The Last Day

This follows a similar theme of a constant happening right now. In each life, be it the dunya (this life), yawm al akhir (the day of judgement), or the akhira itself (heaven or hell), there are laws that stay the same. This particular law says that the final destination of existence is not about what your ancestors or parents did. We are only responsible for our own actions. So when Allah says “yours is what you have earned,” it could be interpreted as Allah saying, “look, you could die at any time, and there is a beautiful return for you ahead if you are good. But if you die now, and you haven’t earned your keep, you don’t get to give a down payment or a loan for your house in Jannah. You either paid for it, or not. It’s not yours if you don’t decide to live by your need for it to be yours in a way that is acceptable to your Lord.” That should motivate you, because it means you now know that it’s actually in your hands. It reminds you of your agency that comes with the responsibility of living a wakeful life. You are of sound mind, and you hold a heart in your chest and a soul within that is capable of bettering itself.

 

Recalling Allah’s words in verse 14 of Al-Imran, Allah’s mercy is starkly clear, bright and soothing like sunlight on a breezy, cloudy summer’s day. Allah is reminding us of the obvious: we want things from life. We want enjoyment, peace and even excitement. We want to experience beauty, and feel strong and look good. We want to possess the best items and the most wonderful, blooming relationships. Men want wives and fancy modes of transport, women want husbands and all the world has to offer. Allah is reminding us that He created us, so yes, He knows. It is because of His decisions that we are that way! This is comforting and so freeing because it means He understands our need to be happy and how happy we can be even more than we do. He has shown us the way, and we’ll never run out of goodness because his grace and generosity is infinite and perfect in the time, and the nature of His blessings.

al imran 14

3:14. Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life, but Allah has with Him the best return.

—Quran, Surah Al-Imran

When you maintain hope that Allah will generously reward you, it gets easier to abstain or moderate when required. When you know that you have a responsibility towards your own joyful afterlife and that there’s only one way to achieve it, your heart will grow fixated on your goal and it will get easier and you will start to enjoy the hard times. Not because they are easy, but because of the knowledge that there is something better beyond with your patience being rewarded and a close relationship with the most compassionate, beautiful and healing Being that is with you.

Change

I don’t know when it happened. Maybe it was when the sun shined, its gaze falling on me, curious as a cat in the night as I quickly re-wrapped my headscarf after the wind had whipped it around my head. My mother had warned me about those flimsy pins. Nothing ever seemed to hold my veil down. The air deliciously enveloped me, caressing quieted speech to make way for more elegant words. It was for the rush of running down the street to catch the bus, for the will to catch light in between flowers in a photograph. It was the flimsy nature of every moment, how it seemed to slip like children’s slime through my feeble fingers before I could capture how it felt in my heart. And how the rain washed everything away like it never happened.

Yet when the puddles were jumped in and soon dried up to stop glimmering in intermittent sunlight, and the wet grass became lush fields abloom for farther than you could stretch your sight, it was hard to believe anything about reality except that it was by then, for the best.

Going Too Far

When a person wants to improve their religion, one of the best ways to advance is through gaining new knowledge and applying it. But the factor of sincerity plays a vital role in whether the benefit will stay and actually be fruitful to them on the Day of Judgment. If the heart is not receptive to such information, that information does not go through the process of becoming knowledge and then wisdom.

Information is data stripped to its most basic form. Knowledge is being aware of facts that are understood and learnt second-hand. Wisdom is where knowledge joins real-life experience and enlightened perspective. That’s the kind of religiosity we aim for as Muslims, and that’s how knowledge should impact us, because wisdom is knowledge that makes one a better human being.

The job of knowledge is not to make you capable of rattling off rulings, and be able to understand the difference between deviant sects, or why this shaykh is wrong or that student of knowledge is more guided than the other. While these are issues this blog is not here to address, the point to be made is that there is more to life than right and wrong and in between. There is the reason why. Understanding our purpose in this life is what so many of us are missing, and it’s not even just about your dead-end job at Walmart or the traditional (though hopefully dying) nine-to-five.

