A Storyteller’s Writer’s Block

*Dedicated to Noor, Rwan, Rania and Trisha.
page to birds
Looking back at my old short stories written before I hit the second decade of my existence, I admit that there was some ignorance there; I lacked more knowledge and wisdom than I do now (not that I have much of it now, but I suppose a degree more). However, the more undeniable thing was that I had a much higher degree of free-spirited imagination then, than I do now. I somehow intuitively understood that it was the subtle small random details that made a story fun to read, even though those random little details had nothing substantial to add to the main plot itself.
 
It’s like life really. You can sum up someone’s life by the birthplace, family background, education acquired, and time of death, but it is really the small unaccounted things that happened in between that made the life worth living. 
branched face
 
Now going back to my stories, I can see the differences between my storyteller thought process then and now: 
Back then, the facts (such as current world events, historical dates and popular cultural customs) weren’t always correct due to my limited knowledge. I didn’t stress too much on them. Yet my characters were much more alive simply because they were dynamic and reacted to humorous situations similar to how a typical person (or, more often than not, how a non-typical person) would. But that’s the catch— those “hilarious situations” are what really made the stories enjoyable to read, despite the general plot lacking intense depth.
But now? I put more energy in keeping the ‘big picture’ in mind and much less emphasis on tiny details between the lines. Nowadays, my stories require more effort to write because I FIRST make sure I have all the facts straight, as if this was to be preserved in the pages of historical narrative… THEN I make sure my characters have concrete, consistent personalities similar to how actual people are… THEN I make sure the incidents to follow are realistic such that the characters will respond precisely as I or the reader would respond. 
 
However, I seem to have lost that spontaneous touch of imagination, in which I allow events in my story to unfold very unnaturally, very bizarrely, and completely randomly. These days, I keep trying to write stories that mimic real life, which I am finding to be a futile attempt. It is this maybe, perhaps, why the energy has been sapped from me lately. I’m trying too hard to make a false story appear real.
definition wb
 
It was exactly because I allowed myself to dream of a different world, a different reality that didn’t always have to be predictable, that writing used to flow so easily and quickly to me. The plot didn’t necessarily take place in a world I wanted to live in; merely one that made it amusing to be a spectator of. I would seriously love to run into my 18-year old self and ask her, “how did you do it?” How did I permit myself to occasionally get the facts wrong without being too hard on myself, but made it obligatory on myself, with pleasure, to constantly introduce irrational but interestingly comical situations that kept the story alive? It was because of the unpredictability that allowed for sudden unexpected bursts of laughter from the reader, that prompted me to keep writing more and more.
 
I know age “matures” you, and 5 years of university is bound to drill some common reasonable sense in you, especially when one spends half of it in math and physics classes. Presently, when I plan for a plot, I try to make sure logic is incorporated every step of the way. In doing so, however, the story becomes little more fascinating than a newspaper.
 
It’s been 3 years since I wrote something just for the fun of it, and just for the sake of painting ridiculous smiles on my beloved family and close friends’ faces.
I think it’s about time to unbury and find my inner, dusted, but hopefully still active-in-imagination crazy author of a self – and get writing again.
rough gyspy
~
–A.S.
Advertisements

Sky-Falling Gold

*You know it’s exam time when you blog twice a day. Something about academic examinations increases my appetite to write… de-stressing? – I never understood it. That’s IT, Aya; I’m getting Noor to change my password for the next two weeks. Sorry Mr. WordPress, I just need some space.

IT IS ALMOST MID-APRIL, spring supposedly- and yet it has been snowing all day today and tomorrow probably. Many Montreal folks are annoyed, because, well… snow, rain or anything wet falling from the sky is generally looked down upon as a bad and inconvenient thing. But what if we looked at falling water as falling gold?

Narrated Sahel Ibn Sa’ad (RA): that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said:

‘Two will not be rejected: Supplication when the Adhan (call of prayer) is being called, and at the time of the rain’. [Abu Dawud & ibn Majah] 

snowflake

(Written Apr.12/13, on the bus at 2:44 PM)

Sky-Falling Gold

~

Some complain of snow

Some complain of the cold

But what falls from the sky

Is much more golden than gold

Blessings from the sky

Yet we turn a blind eye

We instead express our disgust

When we could turn our sins into dust

We could pray to alleviate someone’s pain

But instead we scowl and frown on that rain

We could thank God instead of making a fuss

(It’s not like He’s throwing rocks down at us!)

A time to be grateful,

Yet we just complain

We could be making precious du’aa

For major beneficial gain

But it’s easier to grumble

Roll your eyes and shake your head

You may regret not taking advantage of this

When you’re long gone and dead

Don’t delay being

Grateful to your Lord

Let your heart live out

The ‘alhamdulileh’ word.

contemplative leaves

And Allah knows best.

A.S.

