Love.

Love. The kind through which one first enters the heart of another. Pure, fresh, unblemished. The kind that emerges with the exchange of that very first glance. The kind that, for a moment, dissolves everything else into oblivion, and engulfs two souls in a universe of their own. In that single moment, all that two hearts seek and yearn to offer transpires between them: fidelity, friendship, acceptance, comfort, relief, loyalty, eternal support and companionship. This single moment is the culmination of all that a mortal heart desires from a mortal being. But it is a feeling that is as fleeting as its existence: one that never returns after it has passed.

Once pure love makes its visit, it is gradually worn down by the weight of expectations, selfishness, impatience, untempered words, betrayals big and small, unbridled ego, deliberate injury and ingratitude.

Ah… pure love leaves behind such a shadow of itself, that the heart exhausts itself for a lifetime seeking just one more moment of that unblemished love that pumped life through its every vein.

Why do we feel what we do? Why do these bonds come into being? Why do they take root where nothing was meant to grow? How will they end up if they are nothing like the way they began? Why do they begin if all that will remain is their end?PC @diegoph

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Truths About Marriage I’d Like You to Know

Man and woman holding hands at a table

“Zayn, I need to talk to you.”

When a close friend who’s just been married or is deciding to texts me those words, I fill equally with a sense of understanding and dread. After letting her know an approximate time of when my son will choose to take his nap that afternoon so we can talk, I go about getting things done and thinking of the girl I’m going to be listening to soon. I think of everything I know of her, and everything she’s told me about the person she’s chosen or may be choosing to spend the rest of her life with. Then I mentally kick myself for having unwittingly assumed the role of marriage advisor and wonder at what exact point in time I became one.

How do I advise someone about what marriage is going to be like or what to think of/do about/how to navigate through a usual/unusual marital situation, when I am barely 6 years old in marriage, will never really know the minutest details of their sticky situation (like the weather that day, if there were any changes in the flavor of their usual breakfast drink, which angle the MIL’s eyes were positioned at that exact moment to better determine her intentions, if his colleague had finally hit the wrong nerve, etc.) and who they and their husbands really become within the four walls of their house?

I thought about what could be some general and important truths about marriage – things most people don’t (want to) talk about and too many people should have known before they made the leap. I  decided to write down my most profound personal realizations based on everything I’ve experienced, witnessed, been confided in about and have understood in these almost 6 years. For the ones I love and the ones I may never know. I’ll start with the very first thing I’d like you to know about marriage:

  1. There will never, ever be a marriage like yours.

    Because there will never be another you and another him to ever exist. This is the greatest and most beautiful truth about marriage. No one will ever be able to forge or fully comprehend the exact bond you share because your marriage, like every single marriage out there (how ironic), is a unique bond of two unique people. That’s why it’s futile to measure your marriage against someone else’s, in fact you can’t even compare your current marriage to a past marriage you may have had because the most fundamental element of any marriage, the spouse, is different. And the worst thing you could do is compare your marriage to the imaginary one you’ve created in your head with that person “you could’ve/would’ve been with if not for…” because, okay this may be tough to get but it’s the truth, you have no idea who you will really turn out to be with that someone and how your marriage will really turn out till you’re married to them.

    Yet, despite this, you will go through a range of typical, routine problems couples all over the world have to deal with, regardless of who you and your spouse are.

    The tough part is when you face those excruciating situations unique to your marriage that you’ll have to battle through alone. Times when no one will understand why you aren’t as happy as you should be and what you’re making a fuss or constantly fighting about. And it is okay in these times to be broken, because either you know something you can never say out loud, or you have an inside view of reality no one will ever see, or believe. These are the real trying times, the times where you will find no solace, no respite, no solution, no relief and no recovery from except through reliance on the only One except you who understands.

  2. You will never truly know a person till you are married to them.

    Yep, it does get worse than that: you will never truly know who you are till you get married (I hate to say ‘wait and watch’, I really do).

    Yes, even if you’ve been dating from the hospital nursery, living day in and day out with someone in a relationship where both parties have legal rights and can be held legally, morally and socially liable is a totally. different. ball game. Everyone’s true self only comes out under this triple-filter test. Sometimes he will become a burden you wish you could break free from with no consequences, and sometimes you will become the last person he wants to be with. There will be days when you will not be able to look at your own self in the mirror, and days when you will wonder if you even recognize the person lying next to you.

    Yet, even so… the incredible truth also is, that you will never know what you’re capable of becoming and the brilliant transformation you’re capable of inspiring in someone’s life, till you are married.

