Dichotomy.

Today I woke up with an urge to write ..

On September 12th – Eid ul Adha this year – my husband and I were rushing to the Jawatte mosque for Eid prayers. We parked at one of the by-lanes and I got out and was walking ahead while my husband locked up and I see another familiar face, ever smiling, rushing towards the mosque.

“AA, How are you? I hear congratulations are in order,” I told him.

“W/S, I should be congratulating you,” he replied. “How are things?”

And in the rush to get to the mosque we wrapped up that fleeting conversation and ran off.

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a picture he had posted about cricket try-outs at Lords and I told my mother who was in front of me about him. Someone I had known for around 5-6 years now and never mentioned to her before. I told her what a nice guy he was and how he had just won the Chevening Scholarship to the London School of Economics and Political Science and how he was someone destined for greatness.

On October 12th – exactly a month later – I was reading in the evening, when my phone rang and before I could answer it the call disconnected. And my friend called again.

“Your friend Adhil died,” she said.

“What?!” I replied.

إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعون

“Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return”

When a Muslim hears about death, it’s what we say. We immediately put our trust in our Lord and accept His decree.

Our Lord had a better plan for Adhil – Adhil who had just moved to London, Adhil who going to start his masters, Adhil who everyone who knew him would be the kind of leader we dreamed for Sri Lanka: fair, just and kind, Adhil who was kind and generous, Adhil who was always smiling.

Yesterday my Facebook timeline was full of tributes for this wonderful person – people he hadn’t met, people he had made an impression with the few moments they spent with him, people who could proudly call him their best friend.

This was a guy in his 26 years of life who had impacted countless people in such a positive way.

We don’t know when our time on earth will come. My end could be today and yours tomorrow. For me, all this made me step back and assess how I am living my life. Do we treat people with kindness? Do we live our lives in a way that we are making an impact in our community? Do we smile as often as we should? Do we spend enough time with the ones we love? Do we spend time in reflection? Do we spend enough time in prayer?

We live in a day and age where our personal lives are open books. We get to paint a picture of what we want our lives to be. I have been in gatherings where people mock someone else’s post or picture, laugh behind their backs. I have seen people who aren’t happy but paint the rosiest picture of family life on their social media pages. As human beings, we whine and complain and are quick to surround ourselves with negativity. We snap at others, get angry easily, hold grudges, lie, cheat, get jealous, indulge in our vices – little realizing our end might just be around the corner.

One of my friends had posted this on Facebook .. “Love the people God gave you because He will need them back one day.” We are all chasing our dreams – the biggest house, the flashiest cars parked in the garage, the prettiest shoes, baubles that glitter at our necks, the latest gadgets. As we invest our time and energies in this pursuit, sometimes we leave behind the ones we love, we dont spend enough time with our aging parents, we dont have time for a kind word or two for our kids, we dont take time to appreciate our significant others, we call our friends less.

Adhil lived his life in a way that anyone who had the privilege of knowing him would say they were blessed. Let’s use his life as a reminder to smile more, to spend more time with the people we love, to help our communities in whatever way we can, to take time out to do the things we love – whether its cricket try-outs or spending the day at the beach – to put our trust in our Lord’s plans and to accept His decree.

One of my favourite ayahs of the Qur’an is .. “We plan and Allah plans and He is the best of planners” It’s easy to lose focus and get disillusioned when things dont go our way and its easy to compare our lives with the lives of others but trust in His plans and in sha Allah they will turn out to be better than we expected.

If you are reading this, join me in saying a prayer for Adhil ..

May Allah accept from him all his good deeds, forgive all his sins and grant him the highest of the heavens. Ameen.

and May Allah also give his family and friends the strength and patience through this difficult time. Ameen.

carbon copy

3d_person_windows_mirror_by_larundel-d4bp7dgGuess who’s back, back again? So after promising myself I wont fall off the blogosphere I did just that .. but hey, at least my absence this time was not as long as my previous hiatus. 😛

So what made me put pen to paper or in this case manicured fingertips to keyboard – something I came across during one of my random moments of social lurking on Facebook. One of my friends had shared a fake profile, someone who was impersonating her, and had asked those on her friend list to report. And a couple of days ago I found a fake profile on Instagram stealing images from a popular (one of my favourites!) digital influencer’s Insta feed. And the one that took the cake – someone had uploaded a nude image on Dropbox and falsely said it was my cousin.

