soul food

A little effort goes a long way

I was in a bit of a low mood at the weekend so when Monday came round, I was determined to make it a good week. A good Monday for me is one where I rise early and I did. Battling against thoughts to hit the snooze button, I crawled out of bed and somehow made it out the door. Now that I was out, I was hopeful of a day full of productivity. However, what is the point of getting up early to get stuff done, if you then miss your train that would have got you to the place where you could get stuff done. My train was at the platform and I was not there. Running to get past the gates, and still in a sensitive mood from the weekend,  I was already contemplating how annoyed and upset I would be if I was to miss the train. As the train doors were about to close, a man held the doors open for me. I managed to run in and the doors promptly closed behind me. It was no big deal one might say to hold the door open (although this may be at the dismay of the other passengers on the train), but I was really grateful for his effort. Not only did he help me catch my train, but he also stopped me from having what really would have felt like a bad start to the day.

Another time, I had needed to get home and was struggling to catch a bus that was about to leave. A kind stranger stopped the bus, proceeded to get on, stalled at the door, then once I ran and reached the stop, got off and waited back at the bus stop for their own bus. They had no reason to go out of their way and do that, but they did simply due to their generosity of spirit.

In the Islamic tradition, it is said that when a person dies and is lying in their grave, a beautiful form will appear to them. This form will reflect all the happiness that was felt by others through one’s good work.

Small efforts like this feel like nothing, but to the person on the other end, it might make all the difference. One upside of taking public transport is witnessing all the sweet things that happen between people. A while back, I remember seeing a man in a high vis jacket resting against a pole and falling in and out of sleep after what looked like a really hard and tasking day. A man in front of him, gently touched his shoulder and told him to take his seat, which he did. Within seconds, the man in the high vis jacket was fast asleep. At a time when it was needed most, a stranger provided another with some relief, ease and comfort.

There is a hadith that putting in effort (however small) to help another is a form of charity: ‘Charity is owed on every limb that people have. Every day on which the sun rises in which someone establishes justice between two people is charity. To help a man with his animal and help him onto it is charity. Or to lift his goods onto it is charity. A good word is charity. Every step you take to the prayer is charity. Removing an obstacle from the road is charity’.

There are so many opportunities to ease another’s load, and often with little effort required. That little effort you make however, might just be the relief needed for the person you help- it might spark some joy or a smile, it might remind them of the kindness that still exists, or it might just very well turn a bad day into a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

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The legacy of those around us

I was really moved recently by a talk given by Photographer Peter Sanders. He had spent the past 45 years travelling the world and taking photographs of people he connected with on a spiritual level. His aim was to create a visual legacy of godly people, ‘mountains’ as he called them, some of which had never been photographed before and who lead very discreet, simple and humble lives.  He was clear that he wasn’t attributing sainthood to them, but that he had been touched by their presence, words and way of life in a way that conveyed truth, beauty and goodness.

I was moved by this project because the aim of documenting a type of heritage reminded me of my grandparents, particularly my maternal ones who although have now passed on, still deeply inspire my understanding of ‘living and breathing’ Islam. You see, growing up spending summers in Morocco meant summers of eating from a communal plate with 15 other relatives, it meant summers of greeting my grandfather at the door on his return from every communal prayer he made at the mosque (and having young teenagers from the neighbourhood accompany him), it meant summers of requesting water from the relative nearest to the kitchen and as part of the request, praying that they be able to drink such water in the gardens of paradise and it meant giving others that which you would love for yourself- my grandfather was once gifted a pair of shoes to replace his shabby old ones. A few days later, when probed on where his new shoes were, he explained that he gave them away and kept the old pair for himself.

When both my grandparents passed on, I hadn’t quite realised what this meant. Not only were their physical selves no longer in presence, but also some of the habits they maintained while alive were no longer routinely kept to by their children and grandchildren, or sometimes even remembered. My grandmother loved to sing words of remembrance (dhikr) in a communal setting (sometimes my grandparents would lead my family in an impromptu hadra!) and she had a beautiful song about the beginninglessness and everlastingness of God.  Since her passing, I have tried to remember the lyrics to this particular dhikr, asked relatives if they know of the words and tried googling many a phrase to try and locate the song. My grandmother grew up at a time when local women would sing and make up their words of remembrance as they went along. I fear this was the case here. With my grandmother’s passing, a personal tradition and heritage passed too. It made me think of how more present I should have been around her, noting her songs, taping them and engaging with her about how an illiterate woman could create and combine such words that move the heart, much more eloquently than many a book.