The Ideal Masjid

cloud mosque

Currently, masjids’ current functions specialize in providing services for taraweeh and jumuaa prayers, Ramadan iftars, and halaqas revolving around tajweed & Quranic studies for people of all ages. From my point of view, the overwhelming majority of mosques in North America excel in providing worship-services; this is praiseworthy mashaAllah and an immense accomplishment.

But sadly, in Montreal (the only place I can speak of, though I am sure in much of Canada and the States it is the same thing), mosques  have truly failed at being community centres.

One can argue and debate if a mosque really should play the role of a community center… I mean…

 

Isn’t serving as a prayer space for the few very elderly 10 men who show up daily enough?

… I don’t think so.

 

Isn’t gathering Muslims together a couple of times a year for Ramadan and Eids enough?

…  It’s nice, but…

 

Isn’t it providing already essential services like halaqas to allow for young teenage Muslims to get in good company and learn the deen… enough?

… Well– it would be… IF PEOPLE ACTUALLY CAME AND BENEFITED FROM SUCH SERVICES, and if the kids who attended these things weren’t doing so solely because their parents forced them to!

 —

I am writing this article because it upsets me– so often am I disappointed– at the way Islam is treated all too often by many Muslims. It is perceived as a Sunday-school-at-church thing— “we don’t have to teach our kids about how Islam is a beautiful way of life, we don’t have to even teach them how to speak Arabic though we, the parents, are native Arabs and can speak it perfectly wellkhalas! Why trouble ourselves! Send them to the much dreaded Arabic Saturday school along with a million other kids where they can learn Quran in a classroom setting of 30 kids by 1 exhausted teacher, and hope they come out as shuyookh someday.”

Interestingly, it’s ironic to note– my mother taught the three eldest of us the Arabic alphabet and language. I remember when we wanted to slack off, she would use this threat: “Should I register you in Arabic classes on Saturdays?!” That was all it took to get us back on our feet! 😀 Luckily such threats were not needed when I taught the rest of my siblings Arabic because I always made sure there was a stash of candy and stickers nearby as external motivation. (They knew I didn’t have the authority to register them in Saturday classes…) All that is to say: is it any wonder why  so many of these kids who spent their childhoods in mosques and classes run by them, never again attend halaqas at CEGEP or university?

birdsss

There is something wrong with the way Islam is viewed– as a cultural practice, as a second language to learn, as a hobby– and I strongly believe that when mosques only provide strictly worship services that may often not seem relevant to the younger generations, it emphasizes that Islam = strict worship. Now since there’s the misconception that worship excludes all activities save praying and fasting, etc., all too often, mosques are never visited or gone to on a normal basis, nor is any effort put into making them places worthy of spending time in beyond the Eids and Ramadan taraweeh nights.

I admit it: I, too, only go to mosques during Ramadan. I tried, once, praying ‘asr at a mosque that was on my way to somewhere, an hour or so after it had come in. And guess what? It was locked. So much for my plans of spiritual isolation in the middle of the day in a House of God…

I am speaking all this of personal experience, and of knowing many people who have gone through this. These are not trauamatic experiences of course, but rather, there are wonderful experiences being missed, opportunities being unseized, because of the unquestioned way of how things are. Only a couple of months ago, a friend told me she was surprised MSAs in Montreal were not holding academic competitions for Muslim teenagers– and I thought, wow, how much can an MSA do? Apparently many MSAs in Toronto serve the wider community well outside the university campus, and it made me realize just how much pressure is often put on MSAs. But this makes sense,  for they are the closest thing to a “real” community of Muslims coming together for social, religious, and educational services, with no cultural barriers accommodating only certain groups. Is there no other alternative, though? Or rather– can mosques help fulfill these needs as well?

 I think they can, and they should.

I personally never attended masjid halaqas on a consistent level– however I attended one session once last year… and it was compiled of around 15 women well above 50 years old. Even though I was 22 years old, a young woman myself, I felt very much under the microscope and alienated; I was being spoken to ever so kindly (a little too kindly, like I was a child), questioned on my current educational background, age, and country of origin and– I mean, it was OK, I guess. It just felt odd because to them, I was very young and it was fascinating that I would take the time to sit with them (the fascination died down a little when it became apparent I came with my mother… but still.) Now there is nothing wrong with young ladies hanging out with women their mother’s ages, and with young men hanging out with men their grandfather’s ages– tons of wisdom can be acquired, no doubt!-  but let’s be fully honest. Young girls and guys, particularly around the ages of 12-18 years old, prefer to learn with people they can relate to. (I know I keep emphasizing the youth here, but I really believe they are the most important segment of society to focus on. Sadly, they are given the least services and the least consideration in decision making.) For the past decade, I have (and still do) attend a girls’ halaqa in Arabic, and subhanAllah, there are bonds formed in such settings where you meet to remember your Lord, and you learn to love one another solely for that, that is precious and impossible to find in a one-time event, no matter how big-scale. This makes me ponder: for girls (and especially boys!) who are unable to find such convenient knowledge settings in the comfort of someone’s home– what are they to do, and how dare the older generations make snide remarks about how corrupt the youth is becoming? It was by sheer luck that my friend’s husband told me about an all-boys’ halaqa at the mosque near my house, of which my 17-year old brother enjoys going to now alhamdulileh; they not only do a relevant lecture/discussion, but then they all either go out for halal fast food or they play a sport. But seriously, what would he be doing Friday nights if there wasn’t that option? For such young people without proper resources and an understanding of religion, what is a mosque to them except as an ‘older people’ thing? What is a mosque to them except a prayer space (which, mind you, is not very inviting if they don’t even do all their prayers on time)?

