Sunday, December 30, 2007

The poster on the wall

Winter time, it’s the holidays, and the mall is bustling with a buzz of people everywhere. A huge store and red sale signs are battling for attention. Regular exercise has been miraculously replaced by a frenzy of shopping and running after deals of what you need and what you simply wish to have. And among that all I raised my eyes to a poster hanging on the wall. I gasped softly at its beauty and how it saved me from the world of cruel consumerism all around me. I smiled to it as if welcoming back a friend deeply missed. A room with a view it was. You can almost see the soft white curtains swaying tenderly to the ocean’s breeze. The mesmerizing blue ocean is extending as far as the eye can see and sun rays are alluringly glittering on its calm ripples. If you close your eyes, you will almost feel that damp breeze on your skin, you will hear seagulls calling you to jump from that hard-wooden floor and plunge into that throbbing thrill. A moment of pure beauty and tremendous splendor… Then I opened my eyes. Still smiling, I walked along keeping in my heart that poster that I inhaled with all my senses.

Beauty can still be there; in spite of it all.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year

I was reading Paulo Coelho's book "Like the flowing river" - an excellent book on thoughts and reflections that I would recommend to everyone to read. If you've already read the book you'll know what I mean. Anyway, I came across a number of amazing stories but here is a short one I want to share from memory:

The story of the piece of coal

A man used to go to church regularly every Sunday but after some time started feeling bored that the sermons added nothing new to his life and there was a lot of repetition. So he stopped going. One day the pastor decided to pay the man a visit. Feeling awkward, the man tried to think up of a proper excuse to tell the pastor if the subject came up. He didn't exactly want to tell him "i stopped going to church because you're boring!" When the pastor arrived, the man tried to make conversation with him but all the pastor did was stare into the fireplace at the pieces of coal that kept the fire alight. He tried numerous times to start up conversation with him in vain. After quite a while of silence, the pastor picked up a piece of log lying on the side and used it to shift a piece of burning coal to the outside of the fire. The man watched as the piece of coal instantly started to lose it's brightness and warmth. It slowly turned into a cold and dark piece of coal. Fearing that the piece of coal would be extinguished, he quickly shifted it back into the fire so that it would continue to burn. At that point the pastor got up to leave and bid the man goodnight. The man thanked him and that's when the pastor first spoke. He said, 'no matter how bright and alight a piece of coal is when in the company of other pieces of coal that keep the fire burning, it will always turn dark and cold when left alone - see you at church next sunday!' and left. Ends.

Reading this story made me realise instantly the importance of good company and good friends!! No matter how boring or how mundane, it's good company and good friends that keeps those moments of darkness that strike us away and keep us going!

May you all enjoy good company and good friends. Happy new year!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

No longer an autumn leaf

When everything has been said and done, and the past has become past indeed, she had to have this stand with herself, to close this door and lock it well, to step outside and learn to live again. Despite her feeling of coldness, inside out, she went for a walk on her own. In the deserted roads of the holidays, so early in the morning, there she walked, as fragile as can be. It was ok to be fragile, one last time, she said to herself. One last time, just one last time. She laid her wound open, confronted herself with all the bitter realities. She went through the memories again one last time without them fooling her again; she started seeing things for what they are. She kept on talking and talking to the Kind Lord, not ashamed of her weakness, not ashamed of the cruelty of the pain, or its givers. Oh my Lord, I've been hurt, I've been treated with injustice, they have wronged me… Oh my Lord.

Autumn left its mark on the streets; brutal, cold, and unrelenting. She walked on with her head down, looking at the yellow leaves lying helpless on the ground. A sudden blow of air disturbed their lifeless peace, swiping them violently and mercilessly. She felt as fragile, as helpless as they were. The wind struck her as hard. As she pulled her coat tightly around, almost hugging the emptiness inside, her eyes welled with tears, silently revolting against the unkind wind, blowing her away without her will. No… easy on me. Don't hurt me.

She moved away, determined not to be an autumn prey. Won't be crushed by pain. It is solemn; it is permissible to be wronged, to go unappreciated. It happens in life, people can sometimes meet beauty with ugliness, it happens. People do lose their hearts without noticing, it happens. Dreams fade away, and promises go unhonoured, it does happen. It is only human to acknowledge one's pain, and know that it is ok; it is not here to stay.

As seasons change, it is time to step out of the coldness, to leave whatever lies behind, to stand tall, and go by. Looking ahead towards the open horizon, with her somber dignity, having a little spark of a broken smile, almost feeling the light that lies ahead, she walked on. Knowing that she has been heard, she walked on. Locking the door of the poisoned past, she almost felt alive again. She started to collect her precious pieces back; it is time to be whole again. Her eyes are not used to the light, just yet. But she is not in a hurry. It is time to enjoy every definite step, into the sun.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My walk of hope

Just prayed fajr and got like a couple of hours at hand. Instead of going back to bed and waking up for my exam feeling deprived, I thought I’d sit down and put the words and images that rushed to my mind in my walk yesterday here down to rest. So, share that walk with me, just like I share my life with you.

