My Letter to the Beloved

I was inspired to write this letter in light of the Letters to the Beloved initiative. I imagined what I might say if I were to meet the Prophet ﷺ and be asked “how are you”. This was an emotionally healthy writing exercise for me.

p1-letterp2-letter

And Allah knows Best.

– A.S.

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Art as an Escape

lighthouse-painting

Oil painting “Lighthouse in Prince Edward Island”- 17 hours of my life was poured into this. Totally worth it.

 

I’ve always thought of art as a powerful means of awakening a sense of wonder in our otherwise dull lives. Art as something that grounds us in instinctive knowledge, but that can elevate our thoughts and souls. Art has the capacity to change not only the viewer and appreciator of art, but the artists themselves. This quote from the book Native Science beautifully explains this:

“The ceremony of art touches the deepest realms of the psyche and the sacred dimension of the artistic creative process. The sacred level of art not only transforms something into art, but also transforms the artist at the very core of his or her being. This way of doing and relating to art makes the process and context of art-making infinitely more important than the product.” (Gregory Cajete)

Lately, I have been making a good effort to increase more time in my weekly schedule for artistic processes. The more I immerse myself in these artistic processes, the more I question why exactly I am captivated by it. I have no plans to become a famous painter, calligrapher, writer, or video producer… then why do I keep painting, learning calligraphy, keep up creative writing, and create videos?

Increasingly, I’m seeing art as more than something that ends up looking nice and to be admired. I’m experiencing things in a new light. My personal experience is not necessarily giving me an insight that is different or exclusive from the above views… but rather one that acts as an additional layer to it.

Art is an escape; an escape that depends on us moving nowhere.

What kind of escape? It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of a long active day of work and meetings. It’s an escape from the chaos that our uncertain thoughts cause within us. It’s an escape from our unrelenting running footsteps that we focus on more intensely than reminding ourselves to take magical depths of deep breaths.

Art is an escape from everything, by forcing you to to stay put. Art tells you, Nothing in this world matters right now, except that your painting strokes on this canvas are precise.  Art tells you, Nothing matters except that your poem has a rhythm when you read it out loud. Art tells you, Yeah, you might feel like a mess, but all that really matters is that your calligraphic letters are curved just right with your ink-dipped bamboo pen.

Creating art puts you in the present moment without a sound, and you find yourself self-reflecting a great deal. 

You realise that even in your hustle and bustle of a schedule, you can still extract moments of serenity and quiet. Creating art slows down our jumbled, loud thoughts until we accept that it’s okay to not have all the answers at the same time. Creating art settles your feet so that they can stop leaping over hurdles and give you a chance to take ocean-deep breaths.

my-busy

So don’t for a moment think that creating art is a waste of time. Art is one of the few streams of sanity in an insane world. A timeless Lil’wat principle of teaching & learning I think applies so well to my own art process:

“Kat’il’a — finding stillness and quietness amidst our busyness and the need to know.”

Create the kind of art that brings you joy and peace. It is an escape to a better you. Art is an escaping adventure that brings you home to Him… if you allow it to.

And Allah (God) knows Best.

A.S.

 

 

How Deep is Our Multiculturalism?

Jordanian Folklore
My experience as an Arab, and a hijab-donning Muslim woman tells me that not everyone really understands how multiculturalism works. Not everyone gets it.

From what I have seen, embracing multiculturalism is often celebrated with food and dance and clothing displays of the “other”. That’s a good place to start, sure… the eye craves visual flavours. What is agreed by all as important, is the differences in spices, famous dishes tastes, and traditional clothing styles.

And yet, how is this same level of urgency not inclusive to understand the life values, and most importantly, the experiences of the “other”? To understand what brings them pain, and what brings them joy? To understand how multidimensional identity aspects of their being can play out in their day to day world?

These more important matters that concern a human being’s soul, their thoughts, their feelings – that is not touched. As long as the physical outer appearance is embraced, and what’s on top of their bodies is acknowledged, there is no need to delve deeper into the messy things that actually make us human.

Except, I think there is.

Giving the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say this: lots of people just aren’t aware that there are unaddressed issues because they don’t have to deal with them on a constant basis. I’m not writing this post to point fingers of blame at anyone – that’s not what I do. Much of what I say might equally apply to me; I’m just thinking out loud here. I’m hoping to shed some light on shadows the mainstream narrative prefers to keep hidden… because if revealed, it challenges the dominant narrative, the status quo.