I then recall my father telling me about pre-partition India and Pakistan, how my paternal family, though originally Lahori, lived in Delhi and that as tensions began to rise, the Scottish Manager who employed my grandfather at the railway company, paid him 3 months wages and told him to leave the country before things got worse. When my grandfather returned home, he found my grandmother in tears. She recounted that a mob of men had begun to circulate around the houses. A Hindu neighbour tried to protect my family and stop the mob from entering the house but he warned my grandfather that he could only do so much to protect them and that it would be safer to leave. My father, a young boy at the time remembers time spent at a refugee camp in the days following the partition and how our family were initially frustrated when they couldn’t board the train back to Lahore due to overcrowding. Luckily, they couldn’t, as the train returned to Lahore entirely full of dead bodies, caught up in a raid by a mob on the journey.

When I reflect on these stories, I realise the importance of narrative, of personal history, of identity, and of legacy. Too often we allow others to narrate our stories, to define our identities and to recall our histories- despite the level of nuances, complexities and attachments of meanings that exist.

Ustadh Usama Canon once said that ‘Your whole life is an interlude, between what your ancestors put into you and how your descendants depend on you. Convey what you are able’. He advised that one should learn about their lineage, to write about it and to preserve it and to go to one’s elders and ask them to speak of their childhood and background.

This is especially important when we live in an age and time where your worth as a particular type of human being is questioned and denied. Understanding your personal history enables you to understand yourself, understand the personal legacy that was left by those who came before you and understand the type of legacy you too wish to leave behind.

Growing hope: Reflections

These reflections are based on a talk given by Anse (super colloquial Syrian word for teacher) Tamara Gray. The theme was about learning from the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him- ) and ‘growing hope’. Anse Tamara studied in Syria for 20 years before moving back to the US. Her area of specialism is in the seerah and the life of the prophet Muhammad ().

Five of the prophet’s () wives were highlighted in Anse Tamara’s talk, and though she mentioned one brief defining quality or characteristic of each of them, she made it clear that there was more to them as complex and multi-faceted individuals.

Khadija (may God be pleased with her)

Khadija was a divorced 40 year old woman when she married 25 year old Muhammad    (). She had two children from her previous marriage; a boy and girl who both went by the name of Hind. She was already a believer in God and it is understood that she was very much aware that there was a prophet to come in later times. When she married the prophet (), she believed him to be the calibre and quality of a prophet and when he was given the message 15 years later, she was ready and waiting as the first believer.

Khadija teaches us the virtue of trust and patience, and of honouring your beliefs.

Umm Salama (may God be pleased with her)

Umm Salama was married to Abu Salama and they loved each other intensely. She even made a deal with her husband that when one of them dies, the other would not re-marry. Abu Salama tried to persuade her that if he was to die, that she be able to marry someone much better than himself. When Umm Salama found herself a widow, the prophet () proposed to her. She initially refused, stating that because of her intense sense of love, her jealousy would cause her to act in a manner that would be inappropriate towards the prophet’s () status. She added that she was also old and had children. The prophet () won her over; he told her that as for her age, he was in the same position, that as for her children, they would also become his , and that as for her jealousy, he would ask God to cure her of it.

Umm Salama reminds us of the raw intensity of love and the importance of honesty.

Umm Habiba (may God be pleased with her)

Umm Habiba and her husband both migrated to (then) Abyssinia when Muslims first started to be persecuted. She was vulnerable, in a new land and unfamiliar with her surroundings, but she was happy that she at least had her husband. One day she had a terrible dream about Abu Habiba and recounted to him that she had dreamt he had left Islam. He responded that indeed he had left the faith and that he was now, also leaving her. Umm Habiba was broken and lost. Her heart break was made worse due to the vulnerable state she was in, yet she never made betrayal her story. She healed and after married the prophet ().

Umm Habiba teaches us the truth of forbearance, of healing and of hope.

Zaynab (may God be pleased with her)

There was an instance whereby the prophet () was walking with his companions until they reached the mosque and a rope was spotted hanging between two pillars. When the prophet () enquired about the rope, he was told that it belonged to his wife Zaynab, who would pray late at night. When she got tired, she would hold on to the rope to support her while she prayed. The prophet () then requested that the rope be taken down, advising his companions that when one is overcome with sleep while praying, they should sit. This was taken to mean that one either sits in prayer or that one should rest instead.

