Author: Soraya

Eid thoughts

Eid Mubarak wonderful souls, whether you are celebrating today or tomorrow! Surely such a blessed day calls for ice cream and lots of it?!

Ramadan was a difficult one this year; global, national and local incidents left me feeling overwhelmed, distracted and powerless. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower was especially painful; affecting a community close to my heart and sadly illustrating the consequences of our societal ills; greed, lack of ethics and disregard by the powerful for lives that don’t seem to matter.

A few days ago however, I and another were conversing with an old man whose situation was such that he lived in poverty. As the old man left, he parted with a loving prayer where he hoped to meet us all again, only this time, in Heaven.
And it suddenly hit me. This is a life full of joy and love and hope, yes, but also a world full of sorrow and injustice and oppression and pain. But there is another life to come; a life where true and perfect justice will be delivered by the Most Just for all those oppressed and wronged. And where true and final peace will descend upon all by the Source of Peace.

I realised that my sense of powerlessness came from my inability to attach enough meaning to the afterlife.

This tragedy and all forms of hurt in the world should inspire us to be gentle with each other, to comfort, support and stand up for one another. And when we then start to feel overcome, then let us also remember that there is an afterlife where all wrongs will be put right. An old poor man in a little city in Morocco reminded me of this.

Small mercies: istighfaar

A good friend recently told me about the benefits of istighfar and how life changing it has been for her. She shared a simple anecdote about how she was running late for her inter city train, increased in istighfar and by the grace of God the train was delayed by a short period- enough time for her to reach the station and jump on.

Today I experienced something similar. While running late for a meeting and each taxi that passed by wouldn’t stop, my friend’s story came to mind and inspired us to do some istighfar. Within seconds, a taxi with one passenger drove past and picked us up. When we were in the taxi, unbeknown to them about the context, the driver and passenger shared how they were on the way to another part of town, and somehow ended up on our road. The driver spoke of his amazement at having planned one particular direction and then another plan took hold. The passenger then asked the driver to stop us off first despite him being in the car first – he didn’t know that we were running horrendously late!

When we open our hearts to these possibilities, His mercies, big and small truly manifest. Alhamdulilah

A slice of humble pie

A short while ago,  I ‘uber pooled’ a taxi with a stranger. I have done this a few times when I couldn’t justify getting a taxi home, beyond feeling just a bit lazy. This time a lady jumped in to the back with me and promptly greeted me with the muslim salutation ‘peace be  upon you’.

Strangely, despite being a very private person, there are times when I am happy to share elements of my life freely with others. On the most part however, I keep my deepest hopes and dreams to myself.  This lady, upon us setting off in the car to our respective destinations, began to tell me about her life. How she was mixed race, how she only discovered faith in her later years, how she is trying to maintain a good relationship with her Trump loving mother, how she was married multiple times and finally how she is currently in court, fighting for the right of her son to attend a faith school, despite her ex-husband’s objections. She turned to me and told me her son’s name and asked me to pray and make dua that the court case goes well. I promised her I would.

I don’t know how the court case went and I probably wouldn’t recognise the woman if I was to pass her by in the street again. But this lady’s attitude taught me something: humility.

Some people may think that this lady telling her life story might be lonely or too talkative or to relate to the social media craze we live in now was ”oversharing’. I saw something else. I saw someone who was humble enough to confide to an absolute stranger her biggest concerns in life at the time and ask for help in the form of a prayer, and at the same time strong in her self to know that her sharing didn’t make her weaker in the eyes of the other person. There is a prophetic saying (hadith) that ‘the dua of a muslim for his brother in his absence is responded to’. 

This struck a cord with me, particularly because I wondered how often I ask loved ones to pray for me or to help me. I wondered if this was because I felt I never needed to do so because in the Islamic tradition, there is no need for an intermediary to communicate your feelings and prayers to God. I realised, that perhaps a part of it too was because I don’t like to admit when I am in need. To open myself in this way would feel too overwhelming and would indicate that I am not as self-sufficient (bar God) as I aspire to be.

It is one thing to only rely on God and to call on only Him for relief, and quite another to not seek dua or help from others due to a lack of humility.

And so, any prayer and good vibes you can send my way would be humbly and graciously received <3.

I ask for God’s abundant mercy and blessings to be showered in your life and that you may see both joys and hardships as only beautiful things.

Ameen.

 

 

 

 

The failure of multi-tasking

I realised I had a problem when I slipped and fell into a puddle of vomit. Yes, a puddle of vomit. On the street. In broad daylight. A man enjoying his pint in the pub opposite even gave me a wave of encouragement as he watched the whole scene play out.

