If I Ever Got to the Gates of Heaven

As a child, I would sit alone behind the living room curtain, staring out for hours at the night, wondering what other children around the world would be doing at that moment – sleeping, eating, writing an exam, getting beaten up, playing, or sitting behind a curtain and wondering about me, just like I was about them.
As a child, I would often find indescribable peace lying down on the marble floor and falling asleep on it. The only thing that rivaled that peace was the serenity I found in falling asleep on the prayer mat.
I would watch TV upside down, with my legs up against the wall. When I got bored of TV, I would look up at the protrusions and wedges in the ceiling and imagine it to be the floor and divide it into rooms and decorate it with different furniture in my mind.
Some memories are etched so deeply in my mind, I wonder why they are the ones that are there. Do we have the ability to so vividly remember emotionally intense experiences that it feels like we’re in that very moment once again?
Like an unforgettable night praying next to my then very busy dad as a child in the balcony and later watching the stars. I can even recall the gentle wind and the distant look in his eyes and the slow pace of his breathing, as we’d finished praying and he was looking out to nowhere, and his lips were moving with dhikr, and I just watched him.
Then another day I woke up for school and caught my eyes in the mirror as I washed my face and felt like I’d seen the most beautiful eyes in the world.
Then one day when I was in KG 2 and my mom couldn’t pack lunch in time in the morning and promised us she would bring it to school. The lunch bell rang and I waited for my mom at the school gates and she hadn’t come. Lunch time was over and I was back with an empty stomach in class. A few minutes later, my mom was standing breathless at the class door with a mixture of anxiety, exhaustion and guilt on her face in her cream and peach scarf. Miss Shirley looked at me and told me I had 5 minutes to eat and get back to class – the equivalent of being allowed to cheat in an exam in a convent. I got out and mom opened the lunchbox and kept it in front of me, and watched me with so much anticipation as I took in the steaming hot fried fish with rice and ghee, as if every bite I took was vindicating her a bit more for committing the heinous crime of keeping me hungry longer than I should have been for one, single, meal.
And when I was 4 or 5 and got red chilli powder put in my eyes. I can never forget the afternoon light in the room and how my limbs moved trying to resist.
And when I was out playing for a long time and came back home and kept knocking for an hour on the door till I fell asleep on the marble staircase. My family didn’t realize I was missing when they left for a dinner party.
And when as a child, I watched nervously as mom cried into the phone to her sister till she completely broke down.
And memories of trying to focus the sun’s light onto my hand with a magnifying glass. Or dropping different colors of paint into a glass of water and watching them swirl so beautifully.
Or feeling like my heart would explode and crying uncontrollably when little Mariam was taken away from her mother and had no idea what was going on as she kept looking back at her mother in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Or protesting as my young maternal uncle would leave our house and keep teasing me with special nicknames he’d kept for me: Jupiter and ‘thing’ (because I said the word so much).
Days in university with my Turkish best friend, discussing life and existence and revelation and beauty and God. Making her and a British friend try desi food in a South Indian restaurant. Watching her burst into tears  and hug me as she read a write-up of my fondest memories, a file that I would give anything to recover.
Sunny mornings of my childhood or when I’d set out for class in university.
When new knowledge opened up doors in my mind I never knew existed and I reveled every second in the unparalleled bliss that only enlightenment can bestow.
The rife and hot anger in my heart when I would experience or witness injustice that I could do nothing about.
When I was in an auto rickshaw listening to the driver desperately discussing how he’s trying to complete the arrangements for his sister’s wedding with his aunt.
When I could concentrate considerably in my prayer which would transport me to another universe.
Exchanging hugs after Friday prayers at university with friends.
Feeling so lonely on the bus sometimes.
Noticing the different shape, texture and color of the leaves of different plants growing in the same soil and thinking ‘God. Only God.’
Missing more than just one beat as my eyes would catch those that searched for mine and mirrored my soul.
A song that stirs up so much longing for so many things that time has taken away with it.