It’s about believing in the fact that in the next millisecond, you could freeze in the middle of reading this as you see the angel of death, and know that you did not live up to what you knew you were capable of. Now you have the experience that would have given you the wisdom to see past empty friendships, to try to understand what you could have done, how you could have lived with so much more peace and expectation of reward. But what good is it then?

Truthfully, how many of us are clear on who we want to be? ‘Coming into your own’ is such an elusive term, thrown in with ‘who I am,’ what is the meaning of life,’ and ‘can’t we just say what we really mean by all that?’ Just kidding about the last one. In all seriousness, it’s firstly about coming closer to being honest about what is getting in the way. You can’t figure out which way to go in the street if both your rear-view mirror and windshield are cracked and smudged and downright dirty.

It takes time. It takes sitting down with yourself – quite literally – and reflecting on what it is about your life that is stressing you out. Limit or eliminate. Reflect on what you’re grateful for. Increase and discover  more. Reflect on what’s bogging you down. Let go and lift off. This last one is hard, because it involves investigating painful experiences and the habitual self-infliction of pain, and vetting them from our world view. It could be anything from actual physical self-harm, to sabotaging relationships, to spending time doing sins or being around people who belittle or negatively influence you.

There’s more to this, but the final idea to share is that no one knows everything. Not everything can be fixed, not because it is impossible, but because not every problem can get attention. Sometimes we have to pick our battles. Sometimes no matter how much time we spend thinking, we do no connecting. So the missing ingredient is Allah Himself. He is the One judging on Judgment Day, He is the One Whom inspired this post, and will inspire you, too, if you speak up as you reach out and let him. Sometimes we don’t know what to ask, so we can suffice our need by saying, “Ya Allah, help!”

And really? That’s all it takes.

Words and Actions Don’t Disappear (Even After They’re Done)

Life is not made up of conditions; it is made from consequence.

Many of us want to believe we had no part to play in the difficulties we face. Which girl would want to admit she lost her best friend because she talked behind her back, which man would ever admit to poaching a client from his business partner whn he wasn’t qualified for the job, causing the company lose its big break? Maybe it’s about holding on to our pride, avoiding the deflation of our ego, or maybe it’s just easier to hide from the truth: whatever you do, it will always turn around to rear its ugly head.

Or it might just smile with wonder and sunshine in the face of a new beginning you never expected after you transformed another person’s life with your purest sincerity, compassion and humility, giving them the tools to be their best selves.

I hope that if the people who have changed my life for the better read this, they will feel that warmth someday, because they have earned it.

Dream in the Face of Fear

“Allah tests those whom He loves.”

It takes faith and a good amount of inner work to understand what this really means. We all have those moments, when tough times seem impossible to escape, work through or recover from. I wonder if that’s just because we lost our sense of what patience truly is, from the natural inclination we had as children. Learning to walk, practicing swinging on monkey bars, falling off a bike, over and over again until we learned and even still we will fall again, sometimes just as hard or harder.  A man who learned to bike marathons could get swept away in a gust of wind, hitting the pavement or worse, and through no error of his own. And it may have been his error, perhaps when some evil he engaged in came back his way.

More likely however, he needs that time in the hospital, as a test from Allah to prove himself as a faithful servant who would never abandon hope for Allah’s Mercy. The way Allah designed reality is that no reward can be had without opportunity to earn it. You can’t expect reward for claiming to choose patience. Truthfully, you only know you are patient when you need to be — and you are, and you only get to seek reward for a calamity if you are given the calamity — and you live in patience and perseverance. The Prophet pbuh went through some of the greatest trials, in fear for his life, in starvation, and in loss. But his gain was in trusting Allah, in being aware of the good that came from these experiences, as subtle as they were.

And actually, it’s the subtle things that make the biggest difference. The sensations and gifts we don’t notice right away are seeds for stronger foundations. That which comes and fades has little equilibrium and cannot be trusted to last as a support. When we learn a lesson about patience through a post like this, it is a good reminder, but it is nowhere near the level of going through test after test and staying well and patient to the best of one’s ability.