I am finally breaking free from my long winter hibernation and crippling fears that hold me down and keep me back. I strode out in a slow walk enjoying every little sensation, gaping out for air just like a fish desperately does to survive. Spring is here, not in full bloom, but timidly stepping its first steps just like I was. The last time I walked was in the fall; a fall it was, I perfectly remember. But life goes on, and on I went. The snow almost melted everywhere the sun could reach, the rest was hiding shyly behind a tree or in the shade knowing that it too will melt but not in vain, it will replenish the long forgotten thirsty soil and blossom again in each flower and every strand of grass. And that too was there. I left it last fall dry and weathering. It still is now. But that grass had a confident smile, reassured that it won’t take long until it is luscious green again. As the heavy snow that lurked on its chest was clearing up, it patiently waited there with open arms for life again. And on I walked. The breeze was welcoming and cool on my skin. I raised my face to enjoy the warm soft rays that cuddled and nourished it again. They too missed me I guess, and knew how I longed for them. And on I walked. I came across the flower beds that I used to name after my dear ones. They were left there unattended with remains of flowers and sweet roses long forgotten like old friendship I left uncared for. Will the beds filled with cold remains of life thrive again? And on I walked. It was very quiet. Where are the birds that used to soar in the sky? They traveled in flocks in the fall seeking warmth promising to be back again in the spring. I looked for them in the sky. Will they be back again?

On my way back, the road seemed long, very long. But it was reassuring that no matter how long it was my destination was still clear. My home is right there, all I have to do is to walk. No detours will distract me now, I have wasted too much time already and have to get there before it gets dark. My home is there, all I have to do it to keep walking. And on I walked; breathless but alive again enjoying my journey for its tears and smiles.

... in the rain!

I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it!!

It was raining lightly outside, no thunder rumbling or lightening striking, just rain; sweet light rain. I put on a light dark shawl and very light scarf; I didn’t want to miss one single drop of rain, and went outside barefoot again! I have never walked on wet glistening grass before. The sensation is beyond words. The freshness of that crisp grasp is rejuvenating that a sweet smile sprung from my heart to my face. I kept pacing around on the grass and then on the concrete trails and each time I step into a puddle of water on uneven ground images of childhood rush to my mind and into my veins. I could not jump into them splashing everything around like I used to when I was a child. I could of course, but the peacefulness and overflowing happiness kept my pace steady and serene. On I walked, not caring if any one was watching. No one could have. It was minutes before dawn time and there was no sound around but that of rain drops on roof tops and on the pool water. I walked to the pergola overlooking the pool in front of my bungalow and stood there resisting the temptation of stepping into the pool. The soft ripples were smiling back at me; alluring and enticing. It is a big wadding pool where the water is a hand span deep; it goes a little bit over the ankle. In the hustle and bustle of a sunny summer day, kids go there to play and splash each other with water. It was very quite there now and a leaf on the water was gliding softly and tenderly and I followed it and made the move. I stepped in! I almost cried out of joy! I have lived here for three whole years and never touched that pool. I never walk barefoot and always cover up so there is never a chance for me to do that in public. Tonight, I was pacing through that cold water almost breathless! I had to get inside again, but as I was walking back, looking again for puddles to step in, I was wondering at the connection between me and nature. It is like a lost friend that I have finally found and cannot let go of. I simply plunge into its beauty now and share with it my joy and sorrow. I’m living nature now, taking it all in!

My walk

It is raining outside now, but it wasn’t when I decided to go to my walk. You cannot help but smile as you walk when the world winks at you, tickling your each and every sense, daring you to explore its wonders. I closed my eyes sometimes, many times, and let the scents of fresh nature take my hand. I watched a soaring bird celebrating its freedom and crying out loud to me saying, “Follow meeeeee!” I watched the long grass in the ball-game field as it kept swaying gently to the wind. I wished I could touch it and clenched my hand to the thought. But I reached out my hand to touch the bush hedges enclosing neatly mowed lawns and giving them the privacy and reassuring sense of security they need. I smiled to that all, to how I took nature in, smelt it, touched it, listened to it, watched it and tasted it’s unfailing calm irresistible beauty. And then, in the last 10 minutes of my walk, it started to rain. I simply could not take that big smile off my face now; I almost laughed. The unbelievable joy of having that fresh drizzle falling tenderly on my face! Tiny rain drops stood there on my eye lashes greeting my happy eyes. It is life again, rich and inspiring, elevating and comforting, pushing me to live, inhale and soar! Thank God for hope. Thank God for life.

My beautiful mornings

I used to hate cloudy days, but now I simply dare not! These clouds are promising of nourishing rain that the trees are long standing, waiting and longing for. If you look closely, you will find everything around you alive in its true color. On sunny days, everything shines under the golden layer that the sun lavishly gives away. When the clouds take over though, they give the luscious trees the chance to glow in their own unique shades of green, they give the slowly flowing river the chance go on solemnly without the light reflecting on its soft ripples that attracts unwanted attention when it just wants to go calmly by.

I pass by stables of horses on my way in the mornings. In the vast pastures they call home, they stand there beautiful and proud watching cars and people go by, look at each other, and then enjoy their stacks of hay with dew glimmering on them. Strong brown stallions unaware of their grandeur and elegance just fit in in the perfect background of nature, pure and rich.

Was the bus stopping for traffic lights when I saw them? Well, it was long enough for me to watch and adore this couple. A stocky man with a big belly, long beard and crumpled shirt and a short chubby lady with curly dark hair. A couple that would never attract anyone's attention were walking by. But her smile caught me unguarded and he was holding her hand. They would smile at each other as they walked quietly and then keep that smile on their faces long after their quick warm eye contact ends. He put his arm on her shoulders and then put it down again to give her his hand that she dearly held. They stopped, each to take a morning paper from the young lady that was giving it for free to whoever was interested. I bet they stopped out of thoughtfulness for the shivering girl that stood there in the cold. It was time for them then to go their way. He walked towards the LRT station and opened its door and she went the other way watching him still. She threw a kiss for him in the air and waved goodbye, to which he calmly smiled and closed his eyes to savor the moment... and on went my bus. (A true story)

I cannot take my eyes off the breathtaking landscape everywhere. the fresh shiny grass and its adorable intoxicating smell when it is freshly cut that always makes me literally smile, the new leaves on trees, the reflection of the sun rays on the river in the morning, the wisps of cool breeze that welcome me as I walk and that I adore; I simply inhale the beauty of my new world all in.

