“Irrelevant” To Me

Dedicated to Rwan, who is one of the most amazing listeners in the world; who, in being so, allows me to speak my unspoken, complicated thoughts out loud into coherent words. The powerful tranquility of being still, and not at war with yourself… she helps me arrive there.

Graffiti Art

As someone who has been involved in several things for quite some time, it is inevitable that as you live through more experiences, life builds you an ever higher mountain of responsibilities and self-expectations to climb. To climb it well and avoid stumbling every other step, you often have to lighten the load of your heavy backpack that is carrying too many attachments. It is some of these attachments that are weighing you down from reaching the top and seeing the full picture of where you are best meant to be.

This was something I’ve struggled with in the past year – this backpack of too many commitments to others, and not enough to myself. I have (or had – new person is I!) a hard time saying “no” to volunteering my energy and efforts to causes I care about – even at the expense of caring for my well-being. I have a difficult time declining opportunities to be a part of developing the “community” – even at the expense of developing stronger bonds, and increasing love of the Prophet  , within my own household. As a result, my priorities appear to be skewed.

I thought saying “no” to helping out was a bad, selfish, terrible thing to do. But now I know better.

Hold on, I am not advocating being totally useless in society and volunteering in nothing; I am advocating volunteering where you are needed most, but not to do so at the expense of higher priorities – like your own emotional and spiritual needs. There is a difference between backing out because you have no values except YOLO-ness & self-indulgence, and of having so many principles you fear you aren’t doing justice to. As the hourglass of time reveals, circumstances change, so what was the right initiative to be pouring your heart and soul into a year or even a month ago, may simply no longer be the right one now.

To say it as drastic as it feels, it might now be “irrelevant” to you.

I didn’t have words to describe what I was going through, so naturally I assumed my changes in mood and decreased comfort levels regarding how I was investing my energy in was because I was confused about what I care about in the first place. But now I realize something profound:

You can still care about something even though it’s become “irrelevant” to you. Simply, it can flourish but no longer depend on you to do so; and you are in a state where you must flourish in new ways, without depending on it to help you do so.

Now that doesn’t mean that you should doubt it was ever a worthwhile cause to have ever gotten involved in. On the contrary; it was critical you got involved at the time you did, or you would not be who you are today. The you that first got involved was in need of doing so, it was a necessary part of your journey… but the person you are now, with luck, is not the person you were then. The now you realizes that remaining in the same place that is not taking you further than where it has taken you, becomes irrelevant if it is preventing you from traveling to other places more crucial to your inner and outer growth.

“We must not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” (T.S. Elliot)

Not everyone will understand you when you walk away; but you do not do it for them, or even for your selfish desires; you do it for your relationship with God. You want to make sure you are using every precious second you have to not miss out on opportunities He is granting you, simply because you’re too timid to say “no” to people. To me, staying where you are not needed is not selfless – it is a selfishness of wanting to keep clinging to a title (“activist” / “role model” / “leader”) you do not even crave. It is weakness (and ain’t nobody got time to be weak at the cost of their ultimate happiness.) 

“You can’t be successful with other people

if you haven’t paid the price

of success with yourself” (Stephen Covey).

To strengthen your community, you have to start with the individual: you. Once you are stable and rooted enough to extend the branches, begin with your family, the smallest unit of any community. In time, your selective (but well thought-out) unattaching will serve everyone.

disengage Yasmin tweet

A perfect former example to illustrate what I really mean by “irrelevant to me”: MSA (Muslim Students Association) of McGill. I love it; I loved being an active member on it for consecutive years, and, no exaggeration, I would not have half enjoyed five years of university completing a double bachelor degree had it not been for the warmth and magic of the MSA. Had the MSA not been there for me, and I for it, I cannot imagine who I would be now.

But despite these lovely and meaningful memories, I’ve moved on. I graduated. It doesn’t mean I think the whole purpose of MSAs are lame and useless – not at all! I still believe MSA McGill is as important now as it was half a decade ago, and I still think the MSA is an invaluable student club that serves the broader community as well in enriching ways. So yes, I still care about it. Yet, at this stage of my life, it is also “irrelevant”. If that makes sense… (it does in my head).