There’s really nothing like it.

Patience that is Dreaming in the Face of Fear

There is another, more nuanced idea about patience that is vital to grasp, and while we may not recognize it, we all grapple with it every day.

The man who fell off his bike was overworking himself at the office. With life-threatening injuries after getting hit by a car, he was awakened and began to ponder his current mission in life. Coping wasn’t about being patient in the conventionally understood way, he realized. It was purely about the perspective that his patience gave him, patience that Allah gave him to inherently possess, if he would only take heed and listen.

Allah wanted him to believe, but to believe is the bottom line, and deep down none of us enjoy settling for that.

Patience manifests itself even in how we pursue joy in our vocation of choice. It takes effort and courage to acknowledge that the choices we made to set up our lives when seeking Allah’s provision (think of the famous “tie your camel, and trust in Allah, both” hadith), aren’t satisfying. To look at your wife and say that you need to move away near a place where you can restart, when there is no need except an overwhelming drive to find and pursue what Allah created you to do, is unfathomable for most. Some people are blessed with spouses, parents and other family that support them in whatever they do, and this is a generous bounty from Allah ‘azza wa jal.

No one knows what is coming next. Tomorrow, you could return to God. You might be diagnosed with a debilitating disease, or with a brain tumor, wa-Allahu Musta’aan. It could be the loss of a loved one who was providing financial support in a time of need.

How can you, O forgetful human being, come to think that all you had to do was hope things would get better, go the extra mile briefly just to get by and think you would be happy? The worst I fear most for myself and my readers, is that we come to believe that Allah is not on our side.

Allah wants for you what you think you don’t want for yourself.

What does this have to do with patience? Allah may give what we think is bad for us due to the pain we experience. And yet, there are dreams we don’t pursue because we assume we wouldn’t find the heartache of failure before success to be worth it. Only because that is what we have done all our lives. As the saying goes, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to try.

I know you’re scared. I know you have a lot on your plate. But give yourself that importance. Do you truly believe that you matter and that your existence was not purposeless? Join the few who have meant what they said when they looked in the mirror and silently said it. Join those who found Paradise here in the dunya, who found inner bliss and calm. And not only that, but adventure and the gift of having something to contribute.

To say that it is not possible to even consider dreaming big because of your circumstances, and that you are okay with that is simply lethargic and not true. And most definitely, it is not patience; rather, it is the height of dishonesty with oneself and shows that fear is taking over. We all have things we aspire to, goals we want to reach. But we put ourselves down, and the greatest critic that drags our Fitrah with it pulling at the ground, trying to hold on with its face in the dust, is ourselves, and we put it there.

It is a tragedy to lose one’s value for their own fulfillment. What good can come of stagnancy, when all our souls want to do is soar past what we have allowed to bound us, chained to our inhibitions–what greater cause for grief? Patience is chasing your dreams, but being okay with knowing it doesn’t happen overnight.

Patience is believing that if tomorrow comes, it brings light to guide a second, hundredth, or even thousandth chance at success. It is also believing that there is no way you will live to complete their mission, so you must never give up, and never tire of dreaming big, but planning small.

Whatever comes our way, there is in it what can be used to facilitate our way to Jannah.

It is our choice. A tortured existence without ever knowing why we feel so rotten, only because we gave up too easily — and only because failed to dream that we could succeed, or experience inner paradise.

Stuck

I stay in the path of my fears

I ventured forth

A barrier to my every chance’s door

I came to a pond in the field

Dreamed that inside I would go

Wet my feet and purify

Feeling the water; delight

And yet I

 

Stayed back

Worried my mother would find the mud stains

But I always sat frozen in that hail and rain

 

Knowing where I wanted to be

Caring for all but me

Abandoning my right to be free

To feel the grass under my feet

The birds are friends I used to meet

Oh! A child I used to be

Now look what maturity has done to me

 

I am aimless, wandering, how uncanny

They told me I’d be a doctor and that would make me happy

Nature continues to beckon me

But I chain myself to this chair.