Why can’t it be a community place for the entire community?

boy rdng quran

There are so many ways, and some very easy ones, to perk up a masjid’s liveliness and get a wider Muslim community involved. Starting off small and casually with various activities with the simple purpose of having people around the mosque be something normal, and not a one-year phenomenon, even if it is not religion-based- and then hopefully, when halaqas and worthy lectures come up, it won’t be the same older men and women who keep showing up (though they are more than welcome to keep attending, of course!)  I am going to list random ideas that I’ve been discussing lately with  my sister and, hopefully when I start getting more involved in my mosque in whatever way I can, I will have more fruitful discussions with other people as well.

Some examples in no particular order of importance or urgency, are listed:

  • SPORTS: if it’s too demanding to organize tournaments, having something as simple as a basketball net in the back of a mosque’s courtyard is a welcoming first start.

  • GOING DIGITAL: In the modern world, technology is a huge deal. And it is especially convenient to keep people informed of one’s activities, halaqas and any other endeavors. Facebook, Twitter, listserves, and for God’s sake– if you have a website, please keep it UPDATED! And further, if you have an email to be contacted upon, DO CHECK THE EMAIL! I subscribed to a mosque’s newsletter once and checked out their website from its link. I was stunned to see that for this “big” masjid (in comparison with other ones in the area) its website was so outdated and unprofessional, it gave off a very bad first impression of the masjid (if indeed it had been my first impression). Instead, I emailed the mosque, recommending them to update the website and actually send out news on the listserv (I got an automated one every 2 weeks reminding me I am subscribed, but never once has it ever sent me any news. Completely useless). I eventually got tired of the spam and unsubscribed.

  • COUNSELLING SERVICE: There is so much emphasis by parents on their kids to turn out to be either doctors or engineers, yet other fields that equally matter in creating a healthy flourishing society such as psychologists, artists, electricians, etc, are often ignored. Yet the hard truth is, Muslim families have also problems, and something I’ve heard again and again is- “you shouldn’t speak out; it gives Muslims a bad name”.  Well. For all the paranoid people out there, wouldn’t having practicing, knowledgeable, accessible Muslim psychologists be a good thing? Or is it bad in general to admit that some Muslim people also have issues that need to be dealt with? Associating oneself with a perfect religion does not make one perfect. There is nothing wrong with seeking help or advice on a particular issue; and how convenient would it be to have your local mosque provide such a counselling service? You don’t need to be crazy to speak to someone, it can even be seeking advice for careers or what not.

  • SOCIAL EVENTS: My friend once tried asking my masjid if she could start a mini cooking class. It was nearing Ramadan and she thought it would be neat to try and teach new recipes and desserts– cooking is one of her favorite hobbies. But for whatever reason, be it he did not think such a class fit the “role” of a mosque, or if it was financial reasons– the imam turned down her suggestion. And it made me think, that if something as simple and useful as a cooking class that the young lady herself was willing to organize was deemed not worthy of a mosque’s services– is it no wonder there are never any social events just for Muslims in the community to come and bond with one another?

  • SPACE FOR KIDS: There are some people who angrily grumble that those who have kids should stay home with them. But do we want to alienate kids from the houses of God and then dump them there first thing at 10 years old to pray an entire set of 10 taraweeh prayers, then expect them to enjoy going to the mosque on their own? I think a space for kids is needed, instead of hushing at them all the time and making them feel unwelcome and annoying. Men perhaps have less of a problem with this, but on the women’s side, it can sometimes be a zoo. I know there is one mosque in the States that actually made a glass-walled, soundproof room for kids; imagine that! You can see your child having fun with the other kids, all the while not disrupting dedicated worshipers. (Double thumbs up!) However, in the more common case in which building a glass room is not feasible, there should be a dedicated day care service for them that is not shaky, such as based only on volunteers that aren’t running on a pre-determined schedule. Basically, they should have a set amount of people to look after the kids, keep them entertained as a top priority– because what I have seen happen is that the “organizer” of the daycare will call up all the single young ladies she knows a day before, and ask her to skip taraweeh the next day to look after the other women’s kids. (Um, no. Ramadan is once a year and I’m not missing taraweeh more than twice a week to look after other peoples’ kids! I already spend my free time looking after my own siblings. Sorry, it’s a no, even if you are offering to pay me.) I hate this tactic because it makes you feel guilty to say no, yet you kick yourself after when you say yes. Solution? Structure the system in advance so that you have a schedule of when willing and dedicated volunteer (OR PAID) babysitters will be looking after the kids. From experience of what I have seen, much of the time people who say yes, do so because they’re asked directly and they feel bad no one else is accepting the task. There needs to be consistency, organization, and pay people if necessary.