All of this got me thinking, in a day and age where our lives are laid bare on social media platforms have the lines of identity become blurred? The concept of identity is a murky one – is it the country or state you come from, is it the religion you practice, is it the colour of your skin or even the race you follow.

However, what I believe makes you inherently you is your personality. If someone were to ask me to describe myself, say I said 25 year old Sri Lankan Muslim Moor, it would not be completely unique. However, if I said I am a writer and a baker, who roots for Chelsea FC and Sri Lanka cricket, has One Direction and Bob Marley on the same playlist, loud mouthed, opinionated, loves passionately, gets jealous easily, a bit obnoxious, extremely sensitive etc etc .. that I believe would give a better idea of who I am.

And I can give you similar descriptions for my close friends.

These personalities then translate on to social media platforms and however hard you try to layer it with privacy it is still a window into who you are.

Many thrive on this. First it is subtle phrases and little paragraphs they plagiarise, you know how someone’s Facebook rant sounds very similar to something you read on the Internet a couple of weeks ago. Next comes the pictures that look eerily similar and before you know it your pictures and information starts showing up on fake profiles. There is no saying if these would lead to defamation of character, financial fraud or even a loss of a job.

While Facebook allows you to report a fake profile including those that impersonate one of your friends, on Instagram only the person who’s profile is being impersonated can complain. I am not sure about Dropbox or Twitter or LinkedIn’s policies on privacy.

It is scary to think .. someone at this every moment maybe using a social media platform with yours or my details .. someone might be a carbon copy of you.

 

photo creds: http://larundel.deviantart.com/art/3D-person-windows-mirror-261516436

‘Muslim Moor parents seek groom for their fair, educated daughter … ‘

When I was 17, I had to write a matrimonial advert for myself as coursework for one of my classes – Individuals and Families in Diverse Societies (part of my Ontario Secondary School Diploma). And while I do not remember the exact wording for the advert, it went something like ‘Muslim Moor parents seek groom for their fair, educated daughter … ‘

Fast forward a couple of years later, at the marriageable age (or passed my sell by date?) of 25 my USPs still remains the same. However, unlike my 17 year old self I have begun to question the factors that make me good marriage material. My skin colour does not tell if I will be a good wife or mother, it is no indication of what I am like around my friends, when I am hungry, when I am angry. Does being educated mean I am well read or street smart – does it mean I am good in mathematics or that English is my strong point? Apparently, it does not matter; the only thing that does matter is that I am university educated.

At a recent wedding I visited, one of those hawk eyed aunties spotted me two tables away and once she had given me the Aunty Once-Over (Worse than the Manhattan Once-Over where eyes scan you to make sure you’re appropriately attired in expensive clothes and of course a piece of jewelry or two!) and on being satisfied was quick to introduce me to potential Mother-In- Law as ‘X’s daughter’. Once pleasantries were exchanged and I had made sure to sit far away as possible from their table, Potential Mom In Law and Well-Meaning Aunty put their heads together to discuss whatever they had heard about me and my family over the years and thus began the process.

If they haven’t discovered the skeletons in my closet, the next part of the process is sharing information of the Son/Potential Groom who is made to seem like God’s gift to earth. Usually the details are shared via email in the form of a CV. These contain the usual age, height, education qualifications, professional experience, no. of siblings and in some cases the addresses of siblings (I mean those Colombo 7 addresses need to be highlighted right?). If a guy is settled in the West in UK, Australia or the States, he is prized property and if he is in the Middle East, remember his pockets are lined with oil money. If God’s gift to earth is based in Sri Lanka, make sure to insert MNC/MAS/Brandix in place of work to yield better results.