At the end of the day, you have a heart that will feel uneasy when it finds the rest of the body clinging to old routines that are stunting your potential in creating unique other change only the spiritually evolving you can make. The key is to evolve when your gut feelings are telling you to be still and honest with yourself. Your heart is talking to you – do the honorable thing, and listen to it!

disrespect your heart

By all means, go ahead and commit to a million causes, but only after committing to the seed that will make all the difference: you. Otherwise your heavy involvement in society might just be a cover of not being involved enough with yourself.

Never forget, change begins from within.

~

And Allah knows best.

-A.S.

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Life’s Unavoidable Plot Twist

Top Hat

By virtue of a thing being called alive, it is assumed that something with life, at some point, will die. It’s so obvious of a fact that I’m embarrassed to be even writing this intro.

But that’s why I’m writing this: sometimes it is the most glaringingly obvious that is the easiest to ignore – whether deliberate or unconsciously. Death is the one complete certainty in any life – regardless what faith you have, what experiences you’ve had, where you are or where you’re going, I’m sure it’s safe to say that we can all agree on one solid point: we are all going to die, at some unknown point in time.

Yet we still never see it coming.

And when we do, ironically we only think that it can be coming for us – because it’s more comforting to acknowledge the death of yourself, as you know how hard you’re trying to be better ;you pray God finds goodness in you you were never arrogant enough to spoil. Every second of being alive is another second to make things right; within your soul, between your fellow brothers and sisters in humanity, and ultimately (what it all ties into from start to end) your devotion and relationship with God. If we do not keep death in the back of our minds as this bleak but definite expected guest, making amends and making the most of every moment might be stalled more than we’d like.

So here’s a plot twist: we expect our own lives will end any moment, but living in a non-violent and relatively safe place, we rarely consider that a dear loved one’s life, or someone that they care about, might die.

Let me share a story with you: When I was a very young girl, my kind-hearted grandmother died (may Allah have mercy on her soul). I did not know her very well – only met her once, that summer before – so I was still unable to comprehend the enormity of the loss. It was only as I grew older and learned stories of her wisdom, strength, courage and bravery that I felt crushed I never truly got to have her a part of my childhood. Her death was not a very sudden occurrence: she was increasingly ill for days before she went back to her Lord. Despite the clarity of where her condition was heading, it was still as shocking of a fact, like a bucket of ice water thrown in your face, for everyone. I remember seeing the adults cry; and after some raw conversations with a family friend whose father passed away earlier this week, I realized something: humanity runs on hope.

No matter how bad things get, with or without knowing it, humans live, breathe, swim and exist in a protective sphere of hope. You never give up hope in those you care about. You never want to even fathom the idea that someone you love, or someone that your loved one loves, could possibly be living one day and buried the next. Somehow our own alive-ness makes things falsely appear as though everyone else’s alive-ness is equally stable. If I’m alive, so must everyone else be… right?

Right?

Alas, it is not such.

I’m writing this to drill it in myself that death is real, death is more real than my conviction that I will wake up tomorrow. Death is more likely to happen than all my wildest dreams and plans that I’m hoping will occur in the future.

I’m not throwing these words on the page to erase all positivity – on the contrary! One doesn’t curl up in despair at the thought of death, but one shouldn’t give it the cold shoulder in the false notion that it can be shrugged away at our mere whim.

Despite the Blinds

Death is the fuel that reminds you

to never stop telling people that you love them,

to never hold grudges against the stupid but well-meaning,

to never hesitate to make the most of a human interaction,

and above all,

to never stop being the best version of yourself that you can be.

 

An elderly person told me yesterday: “I’ve been in Canada for over 25 years. Ooooh, how time flies! It all feels like a day has flown by.”

Death is so real, so undeniable, but easily the most denied thing. No one wants to talk about it (not exactly the most popular dinner party topic) until it hits. But every story has a plot twist, and our lives – one long complicated story – must have its plot twists as well.

The plot twist of life, is death. To God we belong, and to Him we return.

إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ


May God make us steadfast on His love & His pleasure, and surround us with His mercy. Ameen.

 

& Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

Un-Limiting What Education Is, For Me

tweeeeeeeeet rusul

There’s this bizarre notion that education happens only in the classroom, and life happens outside of it. This is why students these days are assigned more homework than ever before – in the name of ‘education’ – without the guaranteed correlation of “more work, better grades”.

Just to make this clear, I am a teacher. And I do give homework because some concepts are best understood through practice problems. But I make the distinction between a healthy “whatever you don’t finish in class, you finish at home” and “here’re 40 questions you must do all evening because my class is your life and I need to make sure you’re always in a state of “learning”” lines.

