Musings and Mules

‘This is really a miserable trip’, said my foriend, trousers torn, passport lost and sympathetic towards our other friend who was taken ill of food poisoning. We could never have guessed that such an experience would turn out to be quite so insightful.

‘Let’s hike the colca canyon?!’ I convinced my friends ahead of the trip, excitement of seeing condors and stars and Andean valleys was too good an opportunity to pass up. I admit my line of thinking had considered the high altitude but didn’t extend far enough to gauge the level of difficulty in descending and ascending such a feat of land. It will be a leisurely stroll, I told my self – we will have enough water, snacks and company to keep us going.

What transpired next were three brown people lagging behind the rest of the group. One of us falling ill with food poisoning and the  symptoms generously demonstrating themselves as we walked on, one of us struggling with the high altitude and the third simply ill prepared and unfit to complete such a task (despite being the proud owner of a fitbit, deceivingly purchased merely for measuring sleep patterns). The only preparation sought was a fashion backpack, a bar of snickers and an unflattering hat bought at the spur of the moment for just in case. Three separate stories, three collective lessons learnt.

For one of us taken ill, a humbling lesson was learnt. Once you have no choice but to quite literally empty yourself of all poison across a path that has no hide of shelter or shade, you begin to humanise yourself and through that realisation, other people. You recognise you are no different than anyone else and that in the end all we are is body, soul, dust. That experiences and circumstances influence actions- and that you can never ever know what someone else is going through and the reasons why. I think there are few things that can bring a person back down to earth than having to use the toilet in public and hoping no other group come walking round the bend at that precise moment. Having the very person you judged to also be the same person who then takes care of you provides a great slice of humble pie.

For the second one of us, the concept of letting go was practiced. Deciding that the high altitude was too much and recognising personal limits, led to having to wait for a mule to arrive in order to return to town. ‘The wait could be 20 minutes or 3 hours’ the guide said, ‘that’s fine’. Any wait would be better than trying to walk for 5 hours on unsteady footing.  The wait was a 2 hour practice of patience, oppressive heat and hallucinations of donkey hooves hitting against the ground. A sense of vulnerability and fear began to set in, but realising that a passport was missing, the lack of oxygen, a fall on the ground and one side shot of an iguana lizard later, the principle of letting things go and accepting things as they are made themselves at home. A knight in shining armour and carriage finally came in the form of señor Julian and his mule. Gratitude was expressed in two rakaats of prayer and finding solace in the matrimonial suite of a random little hostel that took American Express.

Finally, the third musketeer.  The one who got off lightly but not without a lesson of her own.  Not wanting to leave ill friend behind, the thought of accompanying her by mule seemed like a great idea. The trek was hard and there were still hours left to go of walking. The air was thin and breathing was intentional and heavy. What seemed like a moment of physical rest was made up in the form of emotional and mental gymnastics. The path across the canyon was uneven and the mule’s makeshift saddle uncomfortable. A disciplined mule, yes, but a mere slip or fall could lead to an unfortunate turn of events. A genuine feeling of dread and fear cultivated into a plea of desperation but also hope. Unbeknown to the mule, its rider was close to tears, quietly whispering calls of ‘Ya Salam, Ya Kareem, Ya Rahman’, all the while holding on to a saddle that cut through skin and trying to not fall off. Observations were made throughout the day. That of how the human body is so weak and the value of good health but also just how strong the human spirit could be and how one could push themselves to do anything if there is enough will and courage. Observing the hard work of the señors and their mules bought a real sense of perspective in where we place priorities and our sense of gratitude.  Putting bread on the table is never easy but labour undertaken with honesty and effort, despite the difficult conditions was a great reminder of still showing up even when you don’t want to. First world problems were also gently pushed to the side when a shower had to be taken in a shared shack and a bedroom had to be slept in that was hosted by mini scorpions and spiders.

A few days later, after the calves had healed, the stomach had settled and the awful back pack that led to the temporal loss of a passport was thrown away, we recalled the lessons learnt from such an experience. Though still raw in my mind, I constantly think back to that night, and despite the misery of it all at the time, I recall the night star and truly, the stars have never shone so bright.



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

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.’