If all of the above is hunky dory, this is followed by the most awkward set up of getting the guy and girl to meet where you are expected to make small talk for a few minutes in close proximity to the family either in the next room or in the case of a café a nearby table. These minutes of chatter can range from anything like your hobbies to your future plans and in many cases for me football.

And just like that you make a decision on whether to spend a lifetime with a person.

Over time, the romantic notions I had of marriage (Blame Cinderella and her happily ever after!) have long fallen apart to give rise to a perception of love that is built on trust, commitment and respect. As much as I respect that our parents and elders have our best interests at heart, it is difficult to believe that this saga can actually lead to the kind of marriage I want for myself – you know the kind where someone just accepts your neurotic self, encourages you to just be a better version of yourself and most importantly challenges me on an intellectual level and is mentally stimulating.

Till I find a system that works, I am just going to sit as far away as possible from the Aunties and dig into the biriyani and wattalapam.

‘.. so be patient with a beautiful patience.’

 

 

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So one day during one of my social lurking sessions, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook wall – ‘فَاصْبِرْ صَبْرًا جَمِيلًا’ which loosely translates to ‘.. so be patient with a beautiful patience.’ (Qur’an – Surah Al Ma’arij Verse 5). I say loosely translate because Arabic isn’t a language you take at face value, every word has so much depth, so many layers one English word isn’t enough to explain it.

What a beautiful, beautiful line!

We live in a world where people don’t think twice before asking a married woman why she isn’t pregnant yet, where people are quick to whisper behind a friend’s back the moment they see their child doing something wrong, where people are always quick to judge and pass comment. We have no qualms now about backbiting, slander and gossip little realising the effect it has on another human being.

Just this morning, I was scrolling through my News Feed (see, social lurker!) and amongst the rainbow coloured profile pictures proclaiming their joy at the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in the United States there were the haters. The bigots who put homosexuals in the same category as murderers and rapists and branded them harmful to the development of society. They brought in religion (without any evidence of course!) to strengthen their claims and some even went as far as taking the ruling as a personal attack on Islam since it happened during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It angered me so much that people took it upon themselves to pass the verdict that homosexuals would enter Hell, that they were quick to brand these people as detrimental to society. I know people, some close to me who are gay, and they are some of the kindest people in my life. I spent a good part of my morning defending their rights to be who they are. I mean drinking alcohol is prohibited in Islam but rarely do we see people brand those who enjoy a glass of wine now and then as being the scum of society, no one is calling for them to be locked up with the murderers and rapists.

So I was angry that people have no regard for humanity, no regard for the Islam they preach – I mean the basic tenets of Islam are peace, kindness to others, humility and love – and then I spoke to a friend. He said, “I have that habit (of getting sucked into putting the haters straight) but I doubt it goes beyond anything other than being publicly forced into shutting up.”

And that’s when it hit me, I can research every surah in the Qur’an to back my case, look for relevant Hadiths but it still will not be enough to change the minds of the people who think this way. They are set in their ways and it will take a lot more convincing and effort to get them to think rationally.

I am ranting again, aren’t I? This is when I went back to the above-mentioned verse. Rather than getting angry and losing precious energy, I should summon all my strength and persevere to observe a beautiful patience.

And similarly, every one of us I believe is fighting some form of battle. For the married woman yet to become pregnant, it is a very public one. It is easy to get angry at the Auntie who perseveres with the question, it is easy to say people really should mind their own business, but the hardest is to put a smile on, be gracious and politely answer back.

In Surah Al Baqarah, Allah says:

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. (2:216)

In the face of trials, we say we trust Allah, we say we trust in His plan but in reality we hurt inside, we complain, we get angry. I know I do.

It is difficult to see the good in something we see as bad. In times like this Allah reminds us that our actions and our deeds – the dignified way we deal with tribulations – will set us apart on the Day of Judgement. Our actions is what truly separates us.

The Prophet (saw) said: And know that victory comes with patience. [At-Tirmidhi] – This is a reminder for me first!! So, the next time someone says something I do not agree with or if someone asks you a question you do not really want to answer, I hope you and I will think back to this beautiful, beautiful verse and be patient beautifully (or beautifully patient?).

So, the next time someone says something I do not agree with or if someone asks you a question you do not really want to answer, I hope you and I will think back to this beautiful, beautiful verse and be patient beautifully (or beautifully patient?).

Note: The calligraphy at the beginning of this post was done by the amazingly talented Creative Director at my office and he does not know Arabic lettering. It was all done free hand! 🙂

Nafs

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Back in the day if I picked up a book, I will only put it down once I was done reading. I read the fourth Harry Potter book before I did the first three. When I turned 13, I asked my aunts for the three books. I stayed up all night and only slept the next afternoon when I had finished all three and the fourth again for good measure. Anything and everything I got my hands on I would read.

Then I grew up and became an adult and I would rarely read and when I did I would take weeks to finally finish. On the Metro, it was easier to read a glossy magazine than a pick up a fat political thriller.

Okay I am ranting again. Anyways so a few days ago, in order to re-ignite my love of the books, I decided to go on a reading challenge – where I read 50 books in 3 months. Tall order, but I am feeling pretty confident.

The reading challenge I opted for has different categories and one was ‘A book a friend recommended’. I borrowed ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ by Elif Shafak from a friend a few months ago and finally read it as part of my challenge.

And boy, am I glad I did.

The book flits between a dichotomy – the new world of Ella – the perfect housewife with  a philandering husband, three kids and a perfectly laid out table. The yesteryear friendship of the Sufi poet Rumi and the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz forms the contrasting aspect of the dichotomy. Ella reads a manuscript set on this beautiful friendship as part of her new job only to have her world literally turned on its axis.

Ramadan is upon us and for me personally it is a time of personal reflection and discovery. The last Ramadan passed by with me going through periods of intense submission to Allah and the next minute missing my prayers. This year I decided to approach it by discovering my faith through the discovery of myself.

The Forty Rules of Love struck a chord with me especially since it examined the Sufi take on submission or attaining the highest level of faith or iman. Shams of Tabriz in one chapter of the book discusses the seven stages it takes to overpower one’s nafs in order ot attain the Path to Truth. Nafs to translate lightly means self or soul.

Nafs is an integral part of Islam. The human soul is in constant battle with the Divine Powers of God that attracts him towards good and then the Powers of the Devil which attracts him towards the bad and evil. When one overcomes the Satanic powers or the evil forces, one is victorious and is in the company of the pious or the steadfast.

“… By the soul and (by) Him who made it perfect, and then inspired it to understand what is wrong and what is right for it. Truly is successful the one who purifies (his soul).” (Holy Qur’an, 91: 7-9)

Everyone I am sure has heard the term jihad – simply because the media does not let you forget how the ‘Islamic or Muslim’ terrorists are waging a holy war or jihad on the infidels. Jihad, for me and most Muslims I am sure, transcends the bloodshed and is something way bigger. For me, jihad is a personal battle against one’s nafs, it is that fight against the evils that plague us be it jealousy or anger or resentment.

Coming back to Shafak’s book and the seven stages to overcome nafs, Shams of Tabriz says the first nafs is the Depraved Nafs or the most primitive battle where we are in constant loggerheads with worldly needs and wants, where we blame everyone but ourselves for what goes wrong in our life, where our worldly pursuits leave us unhappy. Next is Accusing Nafs – where we finally begin to self-loathe and see ourselves as the problem. For Shams of Tabriz, this is the first step towards reaching that inner peace. The stage in this personal battle is the Inspired Nafs where one finally learns the meaning of surrender. Patience, wisdom and the seeking of knowledge are what categorizes this stage. The next stage is that of Serene Nafs where a person reaches a higher level of consciousness  and finally a sense of happiness and peace within. People in seek of the highest level of contentment next experience the Pleased Nafs where whatever test God puts them through they deal with it serenely and with a sense of calm. The sixth stage the Pleasing Nafs sees an individual radiate positive energy sharing their knowledge and wisdom with all – the teachers, the Masters. The final stage or the Purified Nafs sees the individual become Insan-i Kâmil, a perfect human being according to the Shams of Tabriz.