What is the purpose and end of all our individual experiences? Why are 6 billion people having 6 billion different experiences at this very moment and what is their collective meaning and purpose and end?

The infinite emotions we experience and their constant exertion on the heart through the journey of life is so paradoxical. All our experiences have an affect on the heart: the organ that has to work to keep us alive while life keeps wearing it down. And at some point, it’s as if the heart gives up trying to thrive and is just struggling to keep us physically alive and get life over with.

With a heart like that, the only thing that stirs it is when I imagine myself finally getting to the gates of Heaven. I imagine standing alone, light in front of me, as I levitate in a dark starry space. My eyes are closed and my face is turned up and I take in a deep breath. And I’m thinking “Just. Let. Me. In.”

I enter and have my heart in my outstretched hands handing it to God and He’s hearing my thoughts, as I break down:

‘Take it. And don’t ever, ever leave me again.’ 

Gates_of_heaven_on_earth_by_Vyner

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The Decreasingly Human Being

I put my son to sleep, watching his sleepy fingers fidgeting, holding onto and letting go of his favorite blue blanket.
The house is quiet and my husband is away at a meeting. Dinner’s ready, I just need to make some bread. My work for the day is done. Some deadlines approaching but I don’t want to give them space in my head today.

Headlines I’d heard of swirl in my head. Is the conflict getting too close to home? I’d stopped following the news a long time ago. There’s only so much your senses and heart can take before nothing shocks or hurts or moves you anymore. When you take in too many lies, you lose the ability to see the truth in anything. ISIS, Al Qaeda, Saudi, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Al Nusra, Somalia, Pakistan, India, North Korea, Iran, America, Syria, Taleban, Russia, Kashmir, Al Shabab, Boko Haram. Trafficked migrants drowning in the middle of the sea, child molestation, environmental devastation, job insecurity, financial fraud, bribery and corruption, gross parental abuse and neglect, raping refugees, looting war victims, medical crime, withholding cures, intentionally spreading epidemics, genetically modified fruit and vegetables and grains, artificially enriched eggs and bread and milk, chemically treated water, 100%-chemical soap and shampoo and cosmetics and toothpaste, artificially cooled spaces, microwaved ‘food’, chemically colored hair, fake eyelashes, botoxed bodies, virtual socialization, tasteless fashion, senseless art, packed yet dead silent trains, queues of heads bent into screens, selfies with corpses.

Why? By whom? For What? Till when? 

Have we again come to a point in history where we begin to devolve as a species? Could I really be less human than the generation before me? Will my child be less human than me?

Will he know what it’s like to read a paperback book in the morning sun, while lying down on grass and sipping home-made lemonade? Will he know how to smile genuinely from his heart when he is photographed? Will he know what a naturally beautiful woman can look like? Will he taste the fruit of a plant that was never changed since God created it? Will he ever taste water directly from a pure natural spring? Will he hear birds outside his house every morning? Will he have the courtesy and courage to smile at a stranger he commutes with? Will he know what peace and security feels like? Will he know what its like to have neighbors welcome him in their homes? Will he have thick, natural hair and naturally white teeth? What will dessert consist of when he places an order? Will he know how to comfort a lost child if he sees one? Will he know how to enjoy the sea and the breeze when he’s on holiday? Will he know what it feels like to contemplate? What level of brutality and inhumanity will he need to see to be moved? What will wearing clothes look like in his time? What will family time look like when he’s a parent? Will he ever see a virgin coral reef? Will there be such a thing as immorality when he’s grown up?

What will good mean, and what will bad look like, in his world? 

Heartquakes: the Tremors of Life

the_lost_heart_by_michael_rayne_deviantart

If there is anything that encapsulates and signifies the presence of life, it is a heartquake.

A heartquake is the tremor you feel in your heart when something touches your soul, and stirs the very core of your being. When something penetrates so deep beyond your physical existence into the vast expanse of your soul, that it causes a shift in your innermost being and sends an echo of life rippling through the epicenter of your heart, making you physically tremble. It knocks the breath out of you, and leaves you unable to speak.