    Patience and perseverance are as immutable as gravity: they have the same result, wherever they are applied. There’s powerful positive transformation happening every time there is friction followed by resolution, unfortunately we just don’t get to see it right then (just like so many obvious things we get blind to whenever there’s friction). And always, always remember: the transformation’s happening both ways. Regardless of who is truly wrong or right, every time there is friction and there is perseverance in the face of it, both spouses grow by leaps and bounds. If you  were right and you forgave, you become more magnanimous than you were. If you were wrong and you accepted, you’ve given your ego another good blow and your marriage another solid brick. If he was right and he was gracious about it, your respect and love for him will shoot through the roof. If he was wrong and you didn’t go on about it, he will give you starry-eyed stares for not being an incarnation of his dad/mom in these situations.

  3. Marriage will NOT compensate for the fun you did not have.

    I don’t know if I should continue writing or draft my final will first because the moral police has set out to find me and finish me right about now (my dad might just be driving them). But I shall continue because I’d rather die making a point.

    You’ve heard it girls:
    “You can do everything you want, after you get married.”
    “Once you’re married your husband will take you wherever you want, but you can’t go now.”
    “Steer clear of boyfriends and wait to marry the right one – I promise you’ll have the greatest time of your life!”

    NO, YOU WILL NOT. You will not get to do “everything you want” when you do a pregnancy test one day and find two lines on the reader. You will not get to go “wherever you want” when your husband is away at work 10 hours a day, spends a total of 3 hours on the road and comes home wanting to just dive into bed. And, your husband may never end up being everything you imagined in that boyfriend you made sure you never had – no, this does not mean you should have a boyfriend before you’re married, it means just don’t come into marriage expecting any of this. If you’ve been fed this stuff, I want to honestly let you know that none of it is absolutely true.

    Your parents may understandably want to shelter you from anything that may cause you harm, and in the case of desi parents this includes the possibility of dying in a car crash if you roll down the car window without their permission. But I can perhaps say now that alot of children have been stopped from much more than they need to be, without being given any alternative source of enjoyment either. Alot of parents have stifled their children, especially their daughters, when it comes to allowing them the space and freedom to enjoy their lives, saying no to whatever they like just because they can. It is these same children who end up making ill-informed or hasty choices for marriage and then fill with regret, resentment and frustration when they aren’t met with the freedom and fulfillment they had always imagined (and were told) marriage would afford them.

    So if you’re a young adult, do what you enjoy or are passionate about (if it’s halal of course). Color your hair if you like, join that art class you’ve always been interested in even though your parents may prefer you focus on your grades, go for those hiking trips and crazy escapes in the middle of the semester, hang out with your friends and have great conversations and it’s okay to be back late sometimes. Apply to your dream university even if your parents may not believe in you/want you to go there just to know if you would’ve ever got in (and if you do they will most likely want you to go trust me), don’t constantly guilt yourself about ‘maybe’ upsetting your parents about every little thing. From what I’ve noticed repeatedly, parents forget and forgive much easier than we imagine and keep relaxing their rules with every new child as they grow in wisdom and realize they’ve been making a big deal of too many things.

  4. Your happiness depends on how honest you’ve been with yourself, above all else.

    I’m serious, before you even conjure the silhouette of your future husband in your mind’s eye, take a paper and pen and do your best to discover your own self first. Are you an extrovert or an introvert, or both? Do you really want an extrovert or an introvert, or both?  What are your inherent strengths? What have different people in your life consistently pointed out in you as a flaw? Have you ever given that flaw any thought or done something about it (for the record: it will be this flaw which we’ve always failed to acknowledge that will come out in its most vicious form after marriage)? What childhood wounds are festering inside you that may end up hurting your marriage or the person you’re married to? Are you ready to be more selfless, patient and sacrificing or are you just hormonal? Are you really okay with whatever his family is like as long as he fits your criteria of ideal husband (LIKE REALLY)? Are you really okay if he doesn’t have a well-paying job right now or would you rather start off well settled? What techniques of conflict resolution do you usually resort to, and what negative and positive patterns are you carrying in yourself from being exposed to your parents’ relationship? Are you aware and ready for the fact that every marriage will go through a test?

    Based on all of this (and many more similar questions), what kind of person do you really want, need and feel you can live with? And based on the answer to that, how close does the person you’re considering seem to being the one?

    Instead, we’re so busy trying to slim down to fit into that perfect bridal dress with exquisite sequins and choosing the correct font for the invitation card, that we don’t realize not having considered these questions will be the reason we’ll have a severe urge to burn that same dress or card one day, because we can’t stand the sight of our stupidity.