  • MATCHMAKING: I’m personally not a big fan of this, but I know lots of people are in need (and want) this. After all, such a service would at least give men and women who are seeking marriage and know absolutely no one (i.e. perhaps are new to the area or simply never interact) a means to be proactive and find someone. (Gentlemen, we are in Canada. Phone call proposals through your mothers  to complete female strangers’ mothers is really… not cool to a lot of people.) You might be thinking, wait– this marriage service already exists, doesn’t it? Sure it does; and there is nothing wrong with having a halal matchmaking service similar to what is already going on in mosques. The trouble with the current ones are, not enough people know about them; and since people don’t go to the mosques on a common basis, it’s really hard being able to gather information on a total stranger that you’re getting to know through it. If a random, well-meaning, overly hopeful woman hadn’t tried getting me to sign up for it in a waiting room once (I politely declined), I honestly would never have known such a service existed in my very own mosque.

  • LANGUAGE ISSUES: I get it that Arabs speak Arabic, Pakistanis speak Urdu, Persians speak Farsi, etc. I understand (though don’t necessarily appreciate) why masjids are separated based on language. But whatever the languages are, the speakers of those languages are one community, part of one Ummah. Why not have combined events (i.e. iftars by two mosques together, intermosque Quran competitions, pen pal system to gain ideas, sports tournaments, even the matchmaking services, etc)? It seems Muslims have isolated themselves into their own groups, but the newer generations of Muslims here are very often not like their parents. They interact with all and everyone.

I, for example, went to an English school system in which the very few sprinkles of Muslims I knew were Pakistani (because Arabs tended to go to the French system)… so when I went to the Arabic-speaking masjid, did I know anyone? Did I make any lasting friendships there? Besides the Arabs I already knew from my halaqa, no, I did not. If it weren’t for amazing interactions found from the efforts of the MSAs in CEGEP and university, I am not sure who I’d be right now. I think segregating Muslims based on language is very, very destructive. I’ve been to SO MANY Pakistani weddings and parties in which the Salah sisters are almost the only Arabs. The reason? Apparently “you Salah sisters aren’t like other Arabs, you’re not stuck up.” … Excuse me? Yet I’ve heard the same thing coming from some Arabs, that brown people are stuck up! And it always shocks me because I can’t think of any stuck-up Pakistani and Indian friends. PUH-LEASE. Segregating yourselves and trying to find an excuse such as looking down on another group of people, is the definition of stuck-up.

  • FUS7A ARABIC: Regarding the classical and authentic Arabic dialect… Keep in mind the new generation: Arab youth don’t necessarily understand fus7a. Particularly the ones who grew up in the West and were not exposed to Arabic cartoons and historical Syrian drama TV series. Getting a hang on fus7a Arabic admittedly takes time. I can say by experience, it wasn’t cartoons or Arabic grammar books that taught me fus7a—it was serious studying of the Quran tafsir at my Friday halaqa. I remember in my first few weeks, I felt like I was in a different country and a different culture– the woman is Palestinian, but when she did tafseer, it was in fus7a alright. I eventually got the hang of it, but not so well that I can read absolutely anything in fus7a and immediately understand it. At the same time I am not discouraging fus7a Arabic in mosques—I just think it needs to be flexible, there needs to be a balance. What is the purpose? is the question to keep in mind always. In khutbas, for example, where the purpose is to get a noble message across: going for the more recognized dialect would likely attract the best of both worlds. I remember a few years back, I was almost as clueless as my non-Arab friends when the sheikh talked in fus7a Arabic in the brief break between the taraweeh prayers– yet I had no trouble understanding him when he spoke in Egyptian Arabic dialect (and we’re not even Egyptian! But there are enough Egyptian movies, songs and shows out there to get the hang of it.)  So my suggestion is not to neglect fus7a– definitely not!– just keep in mind who the audience is and where the most benefit will be gained.

  • ACTIVE PARTICIPATION: Is there space for that? How can one get in touch with the people who seem to be “on board”, and how can one join? Who does one contact to get his/her voice heard? These things are not made public, I suppose they must be sought out. At my mosque, there is a physical barrier separating the men and women, so forget access to the sheikh for questions. There are usually 2 much elder women who sort of “are in charge”– but if you can’t find them, because they blend with everyone else, then who hears you? Solution: Have a feedback slot box. Better yet, get a functional listserv, activate that website, check those emails, and when these basic things are done, get that Twitter account and Facebook page rolling!

I can go on and on.

My purpose in this extremely long article is not to point out flaws, but to also suggest solutions. And my proposal of solutions is not so that I may criticize the outcome of their implementation, but I want to somehow be involved in implementing them. I have no idea where to start, though– but inshaAllah I will start soon.

Ok, so I got tired of the show Little Mosque On The Prairie by the 3rd season, but I have to admit- I loved LMOTP’s vision of a mosque. An entire community with all their differences and humorous judgements came together under one masjid roof and learn to love one another for the sake of God. I wish something like this existed in Montreal. And I know this blog post and my futile efforts aren’t going to create it;  but it’s a nice ideal to strive for and keep in mind as the bigger picture.

entrance

And Allah knows best.

A.S.

الحفيظ: The Preserver

elegant allahu akbar

Allah (God) has many names, only 99 of which are revealed to us. Although none of us will truly ever know Him as much as we wish to (or think we do), it is through His mercy, love and grace that we are able to appreciate, in whatever small capacity, His attributes.

But appreciation cannot come about without some deliberate contemplation. For example, you will not be grateful to someone who has done you kindness if you don’t pause for a moment and acknowledge that this person went out of his way to be kind to you– that it was not your ‘right’ to receive such acts in the first place. This is one of many reasons that endless problems happen in relationships of all sorts– there are way too many expectations of what is ‘rightfully’ due, but very little reciprocity or even minimum appreciation for the other.

Back to appreciating God’s attributes: they need to be reflected upon for one to even come close to ‘appreciating’ them, or we will simply take everything for granted until it is gone. (I put that word in quotes because I am pretty sure our impressions of so-called appreciation for His Greatness are seriously lacking in a whole lot of respects– time moves on and you always realize there is more and more to appreciate. One day inshaAllah… but until then, may He forgive us all for our short-sightedness.)

The whole purpose of my existence should be:

I want to know You, God; I want to know You to deepen my love for You and to take sweeter pleasure in worshiping You for no other reason than the fact you are You. But the big question is… who are You? Knowledge of You is an infinite ocean and I have absorbed but a fallen raindrop of it. I know You are my Lord, the All-Merciful, the All-Powerful, the Most-Generous… etc etc etc… But what does this all mean? Why have You revealed some of Your names, what benefit is there for us out of it?

I strongly believe that through contemplating and studying His attributes, one can better recognize deficiencies in one’s self and strive to be a better individual by implementing virtues he/she may not have realized the significance of. For example… one of His names is الحليم (The Forbearing). How would one implement this beautiful characteristic in his/her own life? The answer is not immediately apparent, it needs some thinking.

Al-Haleem is a whole other topic on its own, but right now, I will share some things I learned (so so little of it, but shareable none the less!) about the name Al-Hafeeth – The Preserver. The sources for what follows next is a mix of some Quranic verses that contain words from the root word حفظ, and an audio lecture by Sheikh Rateb el-Nabulsy from a website with his recordings on Allah’s other names (definitely worth checking out). The notes may be a bit chopped off and all, and it’ll randomly fluctuate from English to Arabic to English again because I was getting too sleepy to translate everything– just bear with me, please. 🙂

frosted trees

 

Al-Hafeeth

 

What does this name basically mean? The Arabic language is a rich treasure I have yet to really dig deep into, but scratching a bit on the surface from a mo3jam, I thought this was a good start to understanding:



Al-Hafeeth (The Preserver) here is often linked with Al-Raqeeb (The Watchful One).

According to dictionary.com, ‘preserve’ means to



Doesn’t the above descriptions alone already give you a sense of relief inside? Knowing you have the One Being that is keeping you alive and lasting, making sure you are safe, to protect you and spare you the wretchedness of evils… He must indeed be a Watchful One, who never sleeps or forgets to keep your heart beating relentlessly, even when you forget your own existence in your sleep…

إذا حفظك الله، سخر لك كل شيء. فالله خيرٌ حافظاً

The glorious ayat-al kursi (Qur’an 2:225) makes this attribute even more explicit:


Such a powerful verse, I don’t think the full impact of it has really hit me yet… ~

sad but beautiful

So what else does God preserve besides the heavens and the earth (as if anything more needs to be said or questioned!) You know… {brief rant coming up} It continues to boggle my mind that there are those who refuse in the existence of a Greater Being. Yet they will not deny that the heavens and the earth exist, but they will (basically, it comes down to) deny that there is some One who is preserving them to exist in the first place. {rant over} Glory be to God … سبحان الله

 

… الله هو الذي يحفظلك مالك، و أولادك

…الله يحفظ خلقه

… هو الذي يحفظ كرامتك، عقلك ، سمعتك، دينك

 … هو الذي حافظ القرأن في لوحٍ محفوظ

This list is not exhaustive at all. It is amazing that this characteristic, this one word, has been popping up time and time again both in writing and speech, yet I never really pondered on it. Now that I am, it seems to be everywhere! The times I use the word حفظ has usually been in relation to memorizing something… like a hafeeth of the Quran, for example.

