I opened the gate and let go of her hand. And until the day she does the same for her children, she will never realise how far the truth is from her perception of it.

I am destined to be the ‘bad guy’ as long as I want to be a good parent.

My mother and father are good parents.  They are flawed human beings who made parenting mistakes, but they are good parents, because they did the best they could in their circumstances.  Was it a conscious effort or simply instinct?  I don’t know.  I often try and figure out how I learned a certain principle or adopted a particular value and I can’t remember who taught it to me or how.  It seems to have been a part of me for as long as I can recall, which makes me think that perhaps the deepest lessons we learn are those we absorb unconsciously rather than those that are taught to us.

I can make a list as long as my arm (and then some) with all the things I want my daughter to do and become, but with every passing day I am beginning to see that teaching her all this will be impossible if I try to make lessons out of them or talk to her about it.  I have to become the kind of person I want her to be, to make all the lessons so much a part of our practical daily lives that they become second nature to us.

Which brings me to the other thing I have learnt since her birth: fear has no limits.  I used to be afraid of things: bugs, small spaces, too much darkness.  Now I am afraid of possibilities: What if I take her to the mall and someone tries to kidnap her while I turn away for a moment?  What if I close the door and her finger gets stuck in it?  What if I feed her and she chokes on a morsel?  What if she grows up and something tempts her away from her faith? What if she marries and her husband turns out to be a monster? what if… what if…?  The thoughts are random, endless and often illogical.  They catch me at any time, from the moment I wake up in the morning and check to see if she’s breathing to the middle of the night when I wake up and can hear her snoring and her innocence warms the air, enriching it and at the same time filling me with dread of the day she will begin to see how cruel the world is.

I can no longer see a smiling baby and not smile along, all the while thinking how much cuter and sweeter my daughter’s smile is.  I can no longer see the photos of suffering children and not feel helpless and frustrated, haunted by their faces for days as I pray for someone to be a ‘parent’ to them – even for a few minutes.  I can no longer think of all the children being abused by the adults they trust and not want to strangle those criminals with my bare hands, one at a time.

I can no longer let a day pass when I don’t desperately pray for the re-appearance of the Mahdi (atfs) so that all the children in the world can know love and peace once more.

And yet…

I live in fear of that day as well.  What if I don’t manage to fix myself before then?  What if I don’t manage to teach my daughter all she needs to do before that day? What if I mess up as a parent and she (God Forbid!) veers away from The Path?

I live in fear of “the day that you will see it, every suckling female will neglect what she suckled… (Qur’an 22:2) because it is on that day that I will fail my daughter in every way, when I abandon her despite all my promises and seek out my own selfish salvation.  It is on that day that what I teach her will most count the most, because I want her to know growing up that no matter how much I love her and will be there for her, there is One Who Loves her even more and who will not let her down when I will.

I live in fear not loving her enough to keep turning her face towards God whenever she turns it to me.

S’laams,

bA

The Fear of Me

Bismihi Ta’ala

How often do I start a blog post, only to abandon it after a few words, a paragraph or even almost at the end? More often than I can count.  The number of un-posted drafts in my archive is almost depressing.  It reminds me that I don’t seem to be able to finish my thoughts or complete my ideas.  I have plenty of starts, but so few conclusions.   What does that say about me?  That I am simply a bundle of confused questions that seem to meander along without ever reaching anywhere…?

Once upon a time, I knew things.  I had a solid framework within which I worked, and everything around me eventually fitted into that outline.  It all made sense.  In some ways, I guess it still does – the pieces still seem to fall into place neatly, life goes on without too much fuss.  But the framework has changed.  A bit like the expansion of the universe, the boundaries of my being seem to no longer be solid.  They have morphed, grown, changed, adapted and left me in the middle of an existence I don’t fully comprehend.

I constantly surprise myself by thinking or feeling things that I had never considered as part of my character.  Where once I recognized myself with every choice and decision I made, now I often feel like I am observing a stranger who will do something unexpected at any moment.  Sometimes, I reach out and pull that other person back on track, other times I can only watch helplessly and wonder what is happening.

I think I am searching once again; not quite sure what for, but I hope I discover it soon.

In the meantime, I read the blogs of other people on topics as varied as Politics to Parenthood and envy how each writer seems so sure of what they’re saying, even when they’re saying that they don’t know much.  I’m not sure of what I’m saying, of what I want to say, of what I’m trying to explain or even what message I want to pass on.  Perhaps that’s why I shy away from clicking the ‘Publish’ button more often than not.

Does it matter though?  I don’t claim to be a leader or a preacher.  I don’t – and don’t want to –  take on the responsibility of converting people to my way of thinking.  I just want to say the things I think, feel and believe in.  I want to explain why the world frustrates and disappoints me so much and what keeps me going every day anyway.  And I want to do this in the hope that someone will either understand and find some consolation in what I write or will empathise and help me out.

At the end of the day, there are countless words that have been spoken since God first created them, but only those of any worth or value will survive.  The rest of them like the thousands on this blog will simply fade away and the only person accountable for them will be the wordsmith.

Perhaps that is it.  I know that there will be a Day when I will face every single word (and thought) once again – the angry, the unreasonable, the desperate, the unjust along with the kind, the generous, the fair and the loving.   I may forget my own words, but there is One Who never will.  Perhaps, there lies the truth of the matter:

I am afraid of meeting my words, my expressions – my true and complete self – in privacy with my Lord.

S’laams

bA