Coming of Age Reflections: One Year Wiser

The past year has been rife with upheaval at the very core of my being, shaking all the constants that kept me centered: it was like a storm that tore through my fundamental relationships, my defining traits and personality, and some of my life-long beliefs and perceptions.

It wasn’t an easy one to live through. But I don’t think that it is coincidence that I had to come out of it alive just as I entered another year of my life, Alhamdulillah.

My greatest realization this year was that you may actually have no idea about everything you thought you were absolutely sure of. Your self, your opinions, your priorities, your people, your behavioral patterns – all of these are rooted in a personal bias that is formed out of your primary life experiences. And your personal bias requires, and will undergo a forceful transformation every time you finish an old and enter a new era of your life.

And that transformation is very painful, unnerving, and very unpleasant: but very, very necessary. It is like living through some real ugly hell and coming out with a sparklingly clean new lens of life: if you don’t go through it, you’d only live other parts of your life feeling frustrated and unfulfilled because of your dusty old, biased vision.

This new vision is more conscious, more balanced and a lot more compassionate. It means you take everyone and everything with a pinch of salt, you find it easier to let go and forgive, you begin to see how everything and everyone is a constant work in progress, and that there are no absolute truths except the existence of God.

But, you must begin by first seeing yourself in this new light: take your own self with a pinch of salt, let go of and forgive your bad side, remember you are a work in progress and will often have to be your only cheerleader, and that there is nothing constant in your life except the unconditional love of God.

I’ve also profoundly realized, despite what others or you yourself may force yourself to believe, that there is no good person or bad person for God till that person’s time is up: till then, God is with everyone, especially those who make the right choices, and the choice to grow from their experiences. Those who make the choice to return to Him as ashes come back with vibrant new life: because they finally relied on the only right Source.

I pray that God allows me to sustain my smile with my sunglasses on throughout, aameen.

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What to Do When You Feel Powerless in a Worsening World

You’re out on a beautiful day at the park with your perfectly healthy spouse and children. You’re driving to work in your new car, traffic is moving smoothly, you’ve just had a wholesome breakfast and you’re feeling fantastic. You’re unwinding with your friends at a chic restaurant, discussing wedding preparations, phones, workplace politics and high-school days as the waiter serves the next round of expensive food. And in all of these moments, you randomly scroll through your newsfeed and suddenly see something that sucks away your happiness. Your heart winces for a second knowing there’s a horrible parallel reality playing out that very moment somewhere else in the world: children are bleeding and crying out for their parents in hospitals, refugees are stranded at borders after days of deathly journeys to safety, innocent people are being detained and held captive for years with no charge, famines and bombs are killing scores of people in conflict zones, floods and earthquakes are wreaking havoc in already impoverished areas, infants and girls are getting abducted and raped, the world is turning upside down and all you want is for all of it to just STOP.

You feel angry, enraged and powerless every time you see an image of a suffering that is too out of your reach to change. You feel guilty just living the normal, safe, healthy life you live. Many times you feel indifferent because there really is nothing you can do. And then you feel ashamed for being so heartless. There is only one question screaming inside all of our heads: what can we do to make it all stop? There has to be something, anything we can do. We just want somebody to spell it out. List it out. Shout it out. 

No, I don’t want to say “make dua” and just change the subject. Yes, dua is and always will be the greatest form of help we can offer. But as Allah [swt] says in the Qur’an, we were given our lives to do – to act in the best of ways: 

[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]

To understand what you can and must do, first and foremost:

  1. Recognize and take advantage of your privileges

  2. If you’re not worrying about where your next meal will come from, if you have a bed to sleep on and a bathroom to use, if you have clothes to cover you in different seasons, and if you have even just one person in the entire world who cares for you, you are extremely privileged. But of course we know that. Tell me more, you’re thinking.
  3. Your safe geographical location is a privilege. Your being employed is a privilege. Your spouse is a privilege. Your voice, sight, hearing, knowledge is a privilege. Your parents and siblings being with you is a privilege. Your daily food is a privilege. Your source of clean drinking water is a privilege. Your education is a privilege. Your fully functioning body is a privilege. And your vehicle, bank balance, passport, phone, computer, furniture, social status, degree, extended family, comfortable house, social circle, connections, influence, weekly entertainment and eating out are a luxury. An opulent indulgence. A surreal dream for majority of the planet. There is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything you have. Repeat this to yourself: there is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything I have. Try imagining yourself with absolutely nothing of what you own and possess: there are people living with that much of nothing.So value and be grateful for every, single thing you have. If you’re employed, don’t take your job for granted. Use your position to be of benefit for those who are struggling for a source of sustenance. Become a breadwinner for strangers who have no means to earn for themselves: widows, orphans, refugees, the displaced, the disabled, the abandoned. Look for them and you will find them. Today you are safe, healthy, influential, talented and independent – use these privileges to do anything you can to provide a dignified life for those who need it. Look for organizations that are creating homes for refugees and orphans, or providing medical aid or education, or providing shelter for victims of war or abuse, or caring for abandoned children and old people – and commit a monthly amount to them. How much you give doesn’t matter. Just give. And keep giving whatever you can.
  4. Share your meals with the less-privileged in your own area. There is hardly a city in the world where there is no one in need of food. Commit to give a wholesome, home-cooked meal once a week to a garbage collector, an immigrant with no family, a struggling single mother, your domestic help, or even the cleaner/tea-boy at your workplace.
  5. Similarly, give a ride to someone in your car. Pick up a set of clothes for someone who could use them when you go shopping for yourself. Invite someone with no friends or family and make them remember what home feels like. Use your gadgets, your network and your social media presence to be of benefit.
  6. earth-day-facts.jpg
  7. Choose mercy

  8. Be kinder to those around you and in your care. Everyone, including yourself, is in need of each others’ mercy. The hallmark of our beloved Prophet’s [saw] character was his mercy, above all else. His concerned, caring heart was declared a mercy upon the worlds and his greatest distinction. There is nothing better, nothing more honorable and nothing more beneficial than choosing to be merciful like the greatest man [saw] was.
  9. Inculcate mercy in yourself: mercy is empathy, kindness, care, forbearance, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, graciousness and tolerance. Mercy is holding back when you want to unleash your anger on someone who upset you on the road, at work or at home. Mercy is looking the other way when someone working for you messed up or didn’t do a proper job once or twice. Mercy is knowing that someone is having a rough day and choosing to give them a break. Mercy (upon yourself!) is avoiding senseless arguments at home, at work or online that are clearly going nowhere. Mercy is taking care: of your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, and even the birds and animals around you.
  10. Think of the worst person you know today. Try imagining them as children. Every tyrant, every oppressor, every aggressor, every thug and every murderer was once an innocent, unblemished child. Just imagine that. We become our worst selves when we consistently and continuously choose aggression over mercy. What world do we expect to live in when everyone is choosing to forego mercy in their individual interactions and lives?
  11. Be merciful. Teach and inculcate mercy in others. The whole world is affected by how merciful you choose to be.
  12. Make an incredible dua

  13. As you sit safely in your house on your prayer-mat after salah, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same peace and security to those who are in danger at that very moment. As you look at the rooms and facilities in your house, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same ease and comfort to those who are living in tents and on streets at that very moment. As you wear your clothes and put on your shoes, make dua to Allah [swt] to grant the same and more to those who don’t have them. As you sit at the desk of your stable job, ask Allah [swt] to grant a means of sustenance to everyone who is desperate at that very moment. As you cook your food, ask Allah [swt] to provide for those who are hungry from where they least expect, because He [swt] is capable of doing all things. Ask Allah [swt] to grant everything you have and even more to those who are in need of the blessings you got without asking. Make a dua in your ease for those in difficulty atleast once a day. The most incredible thing about making such a dua is that it will certainly be answered:“The supplication of a Muslim for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Every time he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says: ‘Ameen! May it be for you, too’.” [Muslim]
  14. It doesn’t stop at being answered though, even though that’s all you want: an angel – an angel makes dua for you to have the same!