Heartquakes originate from the most intense human experiences: overwhelming grief, real love, peaking passion, profound truth, sincere faith, enlightenment, insurmountable loss, crippling fear, terrifying horror, breathtaking beauty, extreme inhumanity.

When was the last time you felt one? 

When was the last time your heart trembled in awe of your Creator, marveling at His power and majesty?

“The true believers are those who, when Allah´s name is mentioned, their hearts tremble in awe, and when His verses are recited to them their faith grows, and who put their trust in their Lord.” [Qur’an: 8:2]

When was the last time you felt an embrace of real love that made you tremble with belonging?
When was the last time a truth so profound struck you that you had to look for words to say?
When did you last see something so beautiful that you were overcome with delight, unable to breathe?
When did you last feel your heart burst with the agony of loss?
When did you last see oppression in the eyes, till your heart was rattling with fear?
When did you last reach a level of astounding awareness that shook you awake?
When did your heart wrench last, at the sight of a bleeding child?
When did your heart scream last as it witnessed utter barbarity?

When was the last time you were alive?

Final Year Reflections: You’ll Only Find What You’re Looking For

Image

It was what you’d call a truly pleasant day. The semester had just begun, old friends exchanged delightful salaams and warm embraces as they met in classes or hostels, thousands of tokens were being printed at the banks, new students rushed around nervously doing registration or asking for directions as they got lost, lunch was being served in all the cafeterias and dozens of fresh-juice orders were being made in HS to beat the heat, graduating students were waiting for their clearance at Admissions and Records, and in all this activity, I sat with relief on the stairs leading to the library and took in the lush green mountains before my eyes, having successfully registered for my very first semester in university. As I sat there admiring the gleaming white clouds as they floated in a brilliant blue sky, a soft breeze surrounding me; a most magnificent voice electrified the afternoon air:

“Bismillah Ar Rahman Ar Raheem. Praise be to Allah who has sent to His servant the Book, and has allowed therein no crookedness. He has made it straight and clear in order that He may warn the godless of a terrible punishment from Him, and that He may give glad tidings to the Believers who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a goodly Reward, wherein they shall remain forever.”

It was as if time froze. I found myself captured by the beauty of this surreal moment. As these verses of Surah Kahf resonated majestically throughout campus from the main mosque, I confessed to myself what has remained true for all these three years: this is exactly where I wanted to be.

On that beautiful Friday afternoon, I experienced what I never did before and what I never would in any other educational institute: I saw Muslims of every kind and color, I heard animated conversations in languages of the East and the West, I saw thobes and jeans;baju melayus and sarongs; abayas and flowing coats, songkoks and shimaaghs, brothers made cool wudus in the hot courtyards of the mosque, meals and classes had ended, the library and offices had closed and whiffs of Arabian perfume filled the air as people headed forJumuah prayer; the adhaan beckoning the students, the rector, lecturers, staff, cleaners and the guards alike as it proclaimed: “… come to connection with Allah, come to success, come to success, Allah is the greatest, there is no god but Allah.” I watched the scene below me from the women’s balcony of the mosque, every row was filled till the doors, the khateeb began his sermon and the angels sat to listen with us, having just marked thousands of us as ‘present’ on the Scrolls of Attendance. 

Yes I was in a garden, just as the slogan stated. There was shade to rest under, a stream to sit and think by, lawns to relax on and new species of exotic birds and flowers to discover everyday. Yes it was a garden of knowledge; I have witnessed lecturers whose every word is like a pearl of wisdom, truth and empowerment that they give to their students with passion and humility. Yes it was a garden of virtue, it was here that I had the chance to experience I’tikaf in Ramadan, it was here that I had iftaars with Africans, Asians and Europeans together, it was here that I could give charity by donating blood, it was here that you could sponsor an orphan in Gaza straightaway, it was here that I learnt the greatness of the Shariah, it was here that I never had to compromise my prayer for classes, it was here that I learnt to be proud of my hijab, it was here that I met the potential leaders of my ummah, it was here that I found people with dreams like my own and it was here that I learnt that you will only find what you are looking for.