People usually avoid eye contact when they are clustered in one place. I used to do that. Now, I simply watch people, and read their life stories on their faces and body languages. There was that man. I remember that the sight of his fingers holding the something he was reading stopped me, I don’t know why. There was something about those fingers; long, fair and soft as they seemed; tender and caring they were. I imagined them touching, feeling and in love. They were not like the snobbish busy figures of another young lady checking her cell phone and texting to the unknown. People and their little details and huge mysteries will always intrigue me.

You are my Companion in my journey

Got the phone call. This is the day I have feared for so long. Mute was I when grief’s somber shawl started to slowly creep over me. Unable to comprehend the unimaginable loss, I sat back thinking of everything else in denial. It was my brother’s grave voice that let loose all my tear-demons. He is our rock now.So my father was being buried under the ground. My true old friend, my very first fan, the one who watched with wonder in his eyes how his little bud gradually blossom into who I am right now, the one who took my hand in his big warm hands and showed me the way to worlds of beauty and sophistication. Still, I was not falling apart like I thought I would. I calmly arranged for my flight back home to be where I belong; with my grief-stricken family.My fingers typed the words “my father passed away” to my dear ones, and then rushed to hide my face and cover my weary eyes. Then the memories rushed along. The last time I heard his voice, the last thing he said, the last time I saw him, and many more; each snatching a piece of my heart and throwing it in the abyss of what is now bygone. It was simply incomprehensible to take away from the picture of my taken-for-granted world a man that was full of life, thought and humor. That was the day after which life ceased to be the same.Torn between leaving my children and running to the unknown, I felt the burning tears streaming down as I turned around to face the flight’s gate. Forlorn on my seat on that cold bitter birthday, I felt like a stranger in this world. No sadly setting sun in the far beyond or cotton-candy cloud clusters in the burgundy dusk could solace me. I then read my traveling prayer,“O Allah, You are the Companion in the journey and the substitute in the family. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from the hardship of the journey and from returning to sorrow and a distressing sight or finding family and possessions in a poor state”.Indeed, He was my Companion.Take my hand now my Lord. Do pat gently on my hollow heart and overwhelm me with your mercy. Between heaven and earth, I felt like a whirling feather, restless and unaware where the blowing wind would land me. You are my Companion now. Take care of me now. I am suddenly the insecure child raising her hands looking for the safe shore of her father’s tenderness and compassion.It felt like forever before my third and last plane touched down. My heart beats were racing the plane’s speed and my anticipation left me breathless and drained. It was my father that used to wait for me and welcome me with his rich sweet embrace that used to take all my pain away. He won’t be there this time. Waiting in the long-dreary line-ups, I couldn’t help looking for his loving face among the many faces around me. I felt that he was somehow there. I even swear that I heard his voice calling my name from the distance that I actually turned around where I thought the voice came from; but of course, there was nothing. I could not find him.But He was there watching over me as if saying, “Even though he isn’t there this time, I am here for you.” God sent my way complete strangers that to my amazement picked me out of the crowd and helped me get everything done as smoothly as it can ever be possible. How merciful are you my Lord, how gracious!And out of the airport, I stepped to find my mother’s serene smile waiting for me. “It’s ok… It’s ok”, she repeated. Then I sank in the home of her stretched arms again.I knew that I did just the right thing going there when I looked at my sibling’s faces. The suddenly stranded islands were trying to snuggle closer. They were as solid as mountains enduring the pain yet as tender as babies cuddling together. No tears were allowed; only laughter and smiles, the way he liked it most. Only beautiful memories were to be shared. Painful ones were locked up in denial until the hearts were strong again to go through them. Devastated as they were, they stood tall and strong greeting mourning visitors with a smile, yielding to the loss with fortitude. I just could not be more proud of them.Accompanied by some of my family members I went to visit his grave, or the way I prefer to put it, “visit him”. The ones around were there before me when it all took place, but it was my first time. I stood there unable to fully take in how my father was under that stone. I asked to be left alone with him. I was his eldest daughter. I was also the one who lived farthest and thus, I was denied to be there like all others at his last moments. I had a gnawing urge to talk to him. My wish was respected and granted and I sat on the ground next to him and poured my heart out to him. I asked him to be proud of his family who loved him so dearly that they did not break for his leave to show him how well he raised us up and what a great man he was. I said that I know that I was the one who has to cross oceans and thousands of miles to come visit him but I could still be the closest talking to him endlessly and asking God to grant him mercy. I said that I somehow could not, and still can’t, imagine a life without him in it; yet I knew that he was still there. And on I went and each time I got up to turn around and walk away, I was crippled with the harsh awareness that I would walk away an orphan! But I had to eventually go away just like life goes on. I saw in the distance my brother watching me from afar fearing that I might pass out, out of my deep silent grief. I rushed to him and asked him to hold me tight for at that moment I just needed that so.But what is it that kept us intact instead of being crushed before this sudden death? It is God’s mercy and overwhelming kindness. We are asked to endure the loss of loved ones especially at the first shocking moments. It takes no hard work on our part; it is rather a blessing of mercy that we either accept or kick away to take the easy way out and remain absorbed in pain. Yet, death will remain our wake-up call of how short and empty life is and how futile it is to waste time, energy as well as all the blessings we are endowed with that make us better people. Only those who swallow the pain and go on are the ones who know how harsh it is, though rewarding, to yield and accept God’s decree. God says in Qur’ān, “And in case you are patient and pious, then surely that is (an indication) of (true) resolve concerning His (i.e. the Commands of Allah) Commands.” (Ala-`Imrān, 3: 186)No pain or grief should bring you to your knees. Every test is meant to have you stronger should you choose to make it in spite of it all. Remember your Companion, accept what He brings your way turning every hurdle into a stepping stone to be worthy of His endless mercy that we cannot do without.