“Multicultural tolerance and the settler narrative suggest that even though Canada is open to all comers, the recognition of difference is limited to that which does not threaten white settler domination.” ( Carol Schick, White Resentment in Settler Society)

So, as long as multiculturalism doesn’t threaten the benevolent, open, tolerant image of the multicultural country… it’s allowed. As soon as it starts to reveal cracks in the system, intolerant behaviour ensues. It’s slyly disguised as “we are so tolerant, why are these people being so ungrateful now!”

Perhaps an example would help make sense of what I’m writing; just look at Aboriginal people in the West.

“Multiculturalism has been used to defend schools against the need for education for and about aboriginal peoples, in spite of ‘racism and colonialism.’ Ironically, ‘multiculturalism’ operates as a talisman that further relegates aboriginal peoples, along with their culture and history, to a museum-worthy site.” (Carol Schick)

Museum-worthy, eh… Yeah, this strikes a bell. Sure, do let us celebrate clothing, food and music. (No sarcasm, I mean it. Really, let’s!) But if it has to include listening to how racism still exists around us, and if it includes facing the impacts of colonialism that are ever still present…. why, it becomes too controversial for conversation. So controversial, in fact, to even include in educational curricula. While the winds are slowly changing on that front, there is a tremendously long way to go.

Many people will justify their decisions to not take a stance in matters of colonialism or occupation, as “I am neutral.”

Neutral? NEUTRAL?

Woman,

Man,

There is no such thing as a neutral stance in matters of oppression. When you’re silent about defending those stolen from, you are automatically validating the thief.

Hey. I get it. Talking about matters of diversity and lack-of, white privilege, sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination… it’s not easy. It’s not always pleasant. I get that, okay? I’m a person of colour, a visible religious young woman, but that doesn’t mean that I am always in the mood to talk about how terribly insensitive people can be to one another.

But when the conversation is opened, it shouldn’t be shut down on grounds of “neutrality” or “well, I don’t see colour.” That’s a pathetic non-excuse to excuse yourself out of a potentially awkward conversation.

In Nayyirah Waheed’s crystal-clear resonating words:

do-not-trust

As a Palestinian, I have had to live with similar sensations my whole life. I have grown up in environments where my cultural food is celebrated, my Arabic music is enjoyed, our dancing is admired, our fashion is welcomed –  but our hearts, our minds, our experiences, are not worthy enough.

Spotlight

Our history is silenced. Our ghosts are in our heads. In the name of “neutrality”, I have been shunned instead, ignored, silently told “your suffering is not worthy.”

Of course this would be the message: in a land that has yet to fully reconcile with its Aboriginal peoples, who am I to expect that they’d care about the Indigenous peoples of another faraway land? This narrative only causes resentment.

“Anxiety and ambivalence rise in the conflicting desires to be the good, non-racist citizen/subject while maintaining one’s way of living as entitled and superior. The inability to resolve the contradictory and destabilizing stories that have to be told – about racial stereotypes and putative white innocence– are also grist for resentment.”

If you feel like you have to prove your self-worth to someone, then know their company is not worth yours. It shouldn’t be your burden to carry the guilt off of guilty shoulders – even if they don’t know what they are guilty of. Instead, be patient and kind with them until they realise the invisible weight they’re carrying. Whatever you do… don’t haul it onto your shoulders instead. Your mental comfort matters, too.

“it’s not about making you uncomfortable. it’s about making me comfortable.” (“reparations” by Nayyirah Waheed, salt.)

There are so many people and initiatives out there sincerely trying to make the world a better place for all. When I meet these people I am overwhelmed with gratitude to find such goodness. I just pray that more and more of us can fall into this wonderful group – myself included. It is not enough to be a person of colour to absolve blame of blameworthy traits like judgment, discrimination, other forms of privilege… I hold myself accountable just as much.

All praise to the One who puts sakeena and inner tranquillity in hearts. May He put it in yours, whoever you are that is reading this.

Baby Steps

And God knows Best.
-A.S.

It’s Because of Hijab, Not Despite It

Yellow Roses

Once every while, in the midst of a conversation with someone newly met, I get a certain statement delivered my way. It is meant in the warmest of intentions, I know, but…

Here is that magical phrase:

“It’s really great that you are confident mingling in society and seem successful in your career, despite your hijab.

