The Ceaseless Tissue Box

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

When I packed my bags, I packed a lot of tissues expecting that I would need them when I arrived at my destination and knowing that I wouldn't know where to get any. And I did need them, but not for the reasons I anticipated. I find that the older I get the more frequently I need them, but for reasons that I never succumbed to before.

When we're young, we look at the chaos in the world around us and we see our parents' worry for us. As we grow, our concern becomes less about their reactions and fears for us and instead becomes our own - for them and for others. We try to protect ourselves from the problems, but it seems impossible because we soon learn that we are indeed the problem.

How can we be so heartless? How can we be so selfish? We call ourselves intelligent creatures. Indeed, this is from the favours of our Lord, but we are ingrates. He gives us our intellect and we use it to harm His creations. And yet we know, we know very well that the pain of another is no less than the pain of our own. And yet we persevere. Why, tell me, why are children sleeping on streets? Why are their homes blown to smithereens? Why are innocent men being imprisoned and tortured? Why do men abuse their wives? Why do wives cheat on their husbands? Why is one person's life more valuable than another's? Why? Why?

I don't know why.

Should I know why? If I know the reasons, will I be able to rationalize them? Will it ease the heart and cease the tears? No. No it won't. Because there is no excuse for injustice. There is no excuse for oppression. There is no excuse for causing intentional harm and failing to seek solutions.

Other than discarded tissues, I don't know how to make sense of this world. We hear and we try to obey ya Rabb. But we fail. So we, too, are no more innocent, though our crimes have different names.

Prophet Nuh, peace be upon him, called his people to guidance and rectifying their states. For 950 years he invited them to change their ways, to return to their Lord, to make aright the grave wrongs that they cradled in their hearts and lives. After 950 years, they met their end in the flood. And now, what can they say for themselves? Their lives in this world are insignificant, moreso when compared to infinity. Even their 950 years of subjecting a Prophet of God to harm all passed. This is Bani Adam. O Children of Adam. O Children of Adam. Where are we?

Babies are being born into this world, and I hope for each and every one of them to know the delights of this world, as I hope for all those who are living. There are only two delights. The first is to know one's Lord, and the second is to love one's Lord. Most of us don't have an inkling of what these mean.

Which brings me to my final point. Conversation. We converse with ourselves all day, every day. In our sleep, we too venture with our souls following their tunes. Our dialogue continues. But in the great silence of the night, when the mind tries to hush and that inner voice tires, we have emptiness. If in all our conversations with ourselves, our world gets no better. Homeless children are no warmer at night. Oppressed people are no more free. Families are no more loving. If such is the case, then we must know that there is a great conversation missing in the picture of our lives.

And He says to us in those blessed days of Ramadhan, come. Come. And our response should have been and should continue to be Labayk Allahumma labayk! - At Your service, O Lord. Here I am! But we don't respond because we're not listening for the call. We can't hear it. We've silenced it in ourselves through our ignorance. When He says to call on Him, the All Hearing, the All Seeing, we respond with heartlessness except when met by trials. Why? Because perhaps in times of ease we think ourselves self-sufficient. La. La.

We said. We gathered together and said balaa! - yes! Our Lord addressed us, "Am I not your Lord?" And we said "Yes you are." But we don't even know what that means. We don't even know what that means. Ya Allah...

Ya Rabb, I don't understand this world, and I don't see my place in it. I want nothing of it except Your good pleasure, for me and my loved ones and all those who have even a bit of heart left. I see why this world is a trial, ya Salam, ya Aziz, ya Jabbar. We ask only You for peace. We ask only You for strength. We ask only You for protection from the evils of ourselves and of others. If You are not pleased with us, there is nothing for us to take from this world. Nothing. Guide us to You and to that which pleases You. Let us not despair in the condition that we have put upon ourselves. Teach us what it means to have a good opinion of You. Ya Allah, nasaluka wahdak. We ask only You ya Allah. Ighfir lana wa irhamna ya Rabb al 'Alameen. Ameen.

اللهم إنا نسألك رضاك والجنة، ونعوذ بك من سخطك والنار


Something to think about...

A Golden Pearl

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

I am sand, and I live beside the ocean. I spend my days treading the beach looking for that special spot where I'll be most useful. One day, as I settled myself amidst some beautiful rocks that glistened with rays from the setting sun, I noticed a particularly sparkly object laying subtly on the rocks not too far ahead of me. It was a pleasant sight that I relished for a moment. But before I could give it a second thought, the tides came in and the pulsing ocean reclaimed it.

Some years later, as I sat on the beach taking in the refreshing air, I glanced to my right and noticed it again. At once I knew that we had met before, but this time it seemed more enchanting than I had remembered. It was during this gracious encounter when I realized that the object of fascination was in fact a pearl, a golden pearl. I approached it slightly and then retracted. Gems of this type are not left alone for the likes of me to claim. Nonetheless, I stayed close by until night fell and it once again disappeared from sight.

Thereafter its memory could not be forgotten thus indicating that a closer encounter was inevitable. When it occurred, thoughts that this may be an ordinary stone or shell that simply had its own charm was dispelled. No, this really was a pearl, but it hid itself well. This pearl that perhaps was as ordinary as other shiny objects could only be seen clearly when resting in my midst. But again, I reminded myself that I was unfit to keep it from the ocean. I loosened my sandy embrace, and with a final sparkle it easily slipped back into the engulfing waves.

I often visit this part of the beach hoping for at least a glimpse of it, but hopes of such an occurrence are fanciful and unrealistic. Perhaps it's better that I close my eyes and savour the thought as a dream while I leave reality to take its destined course.

I Am From...

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Last year one of my homework assignments was to write an "I Am From" poem noting some elements that have helped shape the person that I am. It was an interesting though challenging endeavour as I wasn't sure which aspects to include and which to exclude.

Given that the poem was available for my classmates and professors to read, I think it served its purpose. Nevertheless, while I appreciate some parts of it, I think it fails at getting to the heart of reflecting on one's history. This poem speaks about the outward (in an unbalanced way) despite my reality being inward. Perhaps one of these days I should attempt a re-write wherein the outward and inward meet.

I invite you to try writing something about yourself. And if there is anyone exceptional enough to appreciate the privilege of reading your words, then do share them. Perhaps you'll find it a fruitful and insightful activity.

Alhamdulillah 'ala kulli haal.


I Am From...

I am from the thundering of Mosi-o-tunya,
guavas, and mangoes.
I am from burglar bars, guard dogs,
and monkeys stealing snacks.
I am from the cradle of basket weavers,
live bait, and creative knickknacks.

I am from the sweat of my parents
whose sacrifices are my comfort.
I am from a dinner table set for eleven,
discussions until twelve,
and "give me a chocolate bar, and we'll call it even."

I am from the heat of childhood games.
I am from the coolness of calm tempers.
I am from the heights of stamped passports.
I am from the depths of spiritual awareness.

I am from the melody of unstoppable giggles
and the sensations of milk and cake.
I am from the selfless counsel of elders and teachers
who evidence threads of wisdom in all that they've sewn.
I am from weekend barbeques, powdered Tang,
and a face much like my own.

I am from three date fruits and a sip of water,
and I am from a smile.
I am from the tranquil echoes of the muathin
calling to servitude five times a day.
I am from the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
I am from his legacy.
I am from his way.
[Insha'Allah wa ameen!]

October 5, 2009

Heartfelt Reminders

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

In the midst of clarifying their relationship, I witnessed one saying to another, "...but this isn't about me and never has been. It's about Allah and nothing else." From the outside, one can only wonder what a relationship contains when it is framed by such a delightfully peaceful thought. I often think about these words as I wonder how this wisdom can become a rule in life rather than an exception.

It is easy enough to begin relationships for Allah's sake as sometimes that's precisely what brings people together. But over time, relationships can easily transform into an "it's all about me" attitude inviting a troubling decline and far too many points on Shaytan's scoreboard. But surely there must be a way for the pitiful residue of such relationships to be salvaged and reformed to their glorious beginnings.