It's all about the heart

Got out of the car and hurried towards the mosque for the last taraweeh prayer that Ramadaan. My daughter's hand, my coffee, my purse, my Qur'aan, my prayer beads, was the baggage I had to carry along. I had other baggage too weighing on my heart and burdening my soul and I wondered if I would be relieved of that that night.I was late, I barely made it to the last rakca of cishaa'. Is it too late? There I was again, standing in taraweeh prayer for the last time; listening to the Imaam choking up in his moving recitation whenever he comes across an aayah of mercy or that of hellfire. There I was again with body and soul in complete harmony elated by an unmatched fulfillment, ecstatic to tears, yet overwhelmed by restlessness and anticipation. There I was again, lightly touched on both sides by the sisters of angelic faces next to me. There I was conjuring up my strength to be all there for Him and with Him one more time.I could smell the light sweet scent of the carpet. I will miss this. I will miss the closeness I feel when I am whispering to my Lord in my prostration. In my very first sujood that Ramadaan and in that very same spot, I smiled thanking my Lord for bringing me back one more time in spite of it all. I told Him how much I missed being in that pure gracious place. That last night, the way that sweet scent embraced my face and forehead compelled me to prolong my sujood. I had to make ducaa' in that sujood. What should I say? Whom should I start with? There was not enough time. A soft nudge on the side would remind me every now and then to get up already, but there was not enough time; not enough time.What happened to each rakca? Why are they that short? Why isn't the Imaam reading long segments of the Qur'aan like he used to? Or was he? Why did the first 4 rakcas end that soon? Why was the lesson in the break that short? I was looking forward and almost counting on it to fill me with awe, to remind me of steadfastness and to bid due farewell to Ramadaan. But it was not any of that. Or was it? I was waiting for something. I was waiting for a sign. Am I released yet? Have the gates I have been beseeching at all that month opened yet? I did not want the prayers to end, but they did.Witr time, very last rakca, very last chance, dimmed lights, heaving hearts, breathless souls, poor hands raised one last time to their Lord. I was so tired. That was the end of the road. I raised my hands one last time that night, but it was not with the persistence and resolution of previous times, nor was it with the frequent imploring and pleading. This time it was utter weariness and complete submission. I hardly found the voice to repeat "Aameen" after the Imaam. My whole being was at His mercy now. My past, present and future; my destiny is in His hands now. No flowing tears would calm the turbulence inside, and no shaking would reveal my inner turmoil. Done was the ducaa'. Over was the last rak ca, and I remained there, sitting on the ground making my own ducaa'. Do not let go of me even when I am too unmindful to be there. Do not deprive me from this even when I do not deserve it. Bestow Your mercy on me even when I am unworthy of it. Guide me to Your path every time I go astray. Take my hand every time I fall. I am not coming to You this time with much worshipping or a record to be proud of. I am coming to You with a heart that finds no pleasure anywhere else if You are not content with me. I have nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to. Grant me steadfastness, grant me steadfastness, grant me steadfastness.I had to get up. I had to go home. Friends came to me to bid me farewell, hugging me, consoling me for the loss of my loved month. I could not smile back to them. I could not say a word in my besieging grief. What would I say? It was over. I have not done much at all. Have I wasted my chances? Have I failed in enduring my afflictions and passing my tests? "Don't go yet," I felt like crying out. "Don't go yet," I felt like calling out for the angels. "Don't end yet," I felt like begging Ramadaan, "I still need you."On my way back, I could not take my eyes off the beautiful clear sky. I was so keen in the last 10 days to look for a sign, any sign, that it was Laylat al-Qadr. I have seen clouds, I have seen freezing rain, I have seen sparkling stars, but I have not seen the sign.Little did I know that the sign has always been there in my very heart. Loving the Lord is the sign, longing for His contentment is the sign, striving to please Him is the sign, longing for closeness and turning the heart, the soul, and whole being to Him and to Him only is the sign. That was the sign. It is all about the heart!May Allaah (SWT) forgive us, bestow mercy on us and grant us steadfastness and plenty more Ramadaans to purify our souls and bring us much closer ISA.