Interestingly this is usually said to me by Muslims, who feel open enough to point it out, as opposed to others who’d rather prefer Islamophobia doesn’t exist. I appreciate the sentiment, and the instinctive side of me wants to automatically nod in agreement – I mean, what is so wrong about that sentence?… It’s true, is it not? I’m apparently confident in my skin, engaged with my community, and blessed to be employed in a great environment… DESPITE my many colourful hijabs.

So why does it instead strike me the wrong way? Why does this seemingly innocent observation irritate me deeply?

Today, while daydreaming about completely different stuff, I finally figured it out. Here is the reality of my situation:

I am content and doing well not despite my hijab… but because of it. And here’s why:

  • Wearing the hijab is a constant visible reminder to myself that no one has any claim to me, my mind, or my body. Sometimes as a human being, I get insecure and wonder what others are thinking about me. But then I look at my reflection when I am out in public, and where others just see a piece of cloth, I see a reminder to myself. I am powerfully reminded that no matter how many things I might feel attached to, the only real lasting thing my heart can know is Allah. I am God’s and God’s alone, and this is liberating.

“Yet she belongs, finally and truly, only to God. The hijab is a symbol of freedom from the male regard, but also, in our time, of freedom from subjugation by the iron fist of materialism, deterministic science, and the death of meaning” (Abdal-Hakim Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, 29).

  • Just as hijab hides certain physical aspects of a woman’s body, like her hair, curves and skin, it is a metaphor for me to guard my heart away from the harm that others can inflict on it. I protect my heart by being meditative, listening and speaking with it, and discovering who I really am without waiting for a messed up world to tell me who I am supposed to be. Hijab is not the sole means, but a helpful ingredient certainly, to reminding me that my heart is precious and full of a deep beauty that does not need to be given freely to just anyone who wants access to it. Hijab is my personal physical reminder that within lies a spiritual reality that wants to be realized, and that I have a right to this inner life.

“Hijab narrates self-efficacement for the sake of the Face of God. But it is not a cloak of invisibility, or Bilbo Baggins’ magic ring. The woman in hijab turns in, but stands out. (Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, 82)” 

“Hijab indicates freedom from the monoculture, but also freedom from the visual theft of her beauty. It is a denial of the Other’s right of appropriation. (Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, 95)”.

Hijabs means various things to different people, and each woman will have her own story to say.

Let’s never make the mistake of assuming that all Muslims think, act and are motivated by the same motives.

As someone in a workshop said very eloquently:

Inline image 1

In my case, hijab has made me more my own by connecting me more closer to God. It has made me more confident to be unapologetically me. It has made me want to excel in all that I do, whether in relationships, faith matters or career goals.

All this not despite my hijab, but because of it.

That is my story.

And Allah knows Best.

-A.S.

To Listen with Kindness

~

“The healing heart is one that tries to connect more than perfect and make everything in our lives wonderful. It helps us sometimes to “just be” rather than always trying to “be happy.” (The Heart’s Code, Paul Pearsall)

View of Bethlehem

Some people listen to others in order to find connection. Some people, though, are in too much of a hurry for the other to have the right answer or solution up their sleeves already – and as a result, listen badly and ruin the experience.

When you’re getting to know another human being, you will not get far if you listen just to judge if she has the “right” or “wrong” answer. Nodding in acknowledgement is validating for the other to continue being honest, but tsk-tsking or shaking your head disappointingly creates unpleasant confusion.

Can you just listen? Listen not to judge, but to understand. This person has chosen you to confide in, not because you deserve the honour but because it’s a sacred privilege that someone has offered to trust their heart in your hands. Someone has offered to trust in you because they feel safe with you. Don’t ruin it all by making them feel inadequate and useless while you make your distasteful facial expressions at them.

Don’t immediately cringe when the other person’s answer is very different than your own. Your cringe, your withdrawal, shuts off the desire of the other person to be real and genuine with you. They may feel slightly unworthy of your time, your attention, and not reveal their wonderful hearts that everyone else is so fond of being connected with. And then you wonder why you’re not finding meaningful connection… Why you meet so many people you like but they shy away from you…

So ask yourself. When you actually are blessed to be in the company of another soul’s energy, do you try to be patient enough to understand it before comparing it with your own? Or do you make instant visible judgements which shut down the other person, making them appear uncertain and no longer confident you want to be spending time with them?

