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.
And Allah knows Best.
~ Dedicated to those who smile in the faces of others – those they know, and those they do not. Smiling is charity for the soul.
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
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,
You are nothing but smiles.
People can force a laugh,
Or make you laugh,
You are nothing but pure laughter.
People can feel joy,
Or bring you joy,
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.
I will peel it from my heart
Like a sticker from paper;
A sticker that has stayed on for far too long
And now runs the risk of ripping the substance it’s on.
Yet still, like an A+ sticker Mistakenly placed on a failing essay, You, too, were never meant to be attached to, Much less in my life stay.
And so, I tell you thank you for all that you are
And inspired me to be
But I need to move on from you
To focus on realer things in my destiny.
So yes, I will peel you from my heart’s beat
Like a stubborn sticker from a delicate paper sheet
And though the ripping may hurt and sting
It will, at long last, give my heart new wings.
And God knows Best.
Dear readers: if you are a woman, proceed to read as is. If you are a man, feel free to replace every term “woman” with “man” (and vice versa), “sisters” with “brothers”, and “she” with “he”… this post will still remain completely relevant and applicable.
I do not know very much, but I do know this… A man may change for two reasons: for the woman, or because of her. There is a difference, if you’ll pause to think about it.
When he changes for her, it implies that had he not met her, the idea of personal change would not have occurred in the first place. It means that he thinks of reform to please her, because he knows that her acceptance of him is conditional on that missing character element. But this does not necessitate that he truly believes he should be this way in any case; it is with the intention of just to appease another. And sooner or later, he can – and often does – easily unravel to return home to his former self; his real self that never actually changed on the inside, which the outside had misled her to falsely assume.
Now when a man changes because of a woman… this is a man who has been electrically inspired, or positively influenced, by a woman as she is… and being who she is, her existence encourages him to strive for what he also believes he should be. His change is deep, real, and courageous, because he does it from an inner conviction and successfully conquers his inner demons that had prevented him from changing earlier. Yet with or without her, he would have sought it out anyways – this inner good that was hidden from the world – and meeting her simply acted as a catalyst for that change, and likely many more. As they grow together in age, so will they grow together in their emotional and spiritual growth, for they have a shared divine vision; a vision that she believes in, that he believes in. His change is more than trying to sweep a lady off her feet. It is firmly rooted in something genuine.
Story after novel after movie, we are shown how the “good” woman falls for the “bad” guy and yet luckily for her, he willingly changes to become the dashing man of her dreams. Rarely do we see the male character as delving back to his darker mood swings, his inconsiderate behaviors in the case of a dispute or typical argument; oh no! He is changed for good. (Thanks to the damsel’s graciously beautiful self, of course.)
Due to these constant messages we are bombarded with, young women, real women seeking real relationships, can be found trying to implement this “romantic” idea in their partners. Hence, a “good” girl will be attracted to a “bad” boy not because he is everything she’s not, but because she is everything he can be; because she hopes that he will change, for her. To her, this proves he is really in love with her, and once superficially changed on the outside to win her over, she is convinced he will ever remain the new and improved changed, good fellow.
Don’t let the media and music industry lull you into false security where there are clear red danger signs. Many a man full of unpleasant and terrible traits is still charmingly able to put on an act – the act of a better man, a gentleman – and charm you by saying that you changed him. This will make your heart melt a little, as he knows it will. But what you need to shed light on – did he change for you, or because of you?
For me, because of me… what’s the difference?
It’s great that you realize there is a difference to begin with. In summary:
If he changes because of you, then thank your merciful God that He has chosen you to be an illuminating light and source of beautiful ease for someone’s difficult dark path. If your heart was already in it, then don’t be afraid to go ahead and give this sincere gentleman with the right intentions the love and support only you can uniquely give.
But if he has merely changed for you, and not for himself… not for God… then be very, very cautious. He may revert to his old ways at any time, and extinguish your light as he shatters the lamp that was your heart in the confusing process. And then you’ll realize… I should’ve known. He only changed for me, not because of me.
So most of my posts emphasize the wisdom of the heart’s instinct, but where your heart’s security itself is at risk, you’ll need to trust that overly rational, analytical, slightly dry voice that lives in your mind more and more. If it makes it any easier, just remember:
The mind can know precisely what is the case, but the heart is usually a little behind. Be patient with yourself; eventually it’ll catch up.
And Allah knows Best.
Dedicated to Noor, who is simply wonderful to have long talks of love with.
“If someone loves us but we are trapped by self-hatred, their love will never reach us.” (bell hooks)
he wants to know her,
but he doesn’t know himself.
he wants to be like her,
but he doesn’t want to be unlike himself.
he wants to be one with her,
but he doesn’t know how to be one with his thoughts.
he wants to trust her,
but he doesn’t trust the One who created her.
he wants to please her,
but he doesn’t want to please the One who created her.
he fantasizes of living in her spiritual world,
but he doesn’t want to leave the material one he’s in.
he wants to commit to her,
but he can’t commit to his own promises.
he wants to love her,
but he doesn’t know how to love himself.