It was here that I learnt that even if you are caught in a storm of people’s opinions, judgments and pessimism; if you only look once for a place’s garden, the knowledge and virtue it has to offer – you will find it.

Written in 2010 about the International Islamic University, Malaysia.

In the Heart of a Homemaker

In the Heart of a Homemaker
In the Heart of a Homemaker

I watch my fingers as they struggle to type, words lingering at their tips, unable to arrange themselves in an interesting sentence because they just don’t flow as easily as they used to. I begin to reflect on the evolution of my hands and the things they contained, touched, created and dealt with over the past few years. From books, poetry and coffee; to writing messages of love, caressing, preparing meticulous meals, carefully applying makeup, adjusting my earrings. To writing down my confused, depressed thoughts, to cupping them on my face as tears flowed in them and I prayed for direction. To drafting legal contracts  and typing out legal advice. To writing and editing articles and chopping onions for curry. To taking pills for various illnesses and having IV needles inserted into them. To taking off my rings as my fingers swelled. To holding my baby for the first time. To mixing bottles of milk and checking to make sure the temperature is right. To washing dishes, cracking eggs for breakfast, laying plates, peeling apples and boiling oats for baby lunch. To hurriedly getting dressed and fixing my hair before the bell rings. To flipping through Youtube aimlessly on a boring weekend. To making a cup of tea that fixes everything. To doing the bed and rocking my baby to sleep. To applying ointment to an aching neck or foot. To switching off the bed light, hoping for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Under the layers of responsibility, of duties, of diapers, dishes, dressing up, doctor’s visits, expectations and arguments, underneath it all; in the heart and mind of a mother, of a wife, of a home-maker – is a young girl with unfinished dreams of her youth: studying in her dream university, cycling in the sun, laughing in the rain and getting drenched in the sea, pursuing the career everyone had always told her she would excel in, hearing words of deep love and affection, travelling the world, being surprised to tears, having a timeless conversation, taking in a breathtaking view, catching her loved one lost looking at her.

In millions of homes around the world at this very moment, there is a woman who’s probably setting the table for dinner or feeding her baby or packing a lunchbox; who, with the end of every day, buries the young girl she was in her heart. The young girl she was who watches her everyday as she gives, sacrifices, puts up, puts aside, settles, gives up and gives in. Gives every single second of her time and every single ounce of her health. Sacrifices her ambitions, interests and brilliance to routine. Puts up with what she never expected and never thought she had the strength to. Puts aside everything that happened, wipes her tears and forgets. Settles for whatever life’s brought her way. Gives up hope of seeing any change. And eventually, gives in to a life very different from the one she’d dreamed of.

Not all of this is my story. This is a collective story of the daily and eventual life of almost every single woman who is putting her husband and child(ren) first. A collection of the fragments of pain and longing that I come across in the eyes of and conversations I’ve had with so many women who are about to break, or have broken and become numb. Or are relentlessly struggling to make it work, and make it beautiful. This is the story of your mother, my mother, your sister, my sister, your close friend, my neighbor, you, me. You know it is.

Those who’ve passed it say it is a phase and that it will end. But isn’t the ending almost always the same: a woman with a battered body or/and soul, who doesn’t even remember what she was like before?

We’re happy, of course we are, and we love our families. But that does not mean we are not sad. That we do not tear up thinking of what we could have been doing or would have become by now… if we had put ourselves first.

NOTE: Your maturity will reflect in your understanding of this article and its message. Please do not flood me with comments of how to be grateful and look at the good times because if you think this is complaining, you are still too immature to understand.