What is your intention when you listen? Are you a hasty listener, or do you listen with patient kindness? You see, when the other person sees how you respect their thoughts, they will undoubtedly want to seek your own opinion. And this is where, gently, you can explain where you see the flaws in the thinking and the issues in the superficial solutions they’ve come up for themselves. Your words will be embraced this way… because you listened first. Talked, after.

In a world of people hurriedly listening while preparing full speeches as responses, be that one person who listens truly to connect to another heart. And then your wisdom will pour worth.

Brother & Sister

And Allah knows Best.

– A.S.

Standing the Test of Time

Old Original Masjid Al-Aqsa - Ancient Pillars

I’ve travelled across certain parts

Of the East and West

And witnessed that which

Boldly stands and passes time’s test.

Whether I saw the confident

Waterfalls of Niagara Falls

Or the humbling mountains

In Palestine, proud and tall

Or the talented clouds that softly dance

Across the skies

And beautifully play with the sun,

Lingering behind them in disguise…

Immediately,

What comes to mind

Is how these creations

Stood, and passed, the test of time.

Whether I saw the ancient powerful

Pillars of the Masjid al-Aqsa

Or the Aya-Sofya and Blue Mosque

In Turkey, full of awe

Or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem…

I notice one thing all these

Man-made structures have in common…

They stood their ground

Through rain and sunshine

I can only marvel at how

They passed the test of time.

Beyond Beauty

The architects of sacred buildings

Thought not of modernly dull designs

They contemplated a timeless beauty

That revealed their reverence for the Divine.

And beauty…

When it is pure beauty sublime…

Stands… demands…

And passes the test of time.

Rocky mountains and vast oceans

Cheerful birds and ringed wise trees

Fruits of all colours and degrees of flavors

Loyal horses and honeybees…

They exist to glorify their Creator

By doing what they were always meant to do

What it means to finally catch the truth

Is to learn how to be true, to you.

His creation alone puts

In our chests

Instant feelings of humility, sincerity

And tranquil rest.

And sincerity…

When it is true sincerity… shines.

And it can stand

And pass, the test of time.

As for myself, I wonder

Will I pass the test of time?

Will who I am assemble to become a lasting poem

Or am I to be as insignificant as a silly rhyme?

Will my actions

And my words

Both the spoken

And unheard…

Will my thoughts

And my beliefs

Moments of joy,

Moments of grief…

Through and with them,

Will it end in cause of praise or condemn?

Will my minuscule deeds of goodness

Live on even when I am lifeless?

All these miracles and signs around us

Showing us what it means to pass

The test of a lifetime

If only I can always be aware

That I have yet to pass

Life’s test of mine.

Speeding Along

 

And Allah (God) knows Best.

-A.S.

Masjid al-Aqsa: the Old & the New

~
The title of this album should actually be “masajid” (plural of ‘masjid’) al-Aqsa… because this looks at the interiors of not only the Masjid al-Aqsa building that everyone visits, but also the ORIGINAL, old building that was first masjid al-Aqsa. It is noticeably older and not as sparkly inside as the newer building… but it still feels upon entering as the sacred holy site. It’s not hidden or secret… but it’s not well-known, either! So here, we look at both. What a blessing!

Masjid Al-Aqsa – First Sight
Masjid al-Aqsa - First Sight

Deep Breath

Deep Breath

Light Upon Light
Light Upon Light

Heading to the Old, Original Masjid al-Aqsa

Heading to the Old, Original Masjid Al-Aqsa

Removing Shoes
Removing Shoes

A Place of Prayer

A Place of Prayer

Oh, Books
Oh, Books

The Library Inside the Old Masjid al-Aqsa

The Library Inside the Old Masjid Al-Aqsa

Calligraphy Everywhere
Calligraphy Everywhere

“Keep Following Me!”

Keep Following Me!

Walking in an Empty Masjid
Walking in an Empty Masjid

Our Kind & Spontaneous Tour Guide

Our Kind & Spontaneous Tour Guide

Workship in the Old Masjid al-Aqsa

Worshipping in the Old Masjid Al-Aqsa

Where the Heads Fall Upon in Prostration

Where the Heads Falls Upon in Prostration

To see the rest of the photos in this album, click here.