Making dua for the good of others is a sign of mercy blooming in your heart. That is why an angel makes the same dua for you the moment you have made it. The reward for good, whether that good is a feeling, a word or an action, is only good. As Allah [swt] says in one of the most beautiful verses of the surah (so aptly) titled “The Most Merciful”:

“Is the reward for good [anything] but good?” [Qur’an: Chapter 55, Verse 60]

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?

No Place Like Home

Just the thought of it ceases the rush around us, immerses us into beautiful memories and drowns our hearts in longing. Its comfort, security and love left behind, we embark on student life; living with strangers, keeping everything locked, managing budgets, planning where and how to get every meal, allotting time to do laundry and clean the room—rarely having time to think of it, yet many a times intentionally avoiding thoughts of it, but surely, it lingers constantly in each of our minds…

The advice of a father, the kiss of a mother, the laughter of a younger sister, the fights with a brother, the family discussions, the meals together, the airport reunions, the waking up to sumptuous breakfasts, the peaceful sleep knowing that everything’s taken care of for you… truly, there’s no place like home.

Screaming with the agony of loss, they held on to the corpses of their family scattered through the streets… drenched in their blood as they embraced them, crying for them to come back, this was the last exchange between too many parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings in Gaza. Children sat crying around their mother’s body for four days, trying to wake her up, not understanding why she was sleeping so long. Orphans wept throughout the city, no one coming to claim them, not knowing that they had no one left. Thousands of others with throbbing gunshot wounds, hanging limbs or phosphorous burns flooded the hospitals, the doctors not sleeping for 15 days because the patients were too many. Every few hours there were fresh announcements of death in the wards, and another anxious parent or relative or spouse fell down with grief.

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The Nobodies

They’re everywhere, yet it’s as if they don’t exist. There are millions of them, yet they go unnoticed. There are over ten of them in every single day of yours, yet you look right through them. They are not angels or spirits, yet it’s as if they are invisible.

What do the prim lawns tell you as you walk to class every morning? What does a plate of roti canai say as you enjoy it? What do the new colors of the HS cafeteria say to you? Do you see something more than a clean table as you sit to eat or study? What does a clear road say as you drive along it? What about the bus that takes you to class?
Somehow, strangely it seems, our toilets are cleaned, our roads are cleared, our lawns are trimmed, our food is fresh, our walls are painted, our tables are wiped, we get to class on time… it all just happens. It’s all done.
By the Nobodies.

Thousands of us walk past them as they sweep early in the morning, but not even a handful can bother to smile at them or greet them. They drive so many of us to our classes, but it seems only a few of us don’t choke at the door and turn to say “Thank you, abang“. Yes they’re paid to cook our food, but why do the rules of courtesy not apply to them? Or perhaps they should have an ‘Honors Degree in Asian Cuisine’ from Harvard, then we’d thank them even if they burnt our food. As we talk about Ethics for Everyday Life over lunch, a nobody perhaps our mother’s age carefully cleans our messy table, wishing she understood us educated people. If she only knew how less we understood our own words.

Behind every stroke of new paint in HS is a person struggling to make ends meet and feed his family, behind every clean road is a person who always dreamt of owning a motorcycle, behind every washed toilet is a person juggling work, family and health, behind every hot meal are burnt hands… behind every comfort of ours are nobodies who wish to be noticed by the blind people they work for.

May Allah bless the nobodies of our world through whom He makes our lives comfortable. May He ease their burdens and cure our blindness. May He bless them with provision and us with the ability to be grateful, Aameen.

[First published in 2009]