Speaking of memorization– a strong memory is one of the most greatest of blessings (الذاكرة القوية هي من أعظم النعمة). There is a difference between a strong memory and a clever mind (ذكاء والذاكرة شيءٌ مختلفاً). But it intrigues me how very often it’s treated as the same thing… if one has both a clever mind and a strong memory, he will indeed have the best of both worlds. Imam al-Ghazali, for example, a wise and clever man, reportedly wrote his entire book الأحياء out of pure memory. (MashaAllah)

Additionally, we know that the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) would memorize each ayah as soon as it was revealed to him.

In general, people tend to memorize that which is personally meaningful to them. You may find someone whose last concern is seeking knowledge, remembering family birthdays, cannot focus on academics no matter what– yet he is completely up to date with hot gossip, celebrity scandals and knows the lyrics to every popular (however horribly sung) song.

Long story short: الشي الذي تهتم فيه، تحفظه

I must admit, this correlation, if it is indeed a fact (and I have reason to believe it is)… makes me feel terrible. There is a lot of stuff I should be memorizing, or at least keep memorized, if I consider it so important… Allah, I seek Your help in using whatever cleverness I may possess to selectively memorize, and retain that memory, of that which pleases You… إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين

A nice cute tip Sh. Rateb el Nabulsy gave, that I will be taking to heart no matter what gathering I am sitting in: always have a small notebook and pen with you. Always. اكتب أجمل ما قرأت، واحفظ أجمل ما كتبت

Now you might know God is The Preserver and you might believe it in your mind– but until it has settled deeply into your heart, the knowledge will not benefit you when you most need it. Prophet Yaqoub, for example, definitely understood the significance of Allah being الحفيظ. When his sons asked to bring his other son to the market on (unknown then) Prophet Yusuf’s order, he replied with “Should I entrust you with him except [under coercion] as I entrusted you with his brother before? But Allah is the best Guardian, and He is the most Merciful of the merciful.” (Qur’an 12:64)

الله خيرٌ حافظاً وهو أرحم الراحمين

 before_winter_begins-wallpaper-1920x1200

With such high trust in Allah’s power, does this mean that one can become lazy and await the pleasures of this world and the next to easily come to his feet? Most definitely NOT; this would be doing the exact opposite of the inspiration for this blog post– reflecting on His attributes. In neglecting to reflect, one ceases to appreciate, and hence becomes arrogant with the haughty assumption that good things are rightfully owed to him, as opposed to him taking the means in good cheer and with God’s pleasure as his purpose.

جميل أن تأخذ بالأسباب، ولكن أجمل من ذلك أن تأخذ بالأسباب و تعتمد على الله الواحد القهار

I have a slight tendency to go off topic when I get excited, and I hope that’s not the case here. In case it is, though, maybe I should wrap up (this blog post is longer than I anticipated, woops) and pose one final question:

How can one implement the characteristic of  حفظ in one’s daily life?

Going back to your own heartbeat while you are alive; let us unnecessarily point out that at this moment, as you read this, your heart is beating. It is taking absolutely no effort on your part. God is preserving that.

Additionally, He is consistent in preserving your sanity, your health, your mind– all these things you have no control over.

God is consistent in protecting you, with no pauses or breaks or forgetfulness. We should do the same in good deeds: better a page of Quran everyday than 200 pages the night of (the assumed) laylat al-Qadr. Better smile in the face of your parents several times a day and tell them how much they mean to you, every day, than show them your pearly whites and express your love on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

As the hadith goes, God loves the deed which is done regularly, even if small:

أحب الأعمال إلى الله أدومها وإن قل

The day after I listened to the Al-Hafeeth lecture, I went on the bus, pulled out my Qur’an, and flipped to a random page. I ended up on surat al-Mu’minoon (chapter 23), and the first 10 verses gave me chills as God was describing the attributes of the successful believers. All these attributes had a certain connection to preserving something, and I will briefly list them in order here:

  1. They who are in their prayers humbly submissive (preserve khushoo’)

  2. They who turn away from ill speech (preserve their speech and listening for good only)

  3. They who are observant of zakah (preserve their money for good use and purification)

  4. They who guard their chastity (preserve themselves except for spouses)

  5. They who fulfill promises and trusts (preserve their words)

  6. They who carefully maintain prayers (preserve them)

All of the above points can each be elaborated on extensively. However, what caught my eye immediately was the way this section describing the successful believer begins and ends with… prayer.