Praying While Pregnant

Isn’t it beautiful that when a pregnant woman prays, she and her child are already worshipping Allah together? She begins to practically teach her child the Truth even before explaining a single word of it to him. She has already begun to bring up a new human being on the Right Path. SubhanAllah. Only Allah knows the reward He has prepared for such a woman. ❤

Duaa, Soulmates and the Absolute Exhilaration in Surrender

It was a very very long time ago when I discovered the most intriguing thing about my creation: that I was created with another part. A part that I have never seen, a part that was not made in me, but for me. A part that only time would bring, and I had to look out for. The part that would finally make me complete.

I was left with only a few clues about it: It was somewhere on earth. It was made of the same stuff that I was. It changed for the better if I did, and it deteriorated if I did. And most importantly, it was looking for me too.
Since the realization of this truth, I could say life was anything but easy. The first challenge after this realization was being aware of my incompleteness, recognizing that there is a void. A void that my society threatened to treat as a pitiful handicap if it existed ‘too long’. But themost excruciating of all was ignoring that void till it was to be filled with what fit just right. And I say excruciating because of the constant psychological pressure to fill that void, either making me break my head over tricky duplicates or with what society forced me to consider for its various stupid reasons, and when every time that void refused to be filled except by what belongs there, it painfully taunted me of its existence. Till there were numerous times I was so frustrated and/or disillusioned by the importance given to it that I vowed to desensitize myself and leave it empty, gaping at me for the rest of my life.
Thank God I decided something better: to desensitize myself to the pressure itself and not the void. In fact, I even stopped seeing it as a void. I saw it as it should be seen: a precious place to be taken, if and when Allah thinks best. And by whom Allah thinks best.
So as I prayed for goodness in all those other aspects of my life that are only in Allah’s knowledge, I continued to pray for goodness and delight when I am to finally see this place taken.
When a family friend once expressed that he liked me, I told him I was already in love. With someone I’ve never seen, but I know is out there. I was in love and I was preparing myself for him, and waiting. Waiting for the day time would finally reveal him to me. There would be endless discussions with friends about what, when and how it could happen, and we would either end up contemplating our dilemmas in silence, or laugh our lives out at our helpless speculations. Often times it would be solitary wondering, either while drinking coffee alone after a long tiring day or for a moment or two just before turning in for the night, or while staring at the solitary moon, or in those moments of quiet prayer in itikaaf.
Sometimes the wait got long and tiring. Many times I’d just think of giving up and giving in to whatever comes along, then I would remember the aayah from Surah Rahman: “Is not the reward for good only good?” So I’d wait a little more and try to preserve the goodness a little more. Then one day, my close friend mentioned to me that if I really wanted something from Allah, no classes, no routine, no sleep would keep me from waking up in the middle of the night and praying tahajjud to Him. So I finally decided to give it a try because the pressure on me to get married was increasing and I knew I would have to make a decision very soon. And to my own surprise, I found myself waking up at tahajjud without an alarm, without any reminders. After two weeks of earnest appeal in tahajjud, of testing my own hope and trust in Allah, I realised this unrevealed part of my life had given me alot more than I asked for: the most beautiful of all, was that it taught me how to ask from Allah. It taught me how to ask as His servant, His slave, His own personal creation– I confessed and complained and I asked and begged and pleaded, and I surrendered.felt like an empty-handed helpless slave, and nothing ever felt so good. SubhanAllah. It taught me the insignificance of myself, my abilities, my name and my irrelevant little attributes and the true value of His grace and forebearance and mercy throughout my life, but above all, the ultimate outcome of my pleading to Him was literally living proof of the power of proper duaa: the proof of His greatness to do all things, the proof of His definite answer to those who call on Him, the proof of His perfect discharge of trust for those who rely only on Him, and one of the most delightful forms of His mercy in my life. The answer to my duaa to Allah that I waited so, so long for… was much more than I expected, much much more than I deserved and better than I could ever imagine, Ma sha Allah. Alhamdulillah.
Originally written on 15th July 2010, the morning of my wedding.