Lying in bed, being pushed around to my destination, I raised my eyes and looked above. Light fixtures on the ceiling were rushing backwards. Voices, mere carefree voices, were all around me. But I was not alone. No one but You feels my excruciating pain. No one but You knows what I am going through. No one but You can ease my torment. Grant me patience my Lord to endure in silence. Forgive my tears for I can hardly bear the hurting.I am surrounded by strangers now. I am at the mercy of the empty looks of the doctors that take my ordeal as business-as-usual. I am humiliated by cold hands that undress and examine me. I cannot say no to the dry tone that asked me to take off my head scarf for my brain to be scanned and my wounds cared for. "I can walk and talk," I said to myself. "I still am in control," I thought. But that was shattered the first time I treaded the floor with my unsteady steps and shaky soul. That false assumption that I can conquer the world with my confident strong strides was devastated the moment I slipped on a mere ice patch and banged my head against the ground. Oh, how fragile we are! I lost consciousness and could not even remember when or how I got up again. There was no one around to help me get up again. I was all alone, or was I? Sifting through the flashes I barely remember, there was a helping hand that mercifully helped my frail body up and took me home, saving me from freezing to death out in the cruel cold. I was not alone.And now in my hospital room, I did not want to be alone. I longed to hear the warm voices of my loved ones. I needed their smiles to shine over the overwhelming darkness of my small room. I longed for their reassuring pat to tell me that it is going to be alright again. My helplessness was crippling me. I was desperate to feel them around to warm my heart again. I had my eyes hanging on the cell phone waiting for them to call again. They didn't have to say much, it was enough to have them there.It was the first time I realize how lonesome one gets when stricken by illness and pain. Nothing but Allaah's mercy and feeling Him all around can alleviate that isolation from life as we know it. This is why Allaah urged us to pay visits and be there for ones fallen ill. This is why He is all there with us to reassure us that we are not alone. This is why the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, "Verily, Allaah will say on the Day of Judgment, 'O son of Adam! I fell ill, but you did not visit Me.' He (the man) will ask, 'O my Lord! How could I visit you and You are the Lord of the worlds [1]?' Allaah will say, 'Did you not know that my bondsman so-and-so was ill, but you did not visit him. Did you not know that had you visited him, you would have found Me there (i.e. with mercy and reward)?'" [2]Thank God for His mercy. We are never alone when we have Him all there by our side.[1] Mankind, jinn (invisible beings of fire) and all creation.[2] Authentic hadeeth reported by Muslim in Saheeh Muslim page/number 6721, and narrated by Abu-Hurayrah (RA).

My beautiful night

Couldn’t sleep. Was restless and fidgety. Got tired of it all. Of people and places, of obligations and sham forced smiles, of that very fake light coming from my lamp and from that screen that I hang to. I want to be there, out there. I want to inhale fresh air, not one dim with old worn breaths. I want my own privacy and solitude that I hold on to religiously. And there I went. Opened the door and stepped with my bare feet on the cool floor of my patio. It overlooks a beautiful open space of full-grown trees that circle a wadding pool of water with a fountain of bricks on the side that looks and sounds like a water fall. The pool was empty tonight, and the fountain was off, but that did not take away from the natural beauty I was after. My patio is in a corner that no one would notice and I sat on one of the chairs there extending my legs on an opposite one and surrendering to my lulling ambiance. I laid my head back and watched the sky. Wasn’t a starry night for sure but you cannot help loving the different shades of grey that huddled together to take my breath away as they defined splendor in the way they kept the fading daylight safe at heart. They gradually gave away for darkness to take over and kiss goodnight the eyes of the weary and the hearts of the anguished. It wasn’t a sigh. I was just saying it all to the night without uttering a word. I know that it is gentle enough to listen and understand. The trees were still, in awe of their long awaited for friend. The night always comes back to enfold them in its overwhelming soft dark shawl. Their deep delight with the reassuring company was serene. But it’s the tree tops that could not help showing their happiness, and softly swayed with pleasure. I tried to clear my mind from all the clutter and think through my dilemma, but it didn’t take the stillness of the night long to seep into my heart, pat it gently and smooth it with peace. I tried to resist the urge to go and touch the tree that was a few steps away. But the night simply took my hand and I followed the soft call. That bark of the tree was very rough, lined with years and years of withstanding the harshness of the elements. But I could not respect that tree more; to stand tall in spite of it all. To keep giving no matter how long the snow covered it or the piercing sun rays poked it. It was there, beautifully there. And on I paced slowly. I smiled to the coolness of the damp rich grass caressing my wandering steps. I was welcomed by the sweet scent of a pine tree that I came across. I drifted into the silence, closed my eyes to absorb it and vanish in it. I was one with nature at last. I felt lucky to be bestowed all this exquisiteness from a Merciful Lord that surrounds us with wonders that tickle the senses of the lucky few who keep their hearts alert to what really matters in this short life.


In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we often fail to maintain our well being. We keep running into the maze of endless duties and deadlines, expecting no setbacks or delays. A headache, an aching back or irritated eyes, a skin inflammation or ear pain are usually the least expected and most detested. Who has time for that! Once we are hit by any of that, we rush to pain relievers to be able to go back to what we have to get done with. But have we ever stopped and thought about the blessing of pain?Yes, pain is always there for a reason. It is the flashing light that something is wrong and that it is high time we attended to that instead of taking the easy way out silencing it. It is usually a sign that we have been careless in safeguarding our health or defense system.Imagine a life without pain; a condition that actually exists in some children called congenital insensitivity to pain (or congenital analgia) where a child cannot feel (and has never felt) physical pain. Isn’t that the dream of every parent; save his/her child from ever feeling any pain? Well, here is a wake up call for you. When a child cannot feel pain, they may not respond to problems, thus being at a higher risk of more severe diseases. It is documented that such children often suffer fractures to bones, unnoticed infections, etc. Talk about life without pain!What about our hearts? What does it say when our hearts ache. What is it really then when nothing seems to please us anymore, when we keep swirling in restlessness and agitation. Do we ever pay attention to our hearts trying to listen to their pain in order to heal them? How can’t we give our hearts our utmost attention when the word “heart” was mentioned 158 times in the Qur’aan?Heartaches are a cry out loud for us to correct misleading frames of thoughts and unhealthy behavior. It is a call for us to retrace our steps to see what went wrong. It is the indication that it is time to seek guidance and help from our All-Merciful Lord.Be it people who hurt us, our unsatiated thirst for contetment, our unfulfilled aspirations or hopes, all roads should lead us to one Ultimate Destination. He is always there to heal our pain and take us in spite of what He knows about us. He never forsakes us when we seek His help. He is always there to purify our hearts and keep them steadfast; always there waiting for our repentance to forgive and cleanse us from our sins. Where else can we ever go when we are blessed with the pain that takes us back to the pleasure of being with Him?