(and this holds true for all my sisters, too)
you cannot fully fall in love with her,
and expect her to love you in return
until you know what it means to love
and not just love the idea of love.
the One who created your beloved
has told you how to self-love
but incredibly in your confusion
you choose to self-hate.
love starts from the inside
and blossoms out
it does not pierce from the outside
and make its way in.
just as you cannot serve from an empty vessel,
so you cannot give what you do not have
if you have no love for your starving soul,
you will not know how to care for the soul of another.
(and my sisters, too)
you must learn to self-love,
but this is not to be confused with greed and egotistical desire.
real self-love is the remedy to healing
and the formula to know how to heal another.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, we find mutual love only when we know how to love. And the best place to start practicing the art of loving is with the self – that body, mind, heart, and soul that we can most know and change.” (bell hooks)
And Allah knows Best.
Time. Imagine we imagined it differently.
We use it to set deadlines for ourselves, to be efficient, to develop punctuality as a trait, to set meeting times. We use time.
We use it to remind us when to put aside our distractions and pray, to help us realize if a goal is realistically attainable or not, for storytelling purposes, and to describe it with calendars and stopwatches. We use time.
We use it to determine if someone has learning disabilities, for communication within relationships, for organizational structures… And all the while that we try to capture the most of time, the clock hand is going tick tock tick tock tick tock…
We use it for so much more than even this.
How wonderfully simpler life becomes for us if we used time in a way to help us achieve our goals, rather than making it the end goal in and of itself.
Wouldn’t life be ideal if time was a friend for us, and not an enemy?
Imagine we used time as a tool to guide us, rather than as a factor to judge us.
Imagine we didn’t rush to label people as lazy, stupid, or “learning-disabled”, all because they couldn’t memorize a book’s worth of contents as rapidly as some other kids; they simply needed more time to process the information.
Imagine we didn’t pride ourselves on how little time a task was done, all because we fooled ourselves we were ‘saving time’ in the process, while really what we were doing was building weak unstable foundations that would take so much more time in the future to re-build.
Imagine we taught the importance of deep change, and taught that real change occurs in incremental bits over an extended period of time, and it’s OK that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, our world now won’t heal itself in a day either.
Imagine we stopped making rash decisions based on our desire to speed things up, and learned patience from our wise elders that are viewed by the younger generation as merely foolish and “behind the times”.
Imagine we cared more for effectiveness as a value, rather than solely focusing on efficiency.
Imagine that we understood the significance of time as a companion in helping us build solid relationships out of trust, understanding and empathy, which takes real commitment and silencing of the ego – no easy, rapid feat – rather than expect “love at first sight” split seconds to determine one’s fate.
Imagine we understood that time is for us, and not against us.
There as a light to help us on our journey, but we spend our lives cursing it and viewing it with a form of hatred – popular quotes such as “time is a slut, she screws everyone over” emphasize this.
Does time, our well-meaning companion, screw us over,
or do we ignore her presence and then by default, screw ourselves?
“Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it,
and others do just the same with their time.” – Goethe
Truly, time is remarkable. Let us marvel that we are even allowed to exist within its frame, and stop considering it lacking simply because we don’t own eternity of it.
And God knows best.
It is a time of things old,
A time of things new;
It is a time of grey skies,
And a time of skies blue.
It is a time of gradual beginnings,
A time of abrupt endings;
It is a time of knowing to be bold
And a time of self-surrendering.
It is a time of dreams come true,
A time of hopes and lives destroyed;
It is a time of scientific admiration,
And a time of environment annoyed.
It is a time of spontaneous bursts of love,
A time of inexplicable impulsive hate;
It is a time of refusing to submit to reality,
And a time of embracing what brings fate.
It is a time of promising failures,
A time of unfortunate successes;
It is a time of lack of resources,
And a time of cruel excesses.
It is a time of needless luxuries,
A time of great need;
It is a time of loving charity,
And a time of ruthless greed.
It is a time of deep fulfillment,
A time of endless longing;
It is a time of painful alienation,
And a time of finally belonging.
It is a time of times light,
A time of times dark;
It is a time of deadened hearts,
And a time of souls sparked.
It is, alas,
A time of polar opposites;
And we must strive to grow, love and flourish,
Somehow, inside of it.
And God knows Best.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for almost a year. Dedicated to my fabulous cheerleader of a sister, Rwan, who patiently allows me to spill all my thoughts beforehand to her so that I can actually write something coherent.
“Being sappy isn’t love. Telling someone you love them doesn’t mean that you do.” 
Let’s talk about love.
- I am Palestinian; thus almost by default, I love dabka. The adrenaline, the synchronized choreography, the artistically-expressed resistance, all contribute to my love (as opposed to simple appreciation) of dabka.
I feel love to the ancestor who invented dabka. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, except through dance and poetry. My name is Aya, and I love dabka.
- I am a woman of God under construction, and I love sunrises. The hope that the dawn brought, His Glory to behold, punctuating the time of the morning prayer, all contribute to my love (rather than neutral observation) of sunrises.
I feel a closeness and silent gratitude in my chest to the Creator of the sunrise. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, but to internalize its wonder and evaluate the level of sincerity in my deeds. My name is Aya, and I love sunrises.
Above are only a couple of examples of things I love. In both cases, this love forces me to act out to best express these joyful feelings. I can’t love dabka the way I do without participating in it, and I can’t love sunrises the way I do without contemplation on how this dazzling phenomenon could bring me closer to my Lord.
It therefore goes without saying that I can’t love a human being without actually loving.
(Say what?) No, you read it correctly; there were no typos. Literally,
I can’t love a human being without actually loving.
Here, pay attention to this:
What do all those statements have in common? They all begin with “I” and end with a verb.
A VERB. Did you know LOVE is a VERB?
A verb is an action, something you do… not just something you feel.
“It’s time that we changed the conversation about love. It’s time that we redefine it.” 
Now, love can be used as an emotion, of course, yes (who am I to say otherwise). Love can be something felt within your heart, an instinctive compassionate knowledge you have about something or someone else.
Until you do, you should never say “I love you.” Actions speak louder than words.
The love you have inside is of no value until it’s expressed outside. The best time to express it is when one’s actions have already declared it and the receiver of that sweet phrase is delighted, and not necessarily stunned into perplexed shock, to hear it.
Now on behalf of the many girls I know who are sick and tired of being emotionally manipulated because they hold that phrase in such high esteem… to the gentlemen on the metros or university hallways, that want to tell a girl “I love you” –
You fool yourself before you lie to her. Because you don’t love her.
That is normal, that is wonderful, and that is heartwarming. It is not blameworthy to feel as though you are starting to “fall in love”. But that is only the emotional aspect of it; you have not lived the verb of loving, and therefore, by default, you do not ‘love’ her.
So don’t say “I love you” when you don’t even know her. You can love strangers for the sake of God, but do you want to live with them all under the same roof for the rest of your life? Please don’t be rash.
We live in a world where “I love you” completes its meaning at the emotion. As a result, we have a bunch of adults in dysfunctional relationships because the magical feeling has worn off and has been unable to be renewed because no one is acting the love out. Love is a feeling that, once gone, cannot be recaptured. Oh, is it really?
“Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do, the sacrifices you make, the giving of self… Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.” 
I cannot tell who will be reading this, and thus cannot anticipate whether you are currently nodding your head in agreement, or feeling like you are repeatedly getting slapped in the face. If you are the latter, don’t worry; you’re not the only one who’s been living a lie.
Now you’re probably wondering: when do you say “I love you”? I mean, it is kind of a big deal in our modern world. Every girl and every boy, every man and every woman, wants someone to say it to them; it’s only human nature. The problem is, people are freely throwing that phrase around left and right, and we’re losing the ability to actually understand what love even means.
- I am a Muslim, and I love the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him). His courage, unshakeable belief and heartmelting mercy to God’s creation, all contribute to my love (love as a feeling) for him. But I begin to doubt this love if I don’t find ways to express it (love as a verb).
Am I being a cold-hearted unemotional robot about all this? On the contrary; my heart is often quite a complicated mess and tends to fight to overpower the rational part of me. Which is why, more and more, I am learning to use my emotions to think, and not let the emotions do the thinking for me.
So when DO you say “I love you”?
You don’t… yet.
Simply, it’s all about timing. Until your actions express it as a foreshadowing of the words, one should not be obliged to hear it. And even when you say the words, they won’t mean a thing if you don’t keep expressing it.
Actions speak louder than words. We need to learn to define love as a verb and show love to our friends, family, neighbors, and fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. You want love and peace for all, do you? Then be loving and peaceful! Turn the values you believe in into a part of who you are.
“Learning to love takes practice and time, especially in an era that focuses so intensely on romantic love.” 
Practice makes perfect. Loving is a process, not a destination.
It is only then that “I love you” will have meaning again.
And al-Wadud (the All-Loving) knows best.
 – Article: I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married (Pop Chassid)
 – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, p.80
 – Initiating & Upholding an Islamic Marriage (Hedaya Hartford), p.29
Dedicated to Trisha. I am very grateful to have her in my life.
That little secret I kept inside
Like oxidizer with fuel, burst into fire
I thought it was all good,
That all was as it should,
Because if not, then what would I do?
‘How are you, dear’, she asked
‘Oh, fine,’ I replied
In the tense second that followed
We both knew I’d lied
Because believe it was no big deal, I tried.
But she looks into my eyes
Sees deeply, not only spies
That guilty selfish need to spill it all out
Just to hear her reassurances out loud
Because her opinion weighs more than a crowd’s ever will.
It’s tough to be vulnerable and knock down your own walls
Piling brick after brick for months
Makes a building quite tall
Yet still I laid it all out, and let my soul shout,
Is this really for me?
With her gentle hands, she takes my heart
With her soothing words, she removes the doubt
With her beautiful smile, she radiates hope
With her earnest goodness, she extends a rope
And catches me before I fell, for I was falling, steadily yet abrupt.
That little secret I kept inside
Like oxidizer with fuel, burst into fire
Now I know it is all good
For all is as it should
Because if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
(Written May.29/14, 9:05 – 9:20 PM)