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.

On death

I have not written for a while.  I have been uninspired, but I think that can also probably translate to laziness. A recent event however has given me a strong reminder to ponder on and I hope to begin reflecting a little more seriously, especially offline.  I share below.

A month ago my maternal grandmother passed away in Morocco, may God shade her under His eternal mercy and forgiveness (I have written about her struggle previously here).  She had been unwell for a number of years and was aging painfully, and yet her death still came as a shock to the family. The anchor had gone.

As Muslim practice is to try and bury the dead as soon as possible, I only managed to make the final night of the post-funeral events where visitors gather for Quran recitation and dhikr. I also had a chance to visit her grave.

The cemetery was so peacefully quiet. As I walked across to my grandmother’s freshly built grave and then to my grandfather and aunts’, it hit me. There was now no differentiation; each person- man or woman, rich or poor were all under the same earth and wrapped in the same white cloth. One particular grave caught my eye. I cannot recall to who it belonged but at the base of the grave was a small plaque written in Arabic; ‘oh you at my grave, please ask for Allah’s forgiveness and mercy for me’. It struck me how I may have been the luckiest soul at that cemetery, for I am alive and still have time to change, to become better if I act upon it, while the souls under the ground are only able to clutch at any further opportunity of hope- for their relatives and loved ones to carry on their good works, to donate to charity on their behalf and in this case for a stranger to respond to their request of asking God for mercy. Otherwise their work has been sealed, their family and possessions now lost as they enter another realm.

It is strange that we sometimes expect death to arrive at a time when one is old or is unwell, and when anyone who falls out of that category passes on, they are an exception. How many times have we intended to better ourselves, with no guarantee that we will rise in the morning or stay on till the evening, only to decide that we will act on it a while later?  The beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us that ‘even if the end of time is upon you and you have a seedling in your hand,  you should take advantage of even one second and plant it’, recognising the urgency and importance of good work as all will be accounted for on the last day .

The few days I was with my family, I was told stories of my grandmother in her last month; greatly in pain but not for one moment forgetting God, despite her heavily set Alzheimer’s. My relatives spoke of her love of tasbih (remembrance and glorifying of God) which I have always known as I recall my grandmother with white or brown tasbih beads held firmly in her hand. In the last few weeks before her death, my grandmother’s sense of self greatly deteriorated and my mother sat with her as she was recalling the names of God using her fingers. After a while she turned to my mother and asked her to take the ‘imaginery’ tasbih beads off her as her hand was tired. On a few occasions my family would be sat next to my grandmother in the evenings as she rested and would spot her doing tasbih, using the blanket to mark where she was in her dhikr by moving the thick material across her fingers. The stories shared were spine- tingling and revealed some internal questions- what is my current state of iman and remembrance of God and most importantly what will it be at the time of death?

Islamic teaching tells us that a believer should consistently remember death and the hereafter as the constant reflection should inspire us to change our habits for the better and offer perspective as to the worldly events we agonise and struggle over. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said ‘The gift to a believer is death’. For years before she become ill, whenever the conversation steered towards death, my grandmother would say ‘death is a bride’. May God grant her the highest rank in paradise, shower His mercy on her, expand her grave and fill it with light. Ameen.

May we all pass in a state of pure iman, with God pleased with us as is in Surah Al Fajr (27-30) ‘O self at rest and at peace, return to your Lord, well-pleasing and well-pleased! Enter among My servants! Enter My Paradise’.

”to Allah we belong and to Allah shall we return”

(Qur’an 2:156)


Gratitude by a train station

God sends lessons in the subtlest of ways.

As a disclaimer, in Islamic tradition, it is advised that you don’t share any deeds you do in the aim to remain sincere that your efforts are purely for God and not to enhance one’s dignity and status in the eyes of the people. However I share this story in the hope it benefits, more over than any action on my part.

After walking to the station from work one evening, I passed a young homeless man who asked each passer-by for change. As I walked past, I heard his same request and ignored it to which he wished me a ‘good evening anyway’. After a minute or so, I hesitated entering the station, and decided to return back. I could see that there were two men who were surrounding the young man but had left by the time I approached him. As I knelt and contributed to his collection, a short conversation ensued that I hope to always recall. He spoke softly as he told me this:

‘Those two men were taking the mickey out of me, and I thought could this night get any worse… And then you came’.

I wished him well and hoped that things will get better and I departed with tears in my eyes, and tears in his.

As I headed back to the station, I recalled a quote I had read that Nouman Ali Khan had once said in a lecture ‘When you find yourself in a position to help someone, be happy because Allah is answering that person’s prayer through you.’

The conversation was touching, not because of what I had said or done, but because God had put me in a position through His Mercy and Grace to help another human being and likewise inspired that young homeless man to stir much needed humility and gratitude in me. Because at that moment, God had helped us both.

May we never forget that is the poor and needy that the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) wishes to be resurrected with on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet said (Al Tirmidhi): “O God, grant me life as a poor man, cause me to die as a poor man and resurrect me in the company of the poor.” His wife asked him why he said that, and he replied: “Because the poor will enter Paradise before the rich. Do not turn away a poor man even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.”.

Othman bin Affan (ra) is thought to have said “‘Your charity is not accepted until you believe ‘I need the reward more than the beggar needs the money'”.

Sometimes this reward is granted in this life as well as hopefully in the hereafter. It can sometimes come in the form of a humble reminder from a grateful young man asking for change by a train station.

Living the good life

I was reminded recently of the brevity of life. A 23 year old girl from my school had passed away in her sleep. Though we were not friends, I think back to my few interactions with her and I remember her warm manner. May God envelope her in His mercy and grant her family patience.

People die all the time; in situations as tragic as war, as painful as illness and as peaceful as a 90 year old sleeping soundly in their bed. And always, always because God had chosen that particular time for that particular person to leave this world.

Again, I think back to my few interactions with the young girl. While she was just as pleasant to talk to- I understand that I too one day will depart this world and I wonder if my interactions with people were and are just as pleasant; whether with travelling commuters, university peers, work colleagues, relatives or best friends.

What does it mean to live a good life? From a personal perspective (entirely sourced from my understanding of Islam), it is to abide by Islamic principles and  ensure your dealing with others is kind, compassionate and loving.

Simply put, Muslims abide by five pillars of Islam: that is to believe that there is no deity but God and that the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) is God’s Messenger; to pray five times a day; to give Zakat (a compulsory payment given annually to charity); to fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan and to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah if one is financially and physically able to.

These pillars form the basis of Islam, but noting that this world requires living and interacting with others, it is important that every action one does towards another is in harmony with the same state one has when praying or fasting   – In Surat Baqarah (v.215), God says They ask you [Prophet] what they should give. Say, ‘whatever good things you give should be for your parents, close relatives, orphans, the needy and travellers. God is well aware of whatever good you do’.

Further highlighting the duty that one has towards easing the burden of another, there is a Hadith in which the Prophet Muhammed says ‘”Verily, God will say to his slave when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgement, ‘O’ son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (reward) with Me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.’ He will reply: ‘How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so felt thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (reward) with me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will answer: ‘How can I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him.”‘

In addition to this Hadith is a beautiful commentary by Shaykh Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni in his book ‘Don’t be sad’: Here is an interesting point, in the last third of the hadith are the words: ,…’you would have found Me with him.’ This is unlike the first two parts of the hadith wherein: ‘You would have found that (i.e. the reward for feeding and giving drink) with Me.’ The reason for this is that Allah is with those whose hearts are troubled, as is the case with the person who is sick’.

This Hadith can be applied to not only those who are hungry, thirsty or unwell but to those near to us and not so, who are upset, hurt, resentful, or need a word of kindness to remind them of the very miracle of their own being.

Ultimately it is God’s pleasure we should seek, but I truly believe that how we treat His creation is one path to seeking just that.

So I think back to my interactions with others, to the brevity of this life. If we have hurt others, we should seek their forgiveness, and If we are angered by the acts of another, we should inform them in order to reconcile, or forgive and move on. If we can help another, then we should and If we can think well of others, then we should. Maybe then, others may do the same.

You who believe, be mindful of God, as is His due, and make sure you devote yourselves to Him, to your dying moments (3:102)