In My Child’s Eyes

A Protected View of the Outside

The world I live in today is not the same one my children live in. How is that even possible? I would argue it’s all about perspective.

My reasoning is this: I see the world sometimes from my desk at home where I work; I see the world sometimes from my kitchen window when I’m washing the dishes; I see the world from the driver’s seat of my car.

Young people might see the world though from the seat they occupy on a bus; from the classroom table set amongst many other tables at school; from the flurry of social media sites which aggressively bombard them with so much unnecessary information in this crazy, fast-pace and selfish global community.

What I have come to know is that my children are dealing with a very different existence to my own. We may live in the same time frame but we live in parallel worlds. I am fortunate enough not to be directly exposed to elements of society which are less understanding of the differences that exist between people and the fact that humanity is not one homogenous block. Admittedly, my lifestyle is more sheltered these days and it has protected me from encounters I’d rather not have. My kids – less so. They are still very much obliged to engage with people around them in a more direct manner.

Alhamdulillah, I believe I have raised my sons to be confident of who they are. The obligation to explain to others why they subscribe to certain belief systems is one they know they never need to worry about. That being said, when living and interacting as a minority member in a wider social group or community, that self-confidence can sometimes wane. It’s not that they have doubts about why they believe in the things they do, but it’s exhausting to simply exist whilst having fingers being pointed at you all the time. I am very deliberate in saying that my sons know they don’t need to ‘prove’ or ‘explain’ themselves to anyone. That’s because they – and I – know their beliefs are rooted in Islamic teachings, Alhamdulillah. There is nothing to justify about that.

Ingredients for a Great Recipe

All the above makes it seem that I have raised my sons to be an arrogant bunch. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. That’s because when a person has lived a life as a minority member in a wider society (such as we have), be it in terms of religion, race, ethnicity or culture, arrogance is a characteristic which is knocked on the head right from the start. Rather, I have taught my sons that humanity is made of composite parts. It’s about being respectful of others, even through our disagreements with them. This makes for a truly functioning society. I just wish the rest of society would reciprocate that understanding. But I know that’s a lofty ideal.

Today, watching my sons contend with so many unprecedented scenarios in their social settings, I don’t envy the world they occupy. At their age, I was dealing mainly with racism in the public domain and cultural hangups in the personal domain. Young people now are having to deal with that and so much more. There is a torrent of issues they face from Islamophobia, gender issues, sexuality and the list goes on. It’s not that those issues didn’t exist when I was young. They did. However, the political stage nowadays where all these things are played out is much more potent.

It’s at these times that I can’t even pretend that being a mother gives me the tools to help my sons navigate their way through this battlefield. My experiences will never mirror theirs. The world I grew up in is not the same one they live in. I can only promise to be here, if Allah wills, should my sons need to offload. I can reassure them that all the abrasive encounters they have had and will have, should only make their resolve in turning to Allah for guidance, comfort and answers, stronger. My job is to point them in that direction, inshaAllah. Somewhere on that shared path, they will probably find me up ahead having had a head start.

Leading the Way

Life is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Turning Traditional Logic on its Head

Every individual goes through challenges in life. That’s a given. We all oscillate between the usual highs and lows, moments of glee and then stress and so much in between. Nobody can claim to have had a life of purely one state or the other.

In particular, if anyone does boldly (and erroneously) suggest their life has been only doom and gloom, then I can only say that person has not known gratitude. Because in between all the woe and misery, there is indeed some happiness to be found. The fact that someone is even alive and breathing is something to be grateful for in and of itself. But to train oneself to shift the focus from the negative to the positive is a process which takes time and a certain kind of maturity. My own theory is that the process will be infinitely more difficult if Allah is not in the equation. Without acknowledging His mastery and perfect wisdom, everything in life will continue to perplex us. That’s because we can’t look to humans alone to provide logic or reason for events that take place.

Instead, turning to Allah will invariably put our hearts and minds at ease. That’s because thinking of Him will necessarily remind us of our purpose on this Earth anyway. It is a recalibration of our thoughts – and that is a process that needs to happen often since we are a forgetful and fickle type. Worries about money, health, jobs, children, wounded hearts etc. will evaporate in minutes if we trust in Allah’s plan. A sense of calm should – and often does – descend over us. It is at this point when we realise that all events are out of our hands anyway. So, rather than question,’Why?‘ it would be wiser to simply accept some situations are beyond our control and comprehension. We just need to deal with them as best we can.