While I do not believe there’s such a thing as a perfect human being, the book made me think of what it means to go on a personal discovery and examining my faith – believing in Islam is more than just seeing things at face value. It is very easy to take an ayah from the Qur’an and say that ‘Islam allows wife beating’ without examining the context and understanding the background to the verse.

And this is exactly what I intend to do this Holy Month – understand what it means to surrender to the Oneness of Allah, understand what it means to attain that complete faith through the inner battle with my Nafs.

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan

The Prophet (saw) said, “(Allah said), ‘Every good deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it.’ (Bukhari)

The Prophet (saw) said that Allah said: “Every deed of man will receive ten to 700 times reward, except Siyam (fasting), for it is for Me and I shall reward it (as I like). There are two occasions of joy for one who fasts: one when he breaks the fast and the other when he will meet his Lord.” (Muslim)

Ramadan Kareem to you and to your family. May Allah accept our fasts, in sha Allah Ameen. Please remember my family and I in your duas.

Will not have it any other way ..

1 year and 8 months – that’s how long it’s been since I posted something on this blog. Have I written during this time? Only for work, because I had to.

1 year and 8 months – that’s 613 days give or take a few days (mathematics has never been my strong point). During this period, some very interesting things have happened in my life.

I decided, okay not me alone but all the parties involved, decided to walk away from something that was making us unhappy. This was my first time going away from tradition and expectation and normalcy in most households. We are raised to first go to school, then university  (I’ve realised not everyone enjoys this privilege), marriage comes next and after that the babies and you live happily ever after. This is an age old system and one that has worked for many.

However, when these interesting things were happening in my life – I took a step back, I took a step back to look at the bigger picture. We are all a puzzle piece put together to form the bigger picture that is life. And when you step back, you see a disjointed puzzle, nothing appears as it seems. The pieces around you may fit perfectly, but they may disconnect from this bigger picture. Okay I need to stop saying bigger picture.

Anyways, my point being the perfect life that we have planned for us is not so pretty when you really look at it – people stay married because that is what is expected of them, kids allow their parents to dictate their life only to realise they are miserable, children are born to couples whose love faded 3 months into the marriage, adults do monotonous jobs because that is what is expected of them. In short, people existed rather than lived.

You know that deliriously happy look kids have you rarely see it in adults. And when you ask them why they would rather do something because it is what is expected of them rather than following their passion the answers typically are “What to do? I have kids now and I can’t quit my job just like that to do whatever it is I like to do.”  “So what if my husband and I have a boring marriage, at least he is doing a good job and I have a nice comfortable life.” and so forth.

People around me were merely existing and not really living. Over a course of a few months, it hit me I’d honestly rather be living a difficult life where I would take public transport to get about than a chauffeur driven car, do chores around the house than have a maid at my beck and call, where at the end of the month I would rather wonder where my salary went than opt for economic stability, where I would save up for 12 months for a Prada bag I’ve been lusting after rather than have it gifted for my birthday (this does not mean I do not want pretty gifts for my birthday :b), where I would be doing a job that I love than sitting at home because I did not need to work, where I plan holidays on a shoestring budget months ahead than opt for a no holds barred luxurious holiday.

I’d take the hard stuff because you know that deliriously happy look kids get, I have that every morning I wake up. Okay, a few moments after I wake up once I have caffeine in my blood stream.

Mind you, breaking away from the status quo comes at a heavy price. Your parents  face the brunt of it as they deal with questions on why they have raised such an independent daughter and also the gossip. The mindless gossip, that status quo comes at a heavy price. Your parents  face the brunt of it as they deal with questions on why they have raised such an independent daughter and also the gossip. The mindless gossip, that slays your character rather drags it to the streets, douses it in boiling water and then rip your skin from your bones – okay, that is a bit graphic at least in my head it is – that is the worst. But you know what, as hard as it is you learn to lift your head up and take on the world, whatever it is it throws your way.

Moral of this rant: Economic stability and a comfortable lifestyle does not give you true happiness rather it is doing what you love even if it is the most difficult thing you have had to do .. And also because I need one of these reminders once in awhile 🙂