I found some direction to my thoughts in Imam Ghazali's, rahimuhullah, chapter on "The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam" in his voluminous work Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum Ad Din), but I couldn't help but feel that with a lack of adequate knowledge, training, and practice, most of us (myself foremost) are a far cry away from fulfilling the duties of our sisters and brothers in Islam. Perhaps that's why the text even speaks of a contract of brotherhood such that both parties understand the nature of their relationship and feel obliged to honour it, to make excuses for the other, and to see faults in the actions but not the person, among other things.

I really am a world away from figuring out how things work in this world. Where do respect and love meet? Where do they depart? In an ideal world, people are supports for each other. Dr. Tariq Ramadan illustrates this great insight in his book "In the Footsteps of the Prophet" while reflecting on the story of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon them both). He writes,
"When Abraham is tempted by deep doubt about himself, his faith, and the truth of what he hears and understands, the inspirations and confirmations of Hagar and Ishmael (whom he loves but sacrifices in the name of divine love) enable him not to doubt God, His presence, and His goodness. Doubt about self is thus allied to deep trust in God" (pg. 5).
So while we, by our human nature, seek companionship we, too, have explicit guidance about how this companionship must breathe and act. At the base of it all is our own personal relationships with Allah as we cannot expect that comfort comes from humans themselves but rather it's a blessing from Allah, most Glorified is He. Hagar and Ishmael's conviction, as I see it, was independent of their love of Prophet Ibrahim (may Allah be pleased with them all). Rather, the three of them supported each other in the face of trials by remaining steadfast in their obedience to God.

When we are connected with those who are striving for greater God-consciousness (taqwa) and love, we hope that they will help us gently in our times of weakness and more importantly that we, too, can help them for none other than Allah's sake alone.

And if a union of this type should exist, then one must recognize it as gift from the Almighty and thank Him for it. It is only He who is deserving of all praises.

Ya Allahu, ya Latifu, ya Khabir, guide us to You and Your love. Bless us with a sound understanding of our deen and bless us with knowledge and love of You, the All Knowing, the Wise. Ya Allah, give us relief in our difficulties, grant us light in our darkness, give us strength in our weakness, and increase us in our sincere servitude of You. Ya Rabbi, protect me from wronging my soul and protect me and my heart from turning to that which doesn't befit obedience to you. Ya Allah, I seek Your guidance and Your protection. Guide us to Your good pleasure and protect us from Your wrath. Have mercy on us, ya Allah... Ighfir li ya Rabb. Ighfir li ya Arhamar Rahimeen wa salla Allahu 'ala Sayyidina Muhammad wa aalihi wa salim.

A thread...

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

I made a mistake of not writing. I made the mistake of failing to put a name and direction to my thoughts and internal tempo. Like particles of dust, they can now hardly be collected. They can hardly be corrected. When did I let them slide into an abyss of darkness? I wonder.

I made a mistake of hoping in a way that does not befit my place. Perhaps the root of this mistake is in forgetting or neglecting truth.

Truth always comes with us, even if we don't engage its presence. But it only shines for those who embrace it. Most times I give up trying to figure out what it means to hold it, to nurture it, to call it a part of me. Occasionally only a wayward thread of it comes into view, and that in itself is far better than nothing.

But it takes more than a ragged thread to sew a garment. Perhaps the goal should be better suited to the resources. Perhaps it should be a simple bow. Yes, a bow - as useless as it may be - is fathomable. But it's still an intimidating thought as I'll likely break the thread in the process. Is it worth risking?

There is no alternative. It must be attempted.

Ya Rabbi, help me.
"Do you think that you will enter the Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: 'When (will come) the help of God?' Ah! Verily the help of God is (always) near!" [2:214]



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"Be mindful of God, and God will protect you. Be mindful of God, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of God. If you seek help, seek help of God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if the whole world were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God has already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried."
--Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]