Bill, Bills and more Bills

Back to today, like so many people, I am bombarded by the sobering news about rising prices on practically everything. Financial stress is there, no doubt, but I must consciously try to zoom out and look at the entirety of my life right now. I have to force myself to take a step back and remember what things I still have to be grateful for. And there are many. I can confidently say that I am still blessed with so much – things I am aware of and things I am not. I must reiterate to myself that life is not defined just by rising petrol prices. I must balance negative thoughts with the positive things I still have. For example, I have my sons who are alive and well, Alhamdulillah. I have my own relatively good health, Alhamdulillah. I get to see the sunrise and sunset and the world in all its glorious colours, Alhamdulillah. And the list goes on…

So it is the same with our past. Whilst unpleasant events that have occurred in our own personal lives will definitely impact our future, we can either let these events consume us or use them to our benefit. From those experiences, there must be growth. To simply lament, complain and stagnate will not do. There is a higher purpose on this Earth. Let’s face it; it’s clear we were never going to have a life devoid of trials and tribulations. Mistakes and tests are what we build upon in order to navigate our way forward through time.

It is this mindset that sustains me in my darkest days. Every time I slump to the bottom of the pit, I ask myself, “Is this it? Is this the best I can do with my life? What happened to my fighting spirit?” Judging an event only in duniya (worldly) terms will make me unequivocally hopeless and bitter.

Needless to say, I know the totality of individual chapters or events in my life have all come together to prepare me for my passage into the next life. I didn’t get myself an education simply to confine myself within my four walls. I was not gifted the chance to be a mother just so my children would occupy my time. And I definitely haven’t given up on life after divorce because I am still able to see the wood for the trees.

The world still has so much to offer and I intend to take the opportunities where they present themselves. The only thing I try to remind myself is that those opportunities must feed into a higher ambition – to secure Allah’s pleasure. They must never be for ephemeral pleasures only. With that said, it’s also true that the things which slipped from my grasp were also no longer able to serve me for the life beyond this one. If I understand that and keep that thought alive, I am onto something far greater than I care to imagine, inshaAllah.

Musings on Motherhood

A Perfect Job Description

When a woman enters the arena of motherhood, she knows that that role will never be a static one. Over the years, as her children move from one stage of life to the next, so too does the role of motherhood also evolve. Each phase brings its own challenges but undeniable joy at the same time.

Today, I look back over the last few years and want to reflect on what I have learnt about myself and my own children.

A Never-Ending Journey

One of the most obvious things is that I know I can’t deal with my sons with one blanket formula for each situation that presents itself. They are individuals in their own right and being brothers does not mean a ‘one size fits all’ approach will suffice. So I try to be conscious of how I word answers to their questions or handle issues, taking into account their unique idiosyncracies. Of course, I do make mistakes. All the time. But motherhood is a learning curve – one that never reaches a plateau since that would suggest that I know it all and have nothing new to take on board.

Another thing I often ponder on is how motherhood essentially gets more challenging the older children get. On the one hand this seems pretty obvious. On the other hand, it would seem unlikely since as children get older, so too their dependency on mother should become more tenuous; as they mature and reach adulthood it can be argued that they should rely on their own thought processes more. Whilst that may be true in terms of academic guidance or financial decisions, the reality is that as they venture out into the world and interact with all the variables out there, so too they must be equipped with the necessary emotional armour. This is where the wisdom of a mother comes in. With my personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I can help my sons navigate their way through life. Ultimately though, what they decide is their decision alone. At some point, as a parent I have to step back and let them be. As long as I have carried out my duty, then I have to trust Allah will guide them to all that is good.

No doubt, the challenges shift as the children become older. Yet the rewards are simultaneously also greater. As toddlers there were the usual cute milestones to celebrate, like their first steps, first spoken words or first drawings. As adults, there are now other exciting chapters of their lives I can celebrate with them, Alhamdulillah. Examples are them getting their driving license, going to university and generally mapping out their lives for themselves. The greatest difference is that my role nowadays has become more passive – that of a listener and someone with whom they can share their excitement about what lies ahead. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t speak up if I disagree or need to keep them in check but if I have done my homework right, then inshaAllah, there should not be any cause for concern. Needless to say, I will always strive to remind them that they don’t deviate from a wholesome existence where duniya (the worldly life) overtakes the pursuit of akhirah (the afterlife). This last goal is a constant that stays with the role of motherood for life.

Arguably, the most palpable thing I have learnt about being a mother since divorce is that, when push comes to shove, I have still managed to get the job done without the other parent. The female embodies a type of strength which many males can only marvel at. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed with the emotional, physical, intellectual and financial ability to make it through each day. Despite the challenges, my sons lives and my life intertwine effortlessly together without ending up in an awkward knot. By far, it has been the unexpectedly best outcome of our family situation since 2016. Although I never wished it to be like this, I have had to accept the reality and do my best to make it work. Despite setbacks and blips, Alhamdulillah, for the most part I believe we have done well. My faith in Allah is an integral part of that determination to keep going. What choice do I have but to keep moving forward? So I may as well move with vigour and purpose and contentment. This is the sentiment that underlies all I do and all that I am. Although motherhood has taken on a different significance or shape given my circumstances, I embrace the role even moreso now since this is the mount upon which this family now exists. Being unstable simply won’t do.