As a teacher, I take most pride not in teaching facts, but in teaching others how to teach themselves. Only in intrinsic motivation will students bring out the best in themselves and use their knowledge to better the world. Granted I am a very young teacher so I won’t declare I’m accomplishing my ultimate teaching goal, but I am aware of what I’m striving for and in the process of learning how to do so. The best way is to actually go through the process myself.

How am I going through the process? A bit of context first: I graduated from McGill University with a double bachelor a little over a couple years ago, and since then have been of two hearts. One part of me wishes to jump right into a Masters degree (though I still don’t know what); the other is simply in a mood to acquire knowledge from the real world at her own pace. (And yet, I really do miss rigorous learning which requires self discipline!) 

But life throws things in your way for a reason, and it’s really up to you to recognize how to best use them. I am presently working in an edtech company, which is wonderful in the sense I am learning new skills and trends in the education world. At the same time, I’ve been tutoring physics and chemistry on the side for high school and CEGEP level, and this requires me to continuously brush up on old concepts and delve deeper in them than I had back when I was a student. I’ve become aware to this inner part of me that thoroughly enjoys this; not only the tutoring-a-student part, but the preparation and revision that goes into the sessions beforehand. A new-found appreciation for chemistry & physics has blossomed once more!

Looking Down

Knowing that expanding knowledge begins with mastering the basics, I figure the best way to really understand something is to teach it to someone who knows little to nothing about it. Albert Einstein said that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

As an educator, I constantly find myself questioning what is the essence of ‘education’, and what does it mean for someone to be ‘educated’. After all, is the acquiring of facts all of it? I really doubt it: “For thorough understanding, for understanding, you must also know what the significance of a fact is – how it affects the truth you are seeking. You do not know much if all you know is what the fact is.” (Mortimer J. Adler)

And yet, the way I’ve learned science all my life has mostly been about facts from textbooks that reduce enormous concepts into a few sentences, which could make perfect sense if someone had the background information on the research itself. The thing is,

  • Until approximately the end of the nineteenth century, the major scientific books were written for a lay audience.” (How to Read a Book, p.255)

… and then, they no longer were.

Scientific books are now written for other experts in the field. There are pros and cons to all of this, none of which I’m about to delve into. All I mean to point out is, unless one puts the conscious effort to really work into understanding the fundamentals, a surface overview is all they’re going to receive from classrooms. (Side note, that’s not always a bad thing. We don’t need to know everything about everything.)

However, Mortimer J. Adler’s book has made me want to challenge myself to not settle on learning scientific facts from books that have simplified the material, but from the direct scientists’ writings themselves. My Goodreads to-read list has grown considerably with additions such as Opticks by Isaac Newton, among others of his books. Hopefully I can eventually get around to Galileo, too.

What am I going to do exactly? Simply, I will read… well. I will try to understand what I can. I doubt I will become an expert down to every last word, and that isn’t my intention – but I want a fuller picture than I have now. Then, I’m going to create short Youtube videos on concepts I found particularly difficult or fascinating – just to drill it in deep for myself, and shed more light on it for others. I hope with my video-editing skills I can soon start to create videos in other areas, such as religion, ideas and more arts on my Vimeo account.

On another note about refusing to stop growing, I’ll be starting intensive French courses at McGill this month, and my aim is to get as good in French as I can before calling myself perfectly “bilingual”. Then I’m going to dramatically improve my Arabic grammar skills before confidently calling myself “trilingual”. (I mean, I am trilingual in speaking and reading these three languages, but in expressing myself fully in all languages? If I can’t write a poem in the language, I do not deem my level satisfactory. English definitely has the upper hand there.)

Yes sirree, 2016 is the year I make drastic changes to my schedule and assigned priorities for the sake of learning what I always assumed I already know.

2016 is the year I dig deeper into the basics in hopes to more easily get higher in knowledge.

2016 is the year I’m going to stop fantasizing about years ahead because I’m already starting to carry out the now.

2016 is the year I am going to un-limit what education is, for me. Who says it must take place in a classroom? Who knows, perhaps this solo path I’m taking will spark some remarkable ideas for a future Masters. But for this very instant in time, I’m taking it one day at a time.

2016 is going to be great. God willing, inshaAllah, it will be.

In the Backyard

Happy New Years!

 

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.