All praise is due to Allah.

-A.S.

But Then You Laughed

~ Dedicated to those who smile in the faces of others – those they know, and those they do not. Smiling is charity for the soul.

proud-rose

All these people

Who care primarily for an air of seriousness

Lest their light-heartedness be deemed heedlessness

They assuming my quiet nature expects formality

So formal are they I forget the sounds of gentle hilarity.

And so when I met you,

Surprised I had to be,

When you burst out laughing

At a joke I said half-heartedly.

All these people

Who care primarily for faces of solemnity

Lest their openly wild spirits be deemed social abnormality

They assuming my conservative nature requires they tread cautiously

So cautious are they that I forget the sounds of charming

awkwardness.

And so when I met you,

Pleasantly unsettled I had to be

When your eyes poured a river of kind laughter

Upon seeing my friendly smile immediately.

People can crack smiles,

Or make you smile,

But you,

You are nothing but smiles.

People can force a laugh,

Or make you laugh,

But you,

You are nothing but pure laughter.

People can feel joy,

Or bring you joy,

But you,

You are made of nothing but joy.

All these people,

Mundanely living to get by, with things to regret after

But when I met you,

You spared no time before filling my heart with laughter.

 

And God knows best.

Written on city bus, Nov.15/16, 9:03 PM.

-A.S.

Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. May you be granted the chance to visit it, and pray in it, one day.

There was no way that the photos of both masajid al-Alqsa’s (the old and new buildings), and the golden Dome of the Rock, could fit into one album. This is simply Part 2 of 3 photography taken in Jerusalem a couple of months ago.

Staying Gold
Staying Gold

Dome of the Rock – First Sight Dome of the Rock - First Sight

Overwhelming
Overwhelming

Sacred Geometry Sacred Geometry

The Bodyguard Trees
The Bodyguard Trees

Ceiling; Because God Loves Beauty Ceiling; Because God Loves Beauty

Beyond Beauty
Beyond Beauty

Al-Sakhra Al-Sakhra

Dome of the Rock Chandeliers
Dome of the Rock Chandeliers

Gold Details Gold Details

Majestic
Majestic

Behold the Dome Behold the Dome

Wandering Through Jerusalem

Jerusalem (al-Quds) is breathtaking.

There was no way that the photos of both masajid al-Alqsa’s (the old and new buildings), and the golden Dome of the Rock, could fit into one album. This is simply Part 1 of 3 photography taken in Jerusalem a couple of months ago.

These in particular were taken simply while walking and wandering around.

Center of Gold

Center of Gold

Glint of a Sight

Glint of a Sight

On the Way to Jerusalem

On the Way to Jerusalem

Palm Tree

Palm Tree

The Dome, Afar

The Dome, Afar

A White Sky with Blue

A White Sky with Blue

Sky High

Sky High

Art of a Mother’s Love

Art of a Mother's Love

Beige Umbrellas

Beige Umbrellas

Shops in Jerusalem

Shops in Jerusalem

Beige, Blue & Green

Beige, Blue & Green

Symmetry in Architecture

Symmetry in Architecture

Exploring

Exploring

Spray-Paintings of Holy Sites

Spray-Paintings of Holy Sites

Naming After History

Naming After History

Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright

Outside Markets

Outside Markets

Where Archs Are the Norm

Where Archs Are the Norm

Colors, Sights & Sound

Colors, Sights & Sound

Delicious Ka’k Qudsi

Delicious Ka'k Qudsi

Bird in Hiding

Bird in Hiding

Art for Tea

Art for Tea

el Zaatar

el Zaatar

School Established 784 H

School Established 784 H

Fading Color

Fading Color

Hustle & Bustle

Hustle & Bustle

In Old Jerusalem

In Old Jerusalem

Kuffiyahs Everywhere

Kuffiyahs Everywhere

Nets to Catch All that Garbage… (thrown by settlers onto Palestinians)

Nets To Catch All That Garbage...

Rectangular Spaces

Rectangular Spaces

Garbage Thrown by Israeli Settlers onto the Palestinians

Garbage Thrown by Israeli Settlers onto the Palestinians

Freedom Graffiti (الحرية = freedom)

Freedom Graffiti

Sisters

Sisters

Light Despite Dark

Light Despite Dark