I was on my phone, eagerly responding to a message on whatsapp, and in doing so was taking little care as to where and what I was walking into. I was trying to multi-task, save time, be efficient and engaging. I ended up failing in all areas; I didn’t respond to any follow up messages for a while and spent the night trying to remove all trace of someone’s bile off my mental and physical existence.  Rather interestingly, this was an experience I didn’t seem to think worthy enough to share online.

Since this little incident, I have increasingly become aware of how the art of multi-tasking can manifest into a disease.

It manifests in the form of people taking their phones into the bathroom, snapchatting about their day whilst in the company of loved ones to post on social media to absent acquaintances, sitting with one group of friends while whatsapping another group online at the same time, disrupting moments of ‘in real life’ connection to ‘just check something online’, texting while driving, taking selfies at funerals and phone screens being the first and last things eyes are opened and closed to.

We have lost the ability to just sit and think and be present; to stand at the bus stop and just wait for the bus, to sit at the dinner table and just eat, to engage with the people we are sitting with and not rely on online communication to have difficult conversations, to focus on a task without reaching out for the phone every minute to check notifications and to experience a beautiful thing without having to share every last detail about it.

With this, we lose so much more than we gain. I even argue that this phenomena has purported a loss of self respect and dignity, both to ourselves and the people we engage with. For instance, we give natural processes like waking in the morning, eating and relieving oneself no thought and in that, forget to reflect on the gratitude that we are able to do all three. In Islamic tradition, we know that the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) would physically turn his whole self to face somebody when talking to them, and it is considered rude to give your back to someone when sitting in a gathering so as to not isolate them. How does this then translate to our use of technology (phone, PC, TV) with others around.

Technology has also increased the ability and capacity to gossip, mock and talk about others and perhaps most interestingly provide access to information that really is none of one’s business. We are stuck on WhatsApp groups debating topics of little value and having to have an opinion on everything. We no longer need physical company to witness ill talk or contribute to it, and this ease of idle chat should concern us.

Of course, technology is not all bad. Positive relationships can blossom and strengthen online and bonds of kinship be maintained, particularly long distances. There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet and the occasional viral image or video shared can ignite a sense of hope or joy in the world. However, there is something really special about being able to take a step back, breathe deeply, wake up to the sound of birds and think, and reflect and be present. To have the space with no distractions and online noise to make your mind up about something, to give each person you meet their due and to consciously live out each action with intent and purpose.

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In case you need some ideas on how to limit bad habits of multi-tasking and technology use, I found the below really helpful:

  • Don’t touch your phone in the morning. Purchase an alarm clock. Reaffirm your intentions and plans for the day. I usually don’t switch my phone on until I get on my train on the way to work.
  • Don’t take your phone to the bathroom, reflect on what kind of respect this is showing towards the person you are talking to (disclaimer, I have included this step for the benefit of others, just to make clear this bad habit is not one of mine!).
  • Put your phone out of sight when meeting friends or sitting at the dinner table.
  • Mute your notifications for WhatsApp. Some groups may generate a lot of noise and conversation that you don’t need notifications about.
  • Tell people you will be unavailable and then switch your phone off at least 15 minutes before you go to sleep.

I realise these seem like really basic tips, but found that they have really made a difference personally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What drives your decisions?

The best kind of conversations are had at the dinner table, or perhaps the best kind of meals are those that involve good conversation.

As we tucked into summer rolls, I asked my friend how she felt about having just turned 27. She had come to a realisation she said, about decisions. How she recognised that people make decisions that are underpinned by one of two things; love or fear. That a decision can only be taken based on one or the other but that the source of love or fear is specific to a person. I agreed. As we talked through what we thought our source of love or source of fear is when we make decisions, the discussion bought a strong sense of self awareness; of our motivations, our drivers, our vulnerabilities and perhaps most importantly, where our values lie.

I have always understood values to be significant. I know that they can provide a sense of direction for a person, act as a moral compass and drive a set of principles that a person then aims to live by. I am only beginning to realise though, that values are not all encompassing. They vary in depth and breadth, they vary in priority that is given to them by an individual and the very definitions of what a particular value set represents is dependent on the individual interpreting them in the practice of their lives.

I will use the example of my friend (having completely made up her job and interests for the sake of privacy). She is a nursery worker who also loves candidly painting people. She loves working with children because they often present as themselves and are not hesitant in expressing their true selves. She loves creating art because she feels like she is capturing an authentic aspect of people, their raw selves when they are not on guard. When she reflected on this and what it meant, she realised that what she values from these interactions is the raw and genuine value of honesty. She found that truth and honesty is an important value to her.

What this conversation bought about was a manifestation of what values we actually prioritise and how it comes through in decision making. I think it is helpful to reflect on this, particularly to gauge what value set you hold most dear. This can vary according to time, place and person, of course. I really believe that when key decisions are made or when a situation or concept doesn’t quite sit right with you,  it is often because a value you prioritise is either mis-aligned with an aspect of your lifestyle or has manifested itself in such a way, it becomes clear that this is an important thing to you-and that you should respond accordingly.  I don’t think that one value necessarily surpasses another, but I do think that we should nurture the values that come most naturally to us, and that is in understanding what drives our actions, beliefs and thought processes.

