Where do you go when you’re in the middle of nowhere?

I have reached nowhere mutliple times, but today, I have officially reached the middle of it. I am, at this very moment, in the middle of nowhere. Having finally arrived, let me describe this location to you.

Nowhere is a real, physical space. It is not metaphorical, it is not a figure of speech to describe how lost one can be: you can physically be nowhere. It is as expansive and as eery as a barren, abandoned desert, the winds of solitude, fear and anxiety blow hard and strong, howling like the winds you’ve heard when storms are at their peak. It is deathly dark and hauntingly lonely… it is a realm that opens up and swallows you whole in life’s most difficult moments. Nowhere is where you go, where you are driven, left at, pushed into or banished in a moment, by a few words, by a singular action, by a horrific turn of events, by a gradual paving of the way, by a sudden revelation, by fate, by chance, by design, by destiny.

Nowhere exists in houses and hospitals and prisons and trains and buses and bridges and boats and garbage dumps and clubs and brothels and palaces and plains and mountains and caves and schools and rooms and tents and seas and courts and panels and slums.

To be nowhere, you have to hit a complete dead end. An end. An end of time, of effort, of support, of energy, of will, of health, of solvency, of resources, of help, of a relationship, of an embrace, of a roof above your head, of the ground beneath your feet, of breath in your lungs. You have to be utterly, completely helpless, broken to the marrow of your bones, crushed to the core of your heart, suffocated of the last bit of life in your soul.

When you are absolutely physically, mentally and emotionally stranded: at that instance, you are in the middle of nowhere.

An unwanted newborn baby abandoned at a garbage dump, an innocent prisoner awarded an irreversible sentence hearing the keys lock his cell for good, a single mother with a feverish child escaping from war crying under a pouring sky at a closed border, a burdened debtor on the run hiding from a loan shark’s thugs in the middle of the night, a patient who has just been informed that there is nothing else that can be done to save him, a kidnapped girl stuck within the walls of a brothel watching the next monster approaching her bed, a man lost in a desert for days who has just collapsed knowing there is not a soul in the world who knows where he is, the last surviving sailor in the middle of a raging ocean that has killed everyone on board, a woman who is abused by her husband for years and is forced to live with him because she has nowhere else to go to, a youngster stoned on the highest dose at a club that still doesn’t numb his shrieking emotional pain, a boy trapped between the school’s wall and his bully as his mouth is stuffed to stifle his cries for help, a student at the edge of a tall building having done everything to please his unappeasable parents, a man on the bus back from a workplace he was unjustly fired from without a penny for months of forced labor and nothing left to buy his next meal, a mother who is unable to prove that her child is indeed her husband’s who died just after it was conceived, a person unable to get anyone to listen to his side of the story because of his social status or his inability to express coherently or the magnitude of the manipulation against him… are all in the middle of nowhere.

Where do you go when you reach the middle of nowhere? 

You go down on your knees, touch your head to the ground in that endless, crushing, lonely darkness and speak to the Only One who exists when you’re nowhere… and you plead like the greatest man did when he collapsed under a tree one day and felt like he was in the absolute middle of nowhere:

“O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. But Your favor is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased. There is no power and no might except by You.”

By Allah, as soon as you call out to Him, you will feel Him listening. You will feel your strength coming back as soon as you have complained of your weakness. You will feel your honor returning in His presence as soon as you mention how humiliated you feel. You will realize the delight of having always been solely in His care and in His eyes as soon as you wonder when you will escape the prison of your tormentors.

And then you will know that nothing else matters in that moment, and in every moment than His being pleased with you… and even so, that your trial was never about Him gaining pleasure through your suffering, but to bring you back to the Light that only comes at the end of extreme darkness, to grant you the kind of relief that comes only after extreme struggle, to grant you the favor that comes only after immense sacrifice,  to grant you the honor that comes only at the price of fighting with every fibre of your being for the truth, to grant you the kind of comfort that comes only after overwhelming loss, to bless you with the kind of love that comes only after having walked through the fire of spite, to grant you a healing that is meant only for the most broken and to grant you a victory that comes only to those who had to fight with no one but God by their side.

That’s why, at the end of this incredible plea, you are left acknowledging the singular most empowering truth: that there is no power and no might except with God.

And while you’re there, in the middle of nowhere, with the power and might of God above, below and all around you, you don’t need to run anywhere anymore. You trust, and you wait.

I request you to make a heartfelt dua for me today. Allah knows I need it. 

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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.”

The moment I step foot inside, I fall to my knees with my heart in my hands stretched out towards Him, saying:

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

Gates_of_heaven_on_earth_by_Vyner

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.