The Everyday Risk

It’s worth reiterating, even though we hear it all the time from anyone who made the most of life. Life is about taking risks. First of all, should that not feel terrifying when we hear it? Everything you do is a risk. Maybe it’s too general. So here.

Every breath you take, you could be inhaling carbon monoxide that is enough to kill you. Every time you cross the street, you could be slammed into by an oncoming car. Every day that you are a construction worker, there’s the chance you could get in an accident with your dump truck. Every stroke of my pen, I might be writing the wrong words, overlooking grammatical errors or incurring hate for my highly spiritual and unusual views for this time period.

So much could go wrong.

But if I get out of bed in the morning, and go for a walk earlier rather than rise later for a coffee, I might feel I did something more to achieve a healthy, awakened lifestyle. If I read the Quran, I may feel overwhelmed by how much I have still left to learn, appalled at my tajweed and lack of understanding — but all in due time, one line, perhaps one word at a time. Every day I write more, I get a little closer to excellence. Every day I slack off, I’ve let myself lose a little more beauty that may not reciprocate through that very day’s actions.

Perhaps I should begin that project, or start tutoring a younger loved one on a regular basis. I might not know where to begin. I might not be able to keep it up right away. Or maybe I will. In any case, all I need is to have intention and to be willing to start truly living, and find the best of my being. I know I can be better, I know we all need time, but as my stomach churns with nervousness, so do the cogs turn within my consciousness, and I begin to see a new idea, and a fresh life returning to a beautiful reality.

Because you see, when you take a risk and fall and rise and fall again and rise, so much could go beautiful.

Beauty in the Mundane

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? Our playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson

To love your life, you have to be able to love what is already in front of you in your present, and where you are going. You must love how you get to what you want just as much as the goal or item itself, or you won’t enjoy it. Whatever your ambition is, you know you will find joy in it if there is an inclination via natural skill and passion for learning, and especially if you are able to live it in a way that inspires others. It’s in being able to say, “Hey, I found what I loved and was also good at and look! –I’m okay! I’m successful, I managed, and I might not be a millionaire, but my life is great. I’m content with what I chose to do.”

You can choose to be a doctor by merit of how ‘good’ it is, but not because of love your love for patient care. You can’t know where you want to be if you can’t learn to love where you are. Where you are is inevitably a part of your journey. You’re already here. So if you don’t love it, you must be missing something. It doesn’t mean you have to leave the people you love, your family and your friends behind, and move out of your house. You don’t have to eat different food, or throw out all your furniture and clothes. You need to dust your furniture, and wipe the lint from your clothes. Wash off the smell of decay from not trying new things and scrubbing off dirt of guilt from ancient mistakes. Wash away the fear by trying new clothes on and daring to be differently the same – as in, appropriately unique. No one needs to dress like it’s a party daily, but wearing unusual skin that’s yours (but still human!) every day pays off, and it certainly won’t kill you. In fact, it is beautifully good for your well-being.

I can’t tell you how to do it. But what I can say is you have everything you need in the version of this world Allah created, especially for the list of ingredients in the recipe to your success. You have come to prime. Every day is your prime age – I don’t care how old or young you are. There is no such thing as the perfect time or even the perfect way. The perfect path is in your instruction booklet, but your way is something you carve, even if you think you are following someone else. Allah sent perfect words, but not perfect human beings, so we need to revisit the Quran even before we get stumped, every day and many times because we owe that to ourselves just as people, as beings of high status in God’s eyes.

Sometimes your compass is dirty, it’s been on the ground.

Your radio is jammed, because it’s full of dead leaves.

You need to mow the grass to be able to see what’s in front of you and you need to get your head out of the clouds. Even though there is beauty in what you can lose yourself in, if you stand up and turn around, you might find out that there is beauty in what helps you to find direction, too.