Power II

When you are the salve of your desires you spin around pleasing one need after the other but end up walking on a treadmill that takes you nowhere close to relief. The haunting truth is that instead of feeling fulfilled as you seek those pleasures, you reap nothing but chilling emptiness and utter desolation. When moderation is the key to legitimate delight, an excess drags you to defiling the restless soul imprisoned in that body, whirling like a poor helpless bird banging its frail body against the bars of its cruel cage and lost in its gloom. As we fail to soothe that soul and help it heal, we add salt to its open wounds as we go for temporary pseudo satisfaction. This is how all addictions start, and this is how they keep escalating into uncontainable levels. Poor, very poor, and pathetic indeed are those addicts. They need all possible help and reach out for it instead of digging deep inside to reconnect with their estranged souls. They walk like ghosts with horrid secrets that they carry along on their long path of pain. They keep falling when they stop believing that they still can. They give up on the hope that they are still worthy of the soul that is created to be pure no matter what they do to base it. They refuse to believe that there is good inside and shut their eyes in complete desperation. But we are not allowed to fall into that endless pit of despair. The All-Merciful that created us says in the Qur’aan what is interpreted as, “Do not despair of relief from Allah; surely none despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Yusuf: 87). We have to believe in the mercy that is bound to come our way if we struggle for it. We are created to be strong and to beat all odds and falling short of that would take us back to crippling frames of thought. The choice here is very clear; to opt for the easy way out and bear the shame, guilt and loathing of over-indulgence or to tread on the rocky way of striving again and again to reach the safe shores of lasting peace and serenity.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Think quickly: who has power over you? Who is it that rules and controls your life through fear, respect, love, or adoration; the one you put into consideration in every move you make or thought you have? Who do you look up to for inspiration and or simply run to? That was the simple question that our Organizational Behaviour instructor started the class with. And each of us had a different answer: my dad, my mom, my boyfriend, my kids, my boss, both of my parents, my friends, even my cat was once brought up! Kerry narrated to us how a cat was so dear to one of his students that she considered it to be ruling her life. It would run to her when spoiled with toys and preferred treats, comfort her and give her warmth when she needed it, and ignore her when upset. “Talk to the paw,” Kerry raised his hand imitating the cat, “cause I’m not talking to you today!” And we all laughed.

I am sure that by now you already have a name in mind. But let me make that easier for you and “empower” you with the tools of making the right choice. The figure you deem most powerful in your life should fall into one or more of the following bases of power:

- One that has the legitimate right, considering his or her position and your responsibilities, to expect you to comply.
- One that has the experience to earn your respect and you need the wisdom of.
- One you do like and enjoy doing things for very willingly.
- One that you try to avoid getting him or her angry for they have the power to punish you or make things more difficult for you. That is the power of coercion or compulsion.
- One that has the power to reward you or give you special benefits.
- One that has the knowledge you need.

Each one of us had to ascribe one of the above bases of power to the choices we made. Parents have that legitimate power of course. Kids do control your life decisions. Your boss has the power to reward or punish you. Your dear ones: boyfriend, spouse or close friends, moderate your actions and you do need their companionship and the joy of being around them.

But how powerful is any of those choices really and are we really that powerless? Reflecting on this, we found that it is our decision to give this or that the right to control and guide us. We allow others to have power over us. We empower them with the authority of our own decision; that we are unaware of sometimes. We can, very politely if we wish, stop any of those powerful figures from controlling our lives. After all, we are the ones living our lives and responsible for our actions and decision-making. We are the ones who choose to be dependent on any of those figures when we assume that they are important, scarce and non-substitutable. But are they? The key to dependency is “to believe that what others offer you is too important to let go of”. But how important or reliable can others be, when we all human beings change, err, turn selfish and needy most often than not.

Let us unravel the mystery of power now and analyze some of the influence tactics used by the “powerful”. They can persuade us rationally and subtly that they control us. They can inspire us, appealing to our goals, values and ideas. They can flatter us and become very warm and friendly to paralyze our ability to simply say, “No”. They appeal for loyalty and that we owe them. I do that most of the time with my kids! “Am I not the one who bore you for long tiring months? Am I not the one who stayed up all night for you when you were helpless little babies?” But I am afraid that I have abused this tool with my whining that it will become very inefficient too soon!

Powerful ones also demand, pressure and threaten us sometimes. They exchange favours for benefits or claim the authority to make a request. Have you hated them yet? Do you realize now how much power we willingly give them? This is exactly what an abusive relationship is like, Kerry explained. The ones subject to domestic violence or bullying for example never stand up, fight back or even disengage themselves from abusive relationships because they are simply brainwashed to believe that they are deprived of all power and that they cannot live without that bully.

When Kerry asked us the question the first time, he asked us to write our answer on paper so that we go back to it as we analyze further the concept of power. I was the second one to answer at the very beginning and had to think quickly. “Power over me? You wish,” I thought to myself! I ran quickly through all the names I know of, all the dear and significant ones, and found no one to play that role. I love my dear ones dearly, cherish, enjoy and deeply respect them, but I know that I am responsible for my life and that no one rules it but my own decisions. Yet, the answer came as simple, flowing and logical as this: God! Only God has power over me. Kerry raised his eyebrows and said, “Hmm, I like that!”