Motherhood is a Tall Stable Tower

Motherhood has no expiry date. There will never be a hiatus from this role till it’s my time to leave this life. It is not just a job. It is an honour of untold magnaminity. The fact that I get to sit in the spotlight of parenthood all on my own is nothing to be ashamed of.

In fact, on all scores, I am the more fortunate one, Alhamdulillah.

Motherhood on the Move: Lessons From a Modern-Day Urban Nomad

amaliah.com

BY SABIA ALI IN LIFESTYLE ON 31ST MAY, 2022

Throughout my life, both as a child and later as a mother, I have lived across different continents, cultures and climates.  I am what I would call a ‘modern-day urban nomad’. For many, it would seem that a life of being constantly on the move – never having the chance to settle in one place for too long and get to know your surroundings – is a formula for personal ruin.  Add to that an entourage of young children and the situation suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.  As a parent, the self-questioning begins:

“Will my children be deprived of a happy life with constant relocations?

What impact will this have on their emotional wellbeing? Will they ever have meaningful friendships?” 

Any rational person would argue that financial, emotional, social and even geographical stability are prerequisites for nurturing a well-rounded child.  Whilst that may be true, the lived realities of many people often fall far short of that ideal. In particular, the desire to remain in one place long-term is sometimes overridden by practical considerations.  Having been through the process of moving over a dozen times with my young family, to different cities and countries, I share some personal reflections which might help allay the fears of anyone about to make that big leap into the unknown:

You are not moving only for your own sake.

Some families relocate home because of a new job, a better house or to be closer to extended family. Whatever the reason, you have to consider the children’s best interests too. A great job may be a wonderful career move for a parent but if there are no academic, social or health provisions for your children in the new location, then the whole idea becomes a selfish one. 

So, although the decision to move may be made by parents on behalf of the whole family, it has to include the best interests of all.

Use your childhood experiences as an example.

Trust your instincts. Personal anecdotes from your childhood may give you the confidence you need in making a decision as a parent. I myself was uprooted from London as a child and spent three years abroad in a totally alien society.  At the time, I resented the upheaval but later realised it was one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had.  Ostensibly, my peers who I had left behind were more fortunate given they continued to enjoy a static and sheltered life.  But this dull continuity has today rendered those same people unable to cope with anything outside the familiar.  This was a key lesson I knew my sons would also appreciate in hindsight – and they did.  I just had to be patient and observe.

Despite their complaints about the real drudgery of a nomadic life, years later they finally acknowledge they also had an enviable life of adventure, Alhamdulillah.  

Listen to your children.

OK, so this seems a bit of a contradiction especially when we, as parents, make the big decisions on behalf of our children.  How can we listen to them and calm their fears at the same time? I remember having to deal with my children sometimes complaining about the abrupt end of their time in a particular place when they had just settled into a routine.  Of course, as a parent, that was undeniably painful to hear.  However, I knew we were always in search of the best options, be it education, spiritual wellbeing or social milieu – especially for them. These are conversations that must be had as a family. Never underestimate what they can understand.

If they are old enough, explain the long-term goals– worldly and spiritual–to them since they are inherently myopic about life. 

Of course, conversations with very young children will not be possible. However, rooting your intentions in an Islamic framework always makes any task more manageable and less daunting.  Give children the security of ‘family’ and the knowledge that they will be protected and kept safe wherever they are. Reassure them with a sense of continuity in their routine or extracurricular interests – and make sure you follow this promise up. If moving abroad, finding a social circle of friends with similar interests or from the same part of the world will provide a huge comfort.  For example, in Saudi Arabia, my boys enjoyed bike rides, mountain hikes, taekwondo classes and barbeques in the desert with friends. It makes life seem normal despite the outward changes around them.

Exhaustion and frustrations will exist. 

The drudgery of moving material possessions is real.  It is exhausting.  There is no denying that always being on standby, ready to pack up and move onto the next destination is also emotionally gruelling. Arriving at the next temporary stop, you never feel totally sure if you should completely unpack or just manage with the bare minimum. Doing that for oneself is a tough job in itself.  Doing that on behalf of one’s own children is incredibly more demanding. In shifting my children between homes and schools in different countries, usually not more than a couple of years at a time, they were not able to plant their feet firmly on the ground before it was time to move on again. However, it is important to make a house a home as much as possible. