Before You Say “I Love You”

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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.

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“Being sappy isn’t love.  Telling someone you love them doesn’t mean that you do.” [1]

Let’s talk about love.

 crumbling into

  • 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.

Photography by Aya Salah.

 

Here, pay attention to this:

 

I cry.

   I laugh.

      I smile.

         I breathe.

                 I jump.

                      I love.

 

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.” [1]

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.

  • Sure, you feel love for your mother. But is feeling it enough? Can you honestly say you love your mother if your inner love is never translated to exterior, physical acts of love? Do you constantly kiss your mother’s cheek, do the dishes without being asked, share intimate stories with her, surprise her with spontaneous calls while you’re on break at work – in other words, while no one doubts you feel love for your mother… are you acting on this love? Are you being loving? Have you turned the emotion into a verb?

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” –

DON’T.

 

You fool yourself before you lie to her. Because you don’t love her.

  • Now perhaps you are interested to know her better; “I am interested to get to know you” –
  • Maybe you are curious about her hopes and dreams, with all genuine intentions; “I would love to talk about this over some coffee” –
  • You may even find her so beautiful that it’s killing you to find out if that beauty resonates in her heart and intellect as well…

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.” [2]

 

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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.” [3]

Practice makes perfect. Loving is a process, not a destination.

It is only then that “I love you” will have meaning again.

Photograph by Aya Salah.

And al-Wadud (the All-Loving) knows best.

-A.S.

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REFERENCES:

[1] –  Article: I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married (Pop Chassid)

[2] – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, p.80

[3] –  Initiating & Upholding an Islamic Marriage (Hedaya Hartford), p.29

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Purify Within To Succeed Without

 “Verily, the believers have succeeded.”

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Beyond merely “living” (as in, existing), man ultimately wants to succeed in life – however the term ‘success’ is defined. The tricky part is, although we all have a good sense of what success looks like on the outside, we often find ourselves spending our entire lives reaching out for it; and sometimes, sadly, we do not feel we ever reach it.

I am not  referring to worldly success such as fame and riches. I’m talking contentment, joy, satisfaction, and meaning… success that lasts in the long term.

But there is a way to reach it all. God does not only tell us we can in the Quran, he says we already have – emphasizing the certainty that, if particular measures are taken with sincerity, He will not deny us this sweetest victory over ourselves.

The truth is, there is no way to achieve real outwardly success- the permanent, lasting one – without gaining inner success. 

You’ll have to purify within to succeed without. There’s no shortcut around it, no matter what all those false-promising ‘10 quick things you can do to be a happy and successful person‘ articles claim. Genuine success is not about quick fixes – it’s about real, honest work.

Let’s explore.

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  • Once upon a time in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammed (صلى الله عليه و سلم) informed his people,

“Ten ayat have just been revealed upon me; whoever establishes them will enter Paradise.” Then he recited the first ten verses of Surat Al-Mu’minoon.

  • A small while later, people came to the Prophet’s wife, Aisha, رضي الله عنها , and inquired as to the character of the Prophet.

She responded that his manners were those of the Quran. Then she recited the first ten verses of Surat Al-Mu’minoon.

Time and time again, when I ask a knowledgeable person for which verses of the Quran to immediately focus on, memorize, or “start off” firmly establishing in my life, I am referred to the first ten verses of surat al-Mu’minoon. I figure writing a blog post about it will instill it in my heart, so here I am writing this and there you are reading it!

This chapter begins and ends with the promise of success:

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Some things to quickly note:

-When the word “قد ” appears before a verb, it implies something that has occurred and is continuing to occur. (For example, قد قامت الصلاة) So, think of it like this… you, a believer, will succeed because God has seen you already do so. Hooray!

But it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s not just saying the shahada… it’s more along the lines of living it. 

Another interesting Arabic linguistic observation: the word  for ‘succeeded’ that is used is ” أفلح ” – which derives from the root word ”  فلاح ” (farmer). Allow me to go into some more depth in this for a moment, and although it’ll appear to be tangent to this topic, it actually is extremely relevant:

Unlike our regular 9-hour daily paid jobs, in which we get paid every month or so, farmers don’t see the fruits of their efforts for almost an entire year. Day after day after day they work hard, whatever their moods may be; and they know if they slack off for just one week, there may be consequences for the entire year’s resulting crop.

Painting by Rae Chichilnitsky

Painting by Rae Chichilnitsky

To bring it back to the topic of success, which can be likened to the farmer’s crop – success is not a quick to-do action off a checklist. In this world where everything has become fast-paced and relentless, we’ve become impatient and want to speed even meaningfulness up. You cannot do that. Further, you cannot slack off and expect success to come your way anyways… (you must refuse to be what I call a Type C person!)

The following verses give us sort of a checklist of qualities, all connected to one another, of a mature believer – where do you stand? Judge yourself honestly, you will not get anywhere if you continue deceiving yourself.

In a nutshell, these are the main qualities a believer should strive to have – take out your checklists! 🙂

Khushoo‘ (خشوع) in prayer.

Are you humble in prayer and feel an awe and fear of God so deep it almost feels like it’s physically in your bones? Are you submissive with concentration & devotion without distracting yourself with petty thoughts? That’s khushoo’. It’s a lot tougher to work on internal issues than the external appearance of praying correctly. You must purify within to succeed without.

It’s comforting for so many of us (myself never excluded) to know we pray 5 times a day. We’re making time for our Lord and standing before Him. But are we really whole-heartedly, mind and soulfully, there? I do believe that’s a question that needs a lifetime of devotion to properly answer.

We spoke a little about farmers and the intense amount of work they must have. They cannot get all this work done efficiently if they don’t have a strict schedule to abide by. Why,

“Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm – to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is not shortcut.” [1]

Farmers have strict schedules to follow – and our ‘strict’ schedule (though it is a pleasant sort of strictness) is the five daily prayers, minimum.

There is much more than can be said about prayer, but I’m not the one that should keep talking about it. I need to be doing it with more soul & heart before preaching to the choir… so let’s move on and look at the next characteristics of the successful believer:

hunh

Turn away from ill speech (لغو).

” لغو ” has many possible interpretations, but many scholars agree it is idleness; whether this is in the form of actually lying, backbiting, cursing and insulting, falsehoods, vanity… basically, useless conversation that consumes one’s time.

God doesn’t just tell us to avoid “laghw”, but He instructs us to walk past it in a dignified fashion should we encounter it. Don’t allow the peer pressure of others to make you feel like you have to suck it up with them and waste your time listening to useless talk. Your time is worth more than that.

Which brings us back to the importance of respecting time… respecting schedules… ultimately respecting prayer.

Those who do zakaat.

This is a Meccan surah. When this verse was revealed, it was before financial zakat became an obligation. Further, if the verse was referring explicitly to monetary charity, it might have instructed us to give zakat, as opposed to do it. So what is zakat?

First, let’s give a metaphor. Imagine your dishes at home. You wash them every day. Try eating the usual amount of food for one day, just one day – and ignore the dishes. What horribleness will you awaken to! And how much harder is it to get rid of the filth! Well, your heart needs a polish not just now and then; the Ramadan once a year is not sufficient. Boy, girl, you’ve got a LOT of stains on that heart, and until you realize your own flaws, no one else can get rid of them!

Zakaah means purification. To be a successful believer, you must constantly, and consistently, purify yourself. Check your ego, ask forgiveness of sins you know and don’t know of, beg God to let you see through your own delusions… for we ARE delusional in terms of who we think ourselves to be, particularly in front of Allah.

For example, I think there’s something seriously wrong with feeling satisfied after a prayer – rather than feeling anxious if it had been accepted. We delude ourselves that we’re already all righteous and of course God is going to accept it. But where is our feeling of khushoo’?

Purify yourself. It sounds so simple and it requires no outside sources… except, of course, your willingness to admit you badly need it.

Guarding one’s chastity.

Shamelessness between men and women is an already very obvious problem within many societies. I am not going to go to great depths on this issue, but needless to say, I quite agree with Nouman Ali Khan when he said (and I paraphrase):

It goes to show just how much harder we have to work to make our marriages beautiful, and romantic…

that’s part of our duty as believers! Make your marriages beautiful!

Guarding trusts and promises.

Do you make promises you intend to fulfill? Me, too. Do you make promises you guard with all your might to see fulfilled?

Hmm. What’s up with the typical “yes inshaAllah, I’ll try be there” that somehow is now sadly assumed between Muslims as “oh, she’s not coming”?

I believe promises should be guarded in the most excellent manner possible… which goes to say that even a promise on something so trivial, such as attending an event on Facebook, should be guarded! If one is not sure whether he/she will make it or not, it’s OK; put yourself as maybe attending; but by putting an “Attending”, you are making a false promise to the organizers of the event.

Am I making a big fuss of this? Maybe. But I honestly believe that if the smallest details of our lives are taken care of, the humongous boulders will take care of themselves.

Abdullah ibn ‘Amr (RA) says that Rasulullah (SAW) said: “Four traits whoever possesses them is a hypocrite and whoever possesses some of them has an element of hypocrisy until he leaves it: the one who when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise, when he disputes he transgresses and when he makes an agreement he violates it.” (Muslim and Bukhari)

Based on those criteria… while I won’t say our Ummah is full of hypocrites, but I boldly say that there is a lot of hypocrisy that goes on.

And it’ll always come back to prayer. If we can’t bring it in ourselves to fulfill promises to other folks, how can we honor our promise to their Creator? Salaat is a promise between you and God; guard such a promise and everything else will fall into place.

And now… we are almost at the end of these 10 verses…

8 to 10

Did I just say it all ends in prayer? The beginning and ending of the first 10 ayat of surat al-Mu’minoon concerns prayer.

May we all be of those who succeed in this world & the next… 

May we all be of those who purify ourselves & enlighten the way for others to do the same…

And may we all be of those who are the inheritors of Jannatul-Firdaous.

Ameen!

Ameen!

And Allah knows Best.

 

A.S.

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Sources:

Imam Zia’s tafseer of first 10 verses of surat Al-Mu’minoon

Nouman Ali Khan: Characteristics of the Believers Khutba

[1] 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p.22 (Stephen Covey)

In The Moment ~

CurtisJ_22-GI

هل فرشت العشب ليلا …وتلحفت الفضا

زاهدا في ما سياتي ناسيا ما قد مضى؟

وسكوت الليل بحر…موجه في مسمعك

وبصدر الليل قلب خافق في مضجعك

اعطني الناي وغن … وانسى داء ودواء

انما الناس سطور كتبت لكن بماء

-خليل جبران 

[Attempted translation]

Have you spread the earth as your mattress, and blanketed yourself in the stars

Neglectful of what will be, and forgetful of what was?

And the silence of the night is an ocean, whose every sound is heard

Give me a flute and I’ll play; forget sickness and its medicine

Humans are but lines written down in water.

-Khalil Gibran

The Secret Joys of Garden Work

GRASS

When I was younger, the very mention of working in the backyard brought a sigh to my lips. It was always a mystery, however, why I always came back home feeling at peace and refreshingly fit, despite the aches in my physical muscles. I denied it, however, as it isn’t very ‘cool’ of an older teenager to enjoy working with dirt that contained worms and other creepy crawly things.

However, as of a couple of years, I’ve begun to wear gloves when getting my hands real dirty. (And all of a sudden, the garden is not such a scary place.)

I cut the grass today with my parents. I offered to do it despite my current mood.

You see, time and time again, I forget what draws me outside; all I recall is the tiredness in my body. Yet there’s always that secret joy I remember feeling, but cannot put into words, and when not put into words quick enough, soon fades from memory.

Well, I choose not to let that happen again. Here I am writing what a pleasure it is to push a big bulky machine across the lawn just to be able to smell the zesty smell of the grass. Here I am writing what a mercy it is to work under the sun while the wind strokes your face and misty patters of rain defiantly fall from the sky. Here I am writing what a thrilling surprise it is to come face to face with an animal you’ve never seen before staring at you- looked like something between a squirrel and a beaver, it seems, it didn’t open its mouth so I never saw the teeth. Here I am writing what a calming experience it is to simply BE there for my parents, working with them, even if it was merely to open a black garbage bag for the grass or grabbing the lawnmower out of my mother’s hands forcefully and requesting her to sit down for a moment. Here I am writing what an adventure it is to discover new tiny flowers you’d never have discovered walking on top of the grass, and only spot-able when you got down on your knees. Here I am writing what a wonder it is to feel all your mental weariness slide away as physical weariness took place. Here I am writing what a beautiful thing it is to simply observe what I see everyday, without really properly seeing. Here I am writing what a mystery it is in the magical green land called the garden, to find your thoughts moving from agitated worries to soothing reminders of God’s blessings.

There’s a saying that goes, “Remove the world from your heart, but keep it in your hands.” It’s the most bizarre thing, but I think for a few precious moments, while doing garden work, the world feels a little less heavy and my heart seems to sigh in relief.

Oh, the secret joys of garden work. Now I know why I keep offering to do something as dry as cutting the grass: to be at peace with nature, and with myself.

No, this was not the animal I saw. In the gardens of Paradise, inshaAllah, maybe. :)

No, this was not the animal I saw. In the gardens of Paradise, inshaAllah, maybe.

And God knows best.

A.S.

“Rallying of the Muhammadaic Forces”

*An essay from Imam Zaid Shakir’s book “Where I’m Coming From”.

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“The uprising of righteous souls will not be that of frenzied mobs descending into the streets. It will be the rising up of committed believers from the sweetness of sleep in the privacy of their homes, to stand before their Lord in deep devotion. That uprising will not begin during the day, nor will it be played out before flashing lights and cameras. It will begin during the night before the watchful gaze of God.

The feet of its soldiers will not be clad in boots smashing against pavement. Their feet will be bare, caressing carpets, straw mats or clammy cement, supporting hearts tearfully beseeching their Lord, evoking His Grace, seeking His Succor, acknowledging their faults and limitations and seeking their strength through Him.

When they emerge into the light of day they themselves will be the light that a dark world is seeking. They will be teachers not preachers. Their message will be ancient for it will be a rearticulating of the prophetic teachings– as reiterated in the Qur’an:

  • Do not join partners with God in worship for doing so is an unforgiveable sin (4:48)
  • Make God the ultimate object of your love, for doing so is a sign of true faith (2:165, 9:24)
  • Do not commit murder or take innocent lives, for doing so is a crime that has unfathomable implications (25:68, 17:33)
  • Uphold the dignity of all humans, for it is a gift from God (17:70)
  • Work against corrupt, unethical business practices for they are condemned by God (26:181-183, 83:1-3)
  • Feed the hungry for it wards off Hell and is a manifestation of lofty religiousness (74:44, 90:14-16)
  • Assist the needy, for they have a right in our wealth (51:19, 70:24-25)
  • Be loving and merciful to your spouse for it is a Sign of God (30:21)
  • Do not oppress anyone, for God hates oppressors (3:57, 3:140, 42:40)
  • Do not fornicate for it is a grave abomination and a source of a severe otherworldly punishment (25:68)
  • Do not corrupt the earth and disrupt the natural balance governing worldly ecosystems for doing so brings about devastating consequences (33:41, 55:6-15)
  • In all things follow the example of the Noble Prophet for ir is a key to salvation (33:21)
  • If tested with warfare do not violate the rules of engagement established by God, for victory only comes from God, not from lowly, treacherous tactics. (2:177, 3:126)

These forces will bring life to morally and spiritually dead societies for they themselves have been revivified by the life-giving message of Islam: “O Believers! Respond to God and the Messenger when they invite you to what gives life” (8:24). Their existence will be defined by purpose as they strive to embody the message of faith translated in lives of devotion. The lives and souls of others they touch will be quickened with those same realities.

This is the basis of the good life and the foundation of a community of virtue and service. This is the foundation of meaningful and lasting social reform. It is on this basis that we can hope for the emergence of a community of truth whose light cannot be hidden or diminished by any amount of distortion and defamation. Let each and every one of us commit ourselves to being part of that community. God is calling us and history is echoing His call. Who among us is ready to respond?”