And I had to go back to my answer every time to defend my choice. It perfectly made sense that when each student had only one or maybe more of the aforementioned bases of power to defend his or her choice, all bases of power fell into place when I said that God indeed has the power over me. He has the legitimate right that to Him only I comply. I certainly need His guidance, wisdom and knowledge. I do enjoy doing things for Him and even sacrifice and self-discipline myself for Him. It is not only fear of His punishment that I acknowledge and deserve when I err, and it is not only Paradise that I seek, but it is the peace and spiritual fulfillment that all the pleasures of this life fail to even come close to.

Does that contradict with the concept of our own power and right to choose? Not at all. The rule is very clear in Islam. Observe what is clearly stated in Qur’an,

- There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (3 [Al-Baqarah]: 265).
- The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve. (18 [Al-Kahf]: 29).
- So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. {21} You are not over them a controller. {22} (88 [Al-Ghashiyah]: 21-22).

And on and on go the examples by which we are rather empowered by the right to choose for ourselves. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, confirmed this concept by saying, “A strong believer is better and more lovable to God than a weak one…”[1] It is true that Islam comes from the Arabic word taslim, which is submission to the Lord. Yet, this submission has to come from the heart and mind. We believe in it and actually chose to submit. This is the dignity and power provided to us by a loving and merciful Lord. This is the “power of belief”! What oppression then do they talk about when you have the right to think, choose, question and walk in your Lord’s way with all that He filled your soul with?

What about the influence tactics then? Which of them does God use to rule us? Well, God does not need to claim the authority or right to make a request. God does not form coalitions for support. God does not exchange favours or use flattery. God does not even need to persuade us rationally or threaten us. God only inspires us to think and reason when he says in Qur’an; So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts… (11 [Al-Hajj]: 46). This loving and wise leading manner respects humanity and endows it with the characteristics of empowered people; i.e. having self-determination, a sense of meaning, a sense of competence and a sense of impact.

Moving to dependency then, and testing whether it contradicts with Islam’s empowerment, we find that we have seen how unpredictable and defective dependency on human beings can be. The rule of dependency is to avoid choosing a substitutable figure. Having God on our side indeed spares us the need for mortals. But what if we decide to substitute Him and surrender to our whims and desires instead; gratifying bodily needs and ignoring our souls? Here is what God says in the Qur’an; Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? (25 [Al-Furqan: 43). Once again we are empowered by being our own judges and guardians, responsible for our own actions; There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], "I am not a guardian over you." (6 [Al-An’am: 104).

Furthermore, the very concept of depending on God is part and parcel of that of “locus of control”. If we fast forward to personality attributes and how they affect our behaviour, we find that there are two kinds of people when it comes to locus of control; i.e. the degree to which people believe they are in control of their fate. Internals believe that they have control over their destiny. Those are the ones with greater motivation believing that their efforts will result in better performance and are universally reported to be in a better well-being. Externals, on the other hand, believe that they have no say on their destiny and that their lives are controlled by outer forces. Those are the ones less involved, rather alienated from their settings and feel that they have no impact on their surroundings.

Depending on God does not at all mean that we turn into idle passive externals, it is rather the balance of striding with confident steps into the challenges life puts in your way with the boosting relief and security knowing that God is there on our side rewarding us for each step with the success we deserve. An empowering dependency!

Does it make sense now to have God and only God as my ruling, moving and empowering power?

[1] Authentic hadith reported by al-Albaniy in Sahih Ibn-Majah page/number 3379, and narrated by Abu-Hurayrah (RA).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Being a woman

Not only am I a woman; I am a Muslim woman wearing hijab. Oh, and top that with the fact that I live in the West; i.e. stereotyped as helpless, dull and a “poor thing”! For most people, I do not even exist. I am a covered lump of nothingness that is easily ignored by those who don’t care, easily overlooked by those who define women “differently” and simply smiled at by the kind who do not know how to handle what came their way. And mad I am when people turn their heads when they hear me speak. Mad I am when they raise their eyebrows at my “fancy words” and eloquent style. Mad I get when the bus driver graciously lowers the floor of the bus to allow easier entry whenever I ride it, like s/he does with senior citizens, greeting me with a “ma’am”! Do I look that old simply because I am covered up? I think that got into me to the point that I now wonder sometimes at my own agile walk that does not match my “modest” appearance.

Like all women, I am bombarded with commercials that define beauty differently depending on the season. So, the burning hot colors and styles of the summer are “out” now and “in” is the 60s look this winter, of short dresses and cool shades! The pretty and digitally brushed-to-perfection faces on the covers of Beauty Magazines sneer at me as I drag myself, as if ashamed, to the checkout lines at grocery stores. Insecure young women are all around me; craving for acceptance, covering their faces with layers of make up, and piercing their ears, noses and God knows what, to simply belong to the cult of young and cool. A lady in my thirties myself and more than a decade older than my young colleagues, I see them now on daily basis. I cannot match their, “like, totally awesome, like, seriously super” upbeat rhythm, so I watch them trying to understand. I find myself most of the time unable to grasp the paradox of watching how tough, smart and reliable they are, yet how they fall for that snare of fashion and appearances in spite of it. I wonder though what they say when they see my washed clean face and my plain long and un-trendy outfits. Well, I know how I feel as I watch them. I too adore perfumes and scented lotions, but know that I cannot wear that around strangers. I too know how to wear make up beautifully matching my skin tones. I too take good care of my hair and color it occasionally; the way I like and not necessarily following a certain style. I too, used to walk around with my jeans and tennis shoes and add a formal jacket to that as I enter my classes as the then-fresh young instructor. But it was my decision to wear hijab; a difficult decision it certainly was to one that is very self-conscious of how she looks, to one always assumed to look younger than she really was. Hijab now, adds long years to my look and I acknowledge that and see it in the eyes of everyone. A struggle it is indeed to walk around in a world of plastic surgeries, millions-of-dollars cosmetic industry and a general tendency to overlook anything but the pretty, young and “bling-bling” rich.