 

 

 

 

 

Consistency in good actions

It is true that wherever you place your priorities at a particular point in time, that becomes your life- whether its children or career or travelling or service (Khidma) or all at the same time, the key is priority.

The same can be said with action. Whatever actions you consistently engage in become habits, these habits portray your values, your priorities, your character and ultimately your life.

I share this story because I was really struck by the beauty of the individual’s consistency in action as I had witnessed them react in the same way in a number of different situations, time periods and countries.  It wasn’t so much what they did (which was generous in itself) but more the manner and consistency in which they did it.

I definitely don’t mention this story to imply someone’s sincerity of actions or that this type of effort is rare. My witness to these good actions (just by chance!) and recalling them here is to hopefully instil a sense of inspiration to whoever reads this and encourage one to be better.  I purposely have kept details vague on the off-chance that the individual concerned stumbles upon this post and to protect their good deed!

The first occasion involved a young homeless woman who was asking for help. The individual immediately went over to the ATM machine and returned with assistance and spent a short while listening to her about her troubles. This wasn’t completely unusual, but often in a busy, bustling city, it can be all too easy to politely apologise that you have no cash on you and continue with your day. After all, you haven’t necessarily withheld your help, you simply don’t have anything on you.

The second occasion has really stayed with me. The situation involved a group of people who were visiting another country, and as part of the schedule, a city tour was organised. While a really interesting talk was taking place at one of the sites and all were in concentration, this individual was approached by an old man selling tissues. It was as though the individual’s hand went straight to their pocket on auto pilot to support the man with the purchase of a tissue pack. Almost immediately as the old man disappeared, an elderly woman appeared asking for help, and once again the individual didn’t hesitate to give in charity.

The Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him (pbuh) tells us that ‘charity does not decrease wealth’ but what I want to highlight beyond the virtue of generosity and charity is the consistency in good works. The Prophet (pbuh) said that ‘the most beloved of deeds to God are those that are most consistent, even if it is small’.

When we undertake a good action, deed or habit, no matter the size or effort and increase it in regularity, it begins to encapsulate who we become. If we engage in learning more, we become more knowledgeable, if we give charity regularly, we increase in generosity, if we are consistent in reciting supplications in the morning and evening, we begin to incorporate a greater sense of remembrance and consciousness of God .

This individual really made me reflect on the consistency of my own actions, and not necessarily forms of worship, but also my attitude and treatment towards others and the activities I occupy myself with.

If there is one thing to hopefully be taken from this reflection, is that intentions are renewed with a commitment to make one good action (small or big) a consistent one. A couple of examples to perhaps help:

  • 5 verses of the Quran to be recited daily
  • Some or all voluntary/ nafl prayers (2 rakaats before Fajr, 4 rakaats before Duhr and 2 after it, 2 rakaats after maghrib, 2 rakaats after Isha)
  • fasting on Mondays and Thursdays or fasting 3 days a month (13th, 14th and 15th of each lunar month)
  • Morning and Evening supplications (adkaar)
  • Reciting Ayat ul Kursi after each prayer
  • Consciously smiling at each person you meet
  • When one is speaking to you, turning all the way around to face them directly
  • Watering a plant

May we consciously implement good actions into our lives that we begin to embody the values we strive towards attaining. Ameen.

 

 

The ant

In my about me page, I set out why I named this blog ‘the ant and carpet’:

I came across a profound parable recounted by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Timothy Winters) and attributed to the one and only Jalaluddin Rumi. The parable tells of an ant that crawls across a carpet and complains to God about the numerous bumps, patterns and strange colours that serve little more than a meaningless obstacle course. What is not known to the ant of course, is that the landscape it traverses is a carpet, and the carpet in its entirety is complete, and that the carpet maker has carefully created this carpet with all of its colours and patterns purposefully.  Sheikh Abdul Hakim reflects that even if we can’t always see the wisdom behind life’s experiences, we should remember that manifestations of God’s will is always beautiful and perfect. He adds that ‘We are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.’

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This story inspires a sense of humility and hope. I feel humbled that there is an entire journey that has been specifically paved for me across my life span, and that while I may not understand the wisdom behind some of the apparent ‘bumps’ and diverging ‘patterns’, life’s course that is open to me, the people I meet, the actions I undertake, the world I experience is by no coincidence. With life’s struggles and joys, I should reflect often, that like the ant on a beautiful carpet, I too am traversing across a path that is beyond my comprehension, perhaps unsure of the wisdom, but always hopeful of the outcome.