This story highlights Zaynab’s piety and devotion to her faith.

Aisha (May God be pleased with her)

Aisha’s age always tends to come up whenever she is mentioned, and although there are vast differences in opinion in relation to how old she was, one of the more important defining features of Aisha is that she is the source of some two-thirds of Islamic law and shariah. So much of our understanding of our faith is due to Aisha’s sheer brilliance and intelligence.  After the prophet’s () death, Aisha proceeded to take on and teach a substantial number of female and male students.

Aisha’s commitment to learning, scholarship and teaching is something for us to also aspire towards. Anse Tamara Gray advised that one should aim to learn something new every week for at least an hour, and to then also teach something every week for the same amount of time.

The prophet’s () wives were known as the ‘mothers of the believers’ (umuhat al mumineen) and this title of ‘mother’ denotes a number of rights that are due to them by us. The prophet’s () wives knew him so intimately, that it is crucial we learn more about them, in order to learn more about the prophet ().

After all, ‘revelation began in the cloak of Khadija and ended in the lap of Aisha’*.

 

*I noted this final quote from the internet but am now unable to find the source of the quote. 

Embodying the steadfastness of Hajar

There are usually two ways to deal with a rut or unfortunate situation one may find themselves in. One is to attempt by any means possible and with all sense of determination to change things, no matter how hard it may seem or the number of struggles that are experienced along the way. The other is to remain in the rut, either becoming content with the way things pan out or feeling hopeless that things will never change.

In these blessed days of Dhul Hijjah, I am reminded of the importance of perseverance and determination no matter how dire a situation may seem, through our mother Hajar (may God be pleased with her).  I am also reminded how incredibly honoured she is in Islam’s faith tradition.

The story of Hajar and her son Ismaeel being left out in a hostile and barren desert is one that is often taught to children from a young age. I knew that baby Ismaeel (peace be upon him) was thirsty, that his mother Hajar was desperately attempting to find water and that the blessed water of zam zam miraculously arose out of the valleys thereafter.

What I didn’t realise however, was just how steadfast and patient Hajar was, just how incredibly frightening the environment she was in and just how trusting and hopeful she was of God’s care for her and her child. I believe these are the bigger lessons to be learnt.

In Sahih al Bukhari, the Hadith explains how Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was to fulfil divine command and leave Hajar and their beloved son in an uninhabited valley of Makkah. As Prophet Ibrahim takes them into the valley, Hajar asks ‘O Ibrahim! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is neither any person nor anything else (to survive)? She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him, ‘Has God instructed you to do so?’ He replied, ‘yes’.  She then said ‘then God will not neglect us’.

After finishing the small amount of supplies Hajar had with her, she and her baby began to grow thirsty. Seeing no sign of life in sight, she began to run between each mountain of Safa and Marwa, each time extending her sights over a barren land in the hope of seeing something.  Narrations explain that she ran with such urgency and desperation, holding her clothes up to enable swifter movement. She did this seven times until she came back to the mountain of Marwa and saw the Arch-angel Jibreel accessing water from the ground for her and her child.

There are lessons here for us. Hajar’s efforts are commemorated through the rituals of Umrah and Hajj. Adhering to and practicing the five pillars of Islam is not complete unless one (who is able to meet the conditions) has gone through the motions that Hajar had to go through. Physically, the ritual can be gruelling even for the fittest person, and this is despite the easier conditions of marbled flooring and shade that the Grand Mosque of Makkah provides.

Internally there are lessons too. Of faith, courage, steadfastness and perseverance; of putting in the effort despite the hurdles one conceives of and of unwavering trust in God that He will not neglect, ever.

This active sense of reliance can also be understood through the hadith narrated by Anas ibn Malik who reported that a man said, ‘O Messenger of God, should I tie my camel and trust in God, or should I leave her untied and trust in God?’ The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Tie your camel and trust in God’.

Some traditionalists say that ‘everyone has a share in his own name’, meaning that a person may embody the characteristics of one’s good name. My parents honoured me with a middle name that is Hajar and although it is hardly used, I pray that her noble characteristics inspire me and all around me, even if just by name association.

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.