But in time, I learned to live with that till I was taken aback by the one looking back at me today!

Who was that in that long unflattering mirror? To whom did that reflection belong? What’s that complexion? That would-be wrinkle screamed out loud at me. That “un-complimenting” outfit I tried on regretfully said the truth and nothing but the truth. You are getting old! It is true that a genuine smile of yours may obliterate years from that look and that the shine in your eyes reveals who you truly are, but what shine or smile are you talking about now in that silencing gloom? What looks are you talking about when you walk around defeated with your stooped shoulders and dismayed eyes?

On I walked fumbling for recognition. I could not find that in the eyes of the only one whom I can seek attention from. It is not fair though to expect the reassuring and satisfying attention you need from the whole world to come from only one man. This is too much to ask; especially with that restless, demanding and anxious attitude of yours. Insecurity charges up in you the worst of attacks. That frustration has to burst out one way or the other making me not only old and unattractive, but also intolerable!

Why am I still wearing hijab then? Why not free myself from all those shackles and simply be! Why not have breeze fly my hair away and carry my perfume everywhere?

I can’t.

I simply don’t want to.

I am holding on to my hijab now more than ever and with the same tenacity.

Unconsciously, I went tonight in pursuit of that recognition. Reached out to loved ones, but it so happened that no one was there to the rescue. Someone had to pick up the shattered pieces of my self-image. But no one was there.

When I first decided to wear hijab, it seemed like the logical thing to do. Nothing seemed to make me happy anymore and as I gradually got sick from the superficiality of the surrounding unfulfilling pleasures, I wanted to tend to the soul that was deserted and left behind. Though a born Muslim, I have always practiced Islam out of habit and hence praying for example was void of meaning or touching significance. I knew that peace was in the true spirit of Islam, but like a fish out of water, I gaped for air through a hand that leads me to the Islam that speaks to both my heart and mind. I was not the one to be intimidated and scared by the familiar clichés of torture and Hellfire. I was not the one to be led around by dos and don’ts. I needed the comfort of knowing that I am loved and accepted by a merciful most kind and generous Lord that would take me the way I am, get out the best in me with His guidance, and clear my soul with His forgiveness from the harm I have done to myself. I needed the light that tells me where I am in the universe and what I am meant here to do. That blend of who I am must be here and now for a reason. I must be equipped with what I know and what I am still to dig up to make a change. Thus, I needed to surrender my whole being to God and His decrees; and that I did by striving to be a true Muslim since the word “Islam” means surrendering to the Lord. Wearing hijab was one of those decrees that felt right then. Yet, little did I know that it will take me years to understand what hijab really is.

On my way back home today, I could not leave that image I saw in the mirror behind. It remained there on my mind; with silent tears on my face. How do I really look like now; with or without hijab? Is there anything to stop the crawling years? And what if I am now old? What kind of recognition and attention do I really want, and why? Where and what is beauty? Why should I seek it in the eyes of the beholder in the first place? If I am born to be a rebel and refuse to be enslaved by those who dictate to me how I should look, walk and talk, why am I defining myself by the rules of others, any others, friends or strangers? How can I respect anyone that treats me any differently because of my mere looks, good or bad? With my hijab I simply look to such people in the eye and challenge their integrity as if saying, now that this woman is trying very hard to look the least attractive possible, how are you to judge her?

I am a human being. That was the answer. I am a free human being not to be judged or chained by meaningless ever-changing rules. Why should I be treated differently if I am a woman? Isn’t this the ultimate empowerment a woman can have when she is freed from the discrimination or privilege she is granted or denied based on how she looks? Isn’t it true slavery to “grease my way up in this sleazy corporate world”, a term I literally heard myself few days ago, or being taken advantage of and harassed because of the fact that I am a woman? This is where hijab comes in compellingly.

In Arabic the word hijab means barrier; and barrier it is indeed if it protects me from others and from my own nature of competing with other females on daily basis for a beauty trophy or trying to attain power through others. I always say, “I never have a bad hair day!” Nothing will simply stop me from getting what I want unless I do not have it in me to get it. So it is all about me, not about what others think or decide that I deserve. It is THE true power that a woman like me would not forsake. The kind of discipline that takes me away from me whatever may defuse this bursting energy and keeps me focused instead, time and effort wise, on what really counts.

IT takes no time for me at all to have others see beyond that hijab. I give them the permission to touch the human being inside without touching the outer shape. I do not need their recognition or acceptance; they don’t have to. Yet it makes them comfortable to understand that the one under that cover is an interesting tough cookie!

And the natural feminine need to look and feel pretty? I am not denied that. I got that in the comfort and convenience of my home surrounded by my close family. I am a human being, a round character, and my religion addresses my needs as well as regulates them in a way that is very logical and reasonable. It makes sense here that the decree that I willingly followed then was sent by the Lord that created us and knows about our natures. He knows about our weaknesses and hence He is helping us not to fall victim for that and thus lead balanced and productive lives. It makes perfect sense to start looking at hijab that way and outsmart the media that hammered on “the oppression that helpless Muslim women are subject to”; a concept that comes to our minds if and when we stop and notice a woman with hijab.

What difference does it make how I look; how I polish my nails, wear my make up or pluck my eyebrows? If I die right this minute, it is my words, deeds, and how I contributed in the lives of those around, that I am leaving behind; everything else is finite and of no true significance.