Perhaps for many of us, we can let out a relieved sigh and say, Well, I got 2/6 from that list! But do you really? (Question directed to myself first and foremost)

I mean, you might be praying five prayers everyday, but are you just rushing through them or are you carefully (#6) in the moment of every letter you utter? Do you pray in a half-state of mind or are you fully submissive and humble to your Lord (#1)? These questions’ importance can never be emphasized enough. Without prayer, and praying it right– I believe the characteristic of hifth will be lacking in our lives.

Mankind can be in either of two states in any day: either he will be in a state of abandonment from His Lord if he chooses to abandon Him, or he will be enjoying the protection of His Lord (and it is so sweet when one is actually aware of it).

أما تكون في حالة تولي، أو في حالة تخلي

 

May Allah make it easy for us to appreciate His attributes and instill in us the desire, will and capacity to recognize them in our lives and let that change us for the better… the better of ourselves, for the better of humanity, and for our very own salvation…

… اللهم دائماً نكون في حالة التولي

Ameen.

wa huwa ma3akum

–A.S.

9 Years – الحمد لله

I think I’m the only person who celebrates something called a “hijab anniversary.” So be it: Happy 9th Hijab Anniversary me! 😀 Incidentally, I woke up with this song in my head this morning, quite fittingly. 

*Dedicated to Rana who wore it the same day I did– Happy 9th Hijab Anniversary, Rana!

It’s so interesting to hear people’s hijab stories. Unfortunately, mine is not particularly exciting, but time and time again, I am asked to tell it anyways- and what better timing to relieve those memories than today? So here it is.

  9 years.

yellow black hijab

One Monday morning, April 5, 2004, I had a truly inspiring dream. It was simple really- I was merely wrapping a hijab around my head, and it felt as natural and normal as putting on a pair of socks- like, there wasn’t anything strikingly bizarre in that dream– but when I woke up, the sudden surge of inexplicable confidence and determination to do something I wasn’t thinking of doing until a decade later was overwhelming.

I went to the kitchen, found my mother, and casually told her I wanted to wear hijab.

“That’s great to hear! When?” she asked.

“Today,” I replied.

She was completely taken aback– she hadn’t seen that coming. I didn’t either.

“Um,” she said hesitantly. “Don’t you think you’re a bit young?” (I looked younger, too.) “This isn’t something you rush, Aya. It’s a serious decision and not something you do on impulse. You don’t want to regret it. Think it through, you have plenty of time. Maybe wait until you hit CEGEP at least?”

Hmm. Maybe I should wait… *slightly relieved*

In an odd secret way, I felt a small guilty pleasure that I didn’t have to wear it after all right then and there. Although I meticulously plan out the details of my life, I also have a fondness for spontaneity– but I decided that maybe, just maybe, today wasn’t the day for it.

Was I even ready to face the world as I knew it through completely new eyes? I wasn’t sure about that. I wasn’t sure if I ever could be.

You see, I KNOW it’s just a piece of material. I KNOW it’s not a suit of armor, nor is it a bed of nails I’m about to tread upon. I KNOW it’s not the ultimate sacrifice and I KNOW it’s not the defining factor of a Muslim woman’s identity.

But I also knew that to the outside world, it’s not just a piece of material. It’s not just a fashionable scarf creatively wrapped around a head. Instead, it comes with a whole bunch of symbolism and uncharacteristic character traits that are somehow supposed to automatically label any Muslim woman. Thus, a new hijabi not only has to modify her lifestyle in terms of clothing and what not, but she also has to deal with people treating her like a different species under a microscope, with trying to find a balance between disproving the negative connotations of oppression and pitying conclusions associated with her actually freely-worn attire, between trying to demonstrate just what it really does stand for, and simply being herself and being accepted for it.

So on Monday, April 5 (coincidentally my dad’s birthday), nothing particularly special happened. I put on one of my typical humongous earrings, fixed my hair, added the eyeliner and had a normal day of classes.

But I couldn’t really focus. The compliments that came my way for the earrings didn’t bring me the tinge of satisfaction they usually did.

It’s just not right, I thought. I knew that I was mentally ready to wear the hijab. Some women do it earlier, some later, some not at all, and each has her own personal reasons for doing so; none has a reason to judge the other. No hijabi can judge a non-hijabi, and no non-hijabi can judge a hijabi. Besides God’s ultimate judgment, each woman can only judge herself.

Looking into myself, I realized my reasons for postponing again and again really came down to one thing:

I was choosing to conform to society’s values over God’s command in the Qur’an; even though in a different context, in a different country or with different people, I wouldn’t have hesitated in a heartbeat. My current feelings of powerlessness to determine something as simple as choosing to move the scarf from the neck to the hair made me realize that indeed, I was a slave to the wrong idol. I felt a sudden loathing to my weakness, and I couldn’t bring myself to respect myself.