  5. There will never, ever be any valid reason to rush into marriage.

    Not for halal sex, not because you’re getting older, not because good guys are getting extinct, not because something is better than nothing, not because marriage halls are getting expensive, not because your younger cousins already have two kids, not because you’re dangerously close to being too mature for a woman and you may never ever find a man more mature than you, not because your beauty is fading, not because your khala thinks it’s time, not because it’s better before you get any fatter, not because someone wants to see you married before they die, not because you just want to finally be able to set your relationship status to atleast goddamn ‘engaged’ while your friends are putting up statuses about baby poop, not because it is your lucky year according to the Chinese calendar, not because he’s too cute to not be snatched away by someone else, not because you just have to buy and wear that stunning wedding dress, not because you have to honor some made-up promise to a cousin’s father the day you were born,  NOTHING.

    There is absolutely NO reason to rush into choosing who you will be spending the rest of your life with, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and for as long as which you can never legally enjoy the same sort of relationship with anyone else.

    You only get married for the first time once. You only lose (for lack of a better word) your virginity, your singlehood and leave your parents’ house as a first-time bride once in your entire life. You only entrust everything you are – your hopes, your dreams, your mind, your soul, your body, your fears, your ‘never married’ self to another person ONCE in your life. You will never have the power of this unbridled choice again.

    Think, ponder, consult people, consult God, consult loved ones, consult enemies (to identify what will make them happy about this marriage), consult children (they usually have the most innocent agendas “he’s great because he always comes with chocolates”), keep praying on it till your heart feels at peace either to go ahead or opt out.  Make sure you’ve done everything in your power to be as sure as you could have ever been.

  6. Great marriages exist.

    I know, I know, the previous 5 points may have made you seriously reconsider becoming a mosque matron/solo-travelling till you die a solitary death/being content baby-sitting other people’s children for the rest of your life, but yes, as much as all of them are true, the saving grace of the institute of marriage is that great marriages exist (just like the fact that there have been people who have awoken from a coma after 35 years).

    How do I know? No, my marriage is not great, it’s good, but I feel it getting there. I’ve seen people get there. I’ve personally witnessed couples who’ve made it, just as I’ve personally been made privy to many miserable marriages. And just like everything I’ve said so far to try and remove the sugar-coating glazed onto the image of marriage, I’ll tell you that great marriages take alot, A LOT of hard, crazy, mental, ridiculous, backbreaking work. And while also depending on who’s in it, a crazy long time to happen.

    What kind of work? Like controlling your eyeballs when you would have definitely rolled them (try imagining someone being absolutely absurd and then giving a benign, gracious smile), like sincerely responding with “you’re right, I am” when someone subtly/explicitly compares you to a useless sloth, like hearing “not today/now/this year/this month” to something you’ve really been looking forward to for a long time and saying “sure, fine.” (NOT “Sure. FINE.”), like choosing to be nursing your new child while your single friends are choosing which country to fly to next, like telling yourself “maybe he’ll try next time” when he’s never tried in ages, like apologizing even when you know you’re not wrong for the sake of sleeping in peace or so the kids see you happy, like accepting your fault without putting up a senseless fight every time, like choosing to continue being open and vulnerable after being hurt, like trusting your gut instincts about the good in the person you married and going on, like finding out your spouse found someone else attractive and forgiving them despite the deep heartache, like controlling the urge to fill your loneliness with temporary relationships when the going gets tough, like supporting your spouse when they’ve lost your only source of income and are unsure of where to go next, like greeting guests with a wide smile when you’ve cried your eyes out moments before, like putting your dreams on hold till the family settles, like making an effort even when you’re exhausted, like coming to terms with the fact that you will never agree on or enjoy those certain things together and choosing to continue despite that, like choosing to treat your spouse’s wound/illness over your sleep/your game/your show, like listening even when it gets boring, like consciously trying even when it doesn’t come naturally to you, like having long periods of mundane, unexciting days and still finding something to be happy about, like lowering your gaze when you suddenly feel like taking one more look, like continuing to be there when you’ve been given the cold shoulder, like listening with an open mind even when you’re in the line of fire, like biting back on that word you’re dying to hurl, like trying to find meaning when nothing’s making sense, like continuing to pray for it even when nothing seems to be changing, like keeping up your effort even when there’s barely any in return, like not acting on impulse when you feel like you have just about every right to, like consciously recalling the good when you face the bad, like not giving up even if you have to keep fighting harder and longer for the good… like too many things we’d rather not do.

    When you go through all of that and (ALOT) more together and come out alive, take a photograph of yourselves and send it to me. I need empirical evidence to write a book on this.

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

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.