Love Happens

~
It happens.
.
Love happens when you’re not seeking it in someone else.
.
Love happens while you’re seeking other things, like self-respect, dignity and integrity.
.
Love happens when you’re too busy loving yourself that you ain’t got time to wonder why Mr. Right hasn’t found you yet.
.
Love happens while you’re doing your most important life work, in the present moment.
.
Love happens when you live life as boldly and unapologetically you as possible.
.
Love happens while you love other people.
.
Love happens when you love for the sake of God, and no lower purpose.
.
Love happens while you’re awake, while you’re asleep, and while you dream.
.
Love happens when your world revolves around what is and not what if.
.
Love happens while you are.
.
Love happens when you be.
.
Love happens.
And the All-Loving One knows Best.
A.S.
Advertisements

Between Worlds, Never to Belong

oil painting

“Under the Olive Tree” – Oil painting by Aya Salah (2017)

Perhaps it is fate, and perhaps it is destiny.
Perhaps it was always meant to be this way, and perhaps it simply never was. I don’t know. What I do know, is that for most of the time, I do not feel like I fully (physically) belong anywhere.
Belongingness is a complicated abstract concept. Do you belong with your heart, with your yearning, or with concrete memories that physically connect you to a place?
I can’t be the only one who hangs in midair, between worlds, always identifying with both yet never feeling completely embraced in either.
Being a Palestinian Canadian is a most intriguing experience, but it is difficult to describe to someone exactly what it’s like to be a Palestinian in Canada. Having grown up since babyhood and well into adulthood in the marvellous city of Montreal, I can hardly picture myself living anywhere else. Montreal is my home, the bounds of my childhood, the foundation of my character; it is where I feel safe, strengthened, and comfortable to grow.
And yet, I still don’t feel like I fully belong as a Canadian, or that I truly have a right to use this term since I am not originally a native of the land. No matter where I’ve planted my roots, the seeds first and foremost came from Palestinian soil. There is no way to ignore that.
Deep in my aching soul, I keep finding myself yearn for the land and people that had once been, and relentlessly continue to be, a part of me, even way before I was born. It is for this reason I find myself gravitating towards places and experiences in the West that satisfy my nostalgic emotions. I always felt as though a piece of me belonged in the Middle East, on another continent, and that perhaps if I spent more time in both worlds, then Canadian-me and Palestinian-me could comfortably coexist in satisfied harmony.
It was mostly for this reason that I took a great leap of faith, and decided to try living briefly in Palestine. Maybe, just maybe, I could find that missing part of me in new, strange yet vaguely familiar lands.
But alas, belongingness is a far more complicated concept than I ever thought it to be. If only it was simply a matter of physically connecting with a place. The truth (my truth, at least) is… this diaspora situation extends beyond the physical realm. It includes emotional, spiritual, and intellectual (dis)connections at times.
On the surface, I fit in Palestine in a lot of ways. The language, core cultural values of generosity, family, hospitality, and even my self-chosen dress code happen to align quite well with the society I am currently in. But every passing day reminds me how much I do not belong here. Maybe it’s the noticeably different dialect that flows from my lips; maybe it’s the uneasiness I feel at commonplace trashy (yet embraced) values, like cheating and bribery; maybe it’s my constant waves of shock as I learn of occupation and violence that I have obviously never needed to deal with in my own life, and never envisioned I would ever live through.
Fact is, the longer I stay in Palestine, the more I suspect that my heart really belongs in Canada. Yet when I go to Canada, my heart jumps right back across the fence. It’s like it thinks grass is greener on the other side – even when I have been on both sides, where the grass is the same shade of green!
So am I never to belong anywhere? Am I to remain suspended metaphysically between worlds, and realize that no place on Earth can actually ​fill my inner thirst for complete connection? Does anyone actually feel like they belong anywhere, or are we all equally lost, yet too timid to confront the void?
These are a lot of questions that come to mind when I daydream or drift off. Of course, I don’t expect that definite answers exist for them; but they are something to muse over.
Personally, I have no problem with not fully belonging to one single world. Perhaps who I am depends on the very fact I not get blindly attached to one particular worldview. I am a lifelong traveller, travelling between realms of cultures, ideas, controversial histories, intricate experiences and lifestyles.
Perhaps I am never to belong anywhere. 
This constant diaspora, manifested in multiple realms…
And you know what? I am at peace with that.
And God knows Best.
-A.S.
.

Never Enough

guitar

Her blood boiled.

Her head seemed to swell.

She wanted to tell society it was sick –

Though society believed it was well.

Men.

And certain raisers of men.

The extent they believe women empowerment goes

Is learning to lift the pen.

But what happens when

The pen drops is another story.

What she chooses to write decides

The rise or fall of her glory.

For women, it never seems

To be enough.

She grows and grows,

But still she’s made to feel it’s backward she goes.

If she shows her hair, they want her to cover it.

If she covers her hair, they want her to show it.

If her clothes are tight, they want her to loosen them.

If she wears loose clothes, they want her to tighten them.

If she thinks the same as everyone, she is said to have no opinion.

If she has her own opinions, she’s seen as too radical.

 

I think it suffices enough

To say,

That society doesn’t want really want women

To act themselves in their own way.

Her blood boiled.

Her head seemed to swell.

She wanted to tell society it was sick –

Though society believed it was well.

They preach respect of women

As mandated by the faith

But when it comes to her life decisions,

They don’t want her to decide at her own pace.

They preach equality of women and men

As mandated by the faith

But when it comes to implementing this system,

Patriarchy and dominance is the mind state.

So when she tells you her blood is boiling,

And her head feels like it swells

Know it’s because society is sick –

Though it ironically thinks it is well!

——————————————

– A.S.

July.16, 2017

A Ramadan Away from Home

Detail

They keep asking me where I like Ramadan more: in Hebron or Montreal.

They ask as if they’re clueless, but their eager faces betray the fact that they’re sure Ramadan in the East is superior to Ramadan in the West. For many people, it is. For me, I thought it would be, too. But it’s a bit more complicated, as I’ve learned…

They keep asking me which country I enjoy Ramadan most in – Palestine or Canada. What a distressing question for me, if only they knew!

All my Ramadans before 2017 have taken place in sweet, sweet Montreal. In Canada, I am often in crowded rooms being the only one refraining from food and drink. But this has never been an obstacle to having a spiritually and socially enlightening month. In Montreal, I always celebrated Ramadan with my parents and siblings. Being in the company of my two youngest sisters Wisam and Rania during taraweeh is a fundamental part of the night prayer experience. Eating from homemade atayef mostly prepared by my sister Rwan is a delicious and traditional element of the Ramadan vibe. Listening to my brother Mohammed reading Qur’an with me to practice his tajweed is a refreshing pre-iftar routine I love. Driving to the masjid in my dad’s van at fajr time is a luxury I try to take advantage of when I am not too sleepy to stay awake a little while longer after suhoor.
But this year, I am spending Ramadan in a completely different setting. I am fasting and Ramadan-ing it up in my native homeland of Palestine.
It is wonderful here.
The streets are decorated for Ramadan.
The traditional seasonal sweets are sold at every corner.
Everyday you’re invited to an iftar feast.
The athan echoes throughout the day, adding beauty to the wind.
It’s almost perfect.
But where are my multicultural friends’ faces whom I always run into at taraweeh?
Where are those STM bus drivers whom I don’t realize are Muslim, but then loudly exclaim “Ramadan mubarak, salamu alaikum!”
Where is my usual stash of fair-trade 70%+ dark chocolate to break my fast on?
Where is my jar of thick rich honey to sweeten everything the light touches?
Most of all… where are some of my favourite people in the world to break their fasts with me at the exact same time?
See, half my family came with me to Palestine, but I miss the other half. Sorely. I miss my family left back in Canada. Two months have passed but it feels so much longer. As much as I love and adore my relatives and extended family in Hebron, nothing and no one can replace the fondness and nearness that Rwan, Wisam, Rania, Mohammed and my father occupy in my heart.
Half of my heart is literally stuck in Montreal, in an unknown location. Maybe you’ll find it in a smoked salmon bagel cafe like Hinnawi Brothers, in a sushi restaurant like Sushi St.Jean, in a chocolate-loaded place like Coco 70, or in a beehive loaded with honey somewhere…. My heart ironically yearns for the place where the streets are NOT decorated for Ramadan, where Arabic sweets are NOT the norm at every corner, and where the athan is NOT visible from your home but is only heard from the inside the mosques.
And yet, Ramadan in Montreal is absolutely perfect.
In Montreal, the atayef tastes just right. They even look more appetizing! (I have only enjoyed one actual atayef in Palestine this whole month. It just ain’t the same.) Maybe it’s because the hands that make them (Rwan’s) are full of a sacred care no one else can provide. Maybe it’s because the syrup that sweetens the atayef is made by my lovely mother. Maybe it’s because as a family, members of us gather around the Qur’an together and discuss it more frequently as a group than in other times of the year.
And maybe… probably… it’s just because the small group of people in Montreal I love, I love with a fierceness greater than my love combined for everything in Palestine.
atayef

Photo of Rwan’s masterpiece dessert.

Nothing can replace the bond of a sister or brother – so how to explain that as wonderful and gracious that everyone is in Hebron, nothing can replace four sibling bonds… even if those bonds are limited to social media right now with a 7-hour time zone difference. How could people even ask me such a question? It’s infuriating sometimes! Honestly, what a blessing Whatsapp, Messenger, Snapchat, and TextPlus have all turned out to be for me. Thank God!
I don’t mean to be harsh on people. They mean well, and I know it. When people ask me where do I enjoy Ramadan more, they usually assume that my definition of ultimate satisfaction is measured by the number of feasts I attend and number of people I greet. But how to explain that all the pecks, formalities, and kisses on cheeks over several months totalled up, do not amount to even one simple “yo” exchanged with my brother? Do not amount to just one bone-crushing hug with Wisam and Rania? Do not amount to one pre-bedtime rambling conversation with Rwan?
Between you and me, dear reader, here’s my personal truth: Ramadan in Palestine is really nice. But Ramadan in Montreal? It’s just perfect.
All praise to Allah for everything, alhamdulileh. I am blessed to be spending this holy month in a holy land. And thank You for the blessings of technology, which make it easy to keep in constant communication with those physically far, far away from me!
Until we hug again, my friends! Shout out to Mohammed, Rania, Wisam, Rwan and yaba for making me miss you so much. That speaks to how wonderful of human beings you must undoubtedly be.
And God plans Best.
-A.S.

A Poem by Nahida Izzat

This has always been a powerful poem for me when I first read it almost a decade ago. Now, it still applies, but multiplied to other countries on top of Palestine. God be with oppressed people everywhere.

By Nahida Izzat:

So, let me get this straight:

You tear my veil to free me

You jail me to rid me of my terror

You kill my beloved to liberate me

You shoot my baby to erase my misery

You starve me to show me how to vote

You threaten me to bring me to my senses

You wage war on me to help me find peace

You slay my people to teach me compassion

You humiliate me to aid me live with dignity

You insult me to illustrate freedom of speech

You crush my bones to save me from my evil

You demolish my home to elevate my morality

You uproot my tree to raise my ethical standard

You steal my resources to bring me social justice

You assassinate my leaders to bring me security

You bomb my town to train me into democracy

You destroy my history to educate me about progress

You dehumanise me to coach me into humanity

You wipe me out to push me to civilisation

You scorn my faith to bring me salvation

Thank you sir

How can I -ever- pay you back.

Montreal is Rich

Miniscule Bundles of Colors
Montreal is rich.

The aroma of so many languages
Each language carries a unique cultural baggage
Each language containing an alphabet with clues to
Specific perspectives and world views.

So many people with different coloured skins
So many stories for every person
Each person from a different place
Each place with a different space and taste.

The unity                                                                                                                                                         In diversity…

Montreal is rich.

A.S.

Some Things Need to Break in Order to Work

Some things need to break in order to properly work.

Like your heart.

Don’t deny the pain or run from its inflicts. When you feel it breaking your heart, accept it as a guest that is here to give you a gift.

A gift of a powerful, unforgettable lesson.

Embrace the wound as a strict but very knowledgeable teacher.

Beg it to break your illusion into a million shattered pieces.

Only worse than a broken heart, is a broken heart with illusions still clung to.

Let the wound take the false thinking and unrealized hopes you harboured in your heart for so long – and break them.

Break them into countless grain-sized pieces of glass.

Like sand.

Let the desert wind take them away from your heart and scatter them in unreachable places.

Let your heart break when it does.

Let it bleed with the pain of unfulfilled wishes.

Let it turn all those ocean-deep illusions you swam in, into mere foam.

Or dust. Sand.

Let the desert wind blow them away from your heart and scatter them in untraceable places.

Into the wilderness of nothingness.

They were nothing. But your real potential to be is everything.

Let your heart break so that your resolve solidifies and makes you the person you were always meant to be.

False notions and disappointing expectations no longer holding you back.

These unfounded whims, these vain desires, these mere dreams never meant to be…

Know they were making you weaker.

Your heart breaking is the freedom you need to let go and reach new heights.

This may be hard to believe now.

I know your heart is broken now.

I know your whole being feels like an ache in a sea of bottomless despair.

But reality is not your enemy.

The reality is, what you thought was good for you is not.

These shattered dreams may have turned into a living nightmare.

The One who holds your precious heart chose to break it – temporarily.

So that your spirit, your fierceness, your resolve, are not broken – permanently.

My mother always says an Arabic proverb: الله يرحم من بكاني

May God have mercy on the one who made me cry.

(This is not referring to tears caused by someone abusing another.)

This refers to someone who speaks an unwelcome truth, that it ends up hurting another.

Unwelcome, but true.

A truth which breaks our carefully thought-out dreams is unwelcome to us.

But truth is not the enemy.

The truth is, some things have to break.

Some things need to break in order to properly work.

Like the heart.

When you feel your heart break, let it.

When you feel those cracks form, let them.

I promise it will get better.

Be receptive to the light that comes in through the cracks.

Let your delusions crumble.

Crumble into sand and dust.

And may the desert wind blow these particles far, far away from you.

Before you know it, your heart will become lighter again.

You will swim to the top and keep flying higher.

You are more worthy than you realise.

Your fate is in His hands. (What better hands to trust your fate!)

Let your heart break, because it must.

But grieve not over the broken dreams.

You are yourself a dream being realised.

~
“When we least expect it, what’s in the way is the way. The broken door lets in the light. The broken heart lets in the world.” (Mark Nepo)

And God knows Best.

A.S.

Quran Reflection: On Being Pleased

*Note: I am not a scholar. This is but a self-reflective piece.

God tells us at the end of verse 58:22 of the Quran:

رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ ۚ

This part of the ayah in surat al-Mujadela catches at my throat every time.

Why?

I have yet to understand, perhaps I never fully will, why somehow my heart’s walls fracture at these words, and why my defences of all my baseless excuses crumble.

We like to think we can read other people’s thoughts, but we can barely understand our own. But here, I will try to analyse myself. I do not know why this part of the Quranic verse – translated Allah is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him – makes me want to collapse in tears. There are likely many reasons. I decided I needed to reflect on this much deeper and try to understand myself through it. I think I have found one reason why this powerfully resonates with me:

To have God pleased with you, and you pleased with Him.

Oh, to have His pleasure. Always striving to make that the end goal and the waves that transport me as I sail with the means. Yet so many times I am not grateful. I may have the appearance of patience, but wars constantly rage within: an army of thoughts remind me to be content with the state of things in my world and to trust that the future is in good hands; and an opposing army of thoughts assures my ego it is justified in wallowing in its own self-misery. Could one have His pleasure if he is not continuously pleased with His flawless plan?

Although Alhamdulileh: all praise is due to God is always on my tongue, I wonder how truthfully and effectively this reality is translated in my heart of hearts. It is a reality for sure, to this I have no doubt – but am I spiritually living this reality in an authentic way? When I grudge things beyond my control – but yet that are – is this not a form of ingratitude on my part? Is this not an indirect expression of discontentment with God’s plan? And if I am not pleased with His plan… how should I ever imagine Him to be pleased with me?

رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ

A Shephard

If He is pleased with you, what else matters? Everything pales in comparison to the pleasure of your Lord. And if He is not pleased with you… honestly… of what from all the skies and galaxies of creation will really matter?

So I pray to the One, turner of hearts, to make my heart sincere and firm. Oh Allah, the All-Merciful, allow us to be of those whom You are pleased with, and who are pleased with You.

For you, and only You alone, know, and have ever known, Best.

-A.S.

[video] The Streets of Palestine

Dedicated to the birthday girl, Rania.

I know French and Palestinian culture don’t go together. However, a week before I left Canada to visit Palestine, I stumbled across the bilingual song “J’ai Cherché” by Amir, and now both this song and my trip to Palestine are, in my mind, helplessly intertwined with one another and seem perfectly compatible to me.

It was hard to doze off in any road trip or car ride because the streets and mountains along the road are a dazzle to see. Most of the footage I took with my cell phone camera… which obviously doesn’t do anything justice. Nonetheless, when I have nostalgia for Palestinian streets and mountains, I’ll just play this video which I just produced.

Presenting to you, “The Streets of Palestine”.

The Streets of Palestine from Aya Salah on Vimeo.