I knew I needed purification and improvement on myself in a whole bunch of areas, but they were all internal things, soul-deep things, between me and God– and I figured that

if I couldn’t conquer the external tangible VISIBLE distractions that were preventing me from worshipping Him to the fullest,

there was no way, in a million years, I could conquer the invisible beast within me called the ego, or conquer the evil my nafs whispers.

I recently heard this outstanding quote from Tariq Ramadan, and I completely fell in love with it because it completely applies to this situation:

۞ 

“I don’t want to be accepted. I would rather respect myself.” 

۞ 

My 14-year old self didn’t know how to eloquently and briefly think it like that, though– she instead thought,

Oh, what the heck. Screw what people might think, do or say. I’ve had enough of caring about other people who are never satisfied with you anyways. You will never please everybody– in fact, you will never please even one person entirely. The only Being you can please is God, because even when you’re short of fulfilling your obligations, He at least knows your efforts and takes every little detail into account, from the invisible in your heart and mind to the visible of your limbs– He knows all. And that suffices for me.

I seriously needed guts. It was no wonder I couldn’t respect myself, and my self-esteem was dependent on what other people thought of me…

So I got home Monday afternoon and told my mother I was going to wear it the next day after all. She was both pleased but still hesitant- she wasn’t sure what our experience would be like. She suggested I speak to my father about it.

(I still smile to this day at his reaction… and my non-Muslim friends find it incredible he didn’t force me to wear it, nor did he even request it. He certainly did not fit the typical father-forcing-his-daughter-or-he-will-murder-her-or-at-least-throw-acid-on-her-face propaganda that had ludicrously been circulating around at that time.)

So I told him I wanted to wear hijab. (And you ain’t gonna stop me, I’d added silently.) He merely looked from me to my older sister Rana (who decided she would wear it when I did, it would be fun exchanging stories), and then shrugged and said, “If they want, they can go ahead. But you do have a lot of time– you’re still quite young. And you realize this is a lifelong decision, right?” he asked us.

“Yes yes,” we both nodded.

He was silent for a moment as he looked at our eager faces, then gave a reassuring grin to my mother, who still looked a bit uncertain. “Let them,” he said simply. “They can handle it.”

And so it began.

bird takeoff

Tuesday morning, April 6, 2004, smack in the middle of the year and smack in the middle of a totally random week, I picked out my favorite hijab at the time, which was sky-blue with white hazy swirls that actually looked like blurry clouds. It was a perfect match to the sunny day it was.

I am amazed how accurate my dream was. Indeed I got looks and stares and some perplexed reactions, but that was all expected and done mostly by strangers whom I never cared about anyways. But my friends! They continued interacting with me like nothing different happened. Instead of the compliments that used to come for my many exotic earrings, I was getting them for the many exotic hijabs instead, so even that aspect didn’t change.

What I found most intriguing was that, for my closest friends, it took them almost five minutes of speaking with me before they realized there was something different about me. We’d be talking casually before she’d give a small jump and say, “Oh my God– you’re wearing the hijab!” or “Oh my, I just noticed– you’re wearing the headscarf! I didn’t notice!”

(Normal and natural – hijab? Oh, you betcha. Dreams aren’t always just dreams.)

I think it’s been from that day on I’ve been seeing the world from a different lens, a different perspective. And in doing so, I’ve been having a different and healthier relationship with my own being. I can’t explain it exactly– I know it’s just a scarf– but for me, that scarf was self-empowering in every way I thought it might disempower me due to society’s standards. It, too, also came with a whole bunch of (positive) symbolism and expectations to me, and with a sweet responsibility that I have yet to properly fulfill.

It hasn’t all been flowery. I can’t say what my intentions were back then, crystal-clear definite, because my intentions have changed and fluctuated over the years. It’s out of His mercy He allows one to fix intentions even after starting the journey of purification.

Did I become the perfect Muslim woman 9 years ago? Definitely not. But I can honestly and truly say that

9 years ago, I decided to stop caring about people that don’t care about you

9 years ago, I learned the difference between want and need

9 years ago, I learned to properly prioritize

9 years ago, I made the first long-term decision of my life

And

I have

Never. Regretted it. Not for a single second.

For 9 years, I’ve been in constant struggle with myself, with trying to be better and better and sometimes acknowledging to myself that I’m really really bad despite it all, but I’m trying my best and God, does He know it! Contrary to what some might perceive it to be, hijab is not the ‘icing’ on the cake; it is not a mark of having perfected faith. It is just the beginning of a long, difficult journey– as all journeys to worthy destinations inevitably are.

الحمد لله

May your journeys be ever so smooth as you get closer and closer to His loving Presence. Amen!

birds hijab disintegrate

Wishing you all sweet dreams that one day become a reality 🙂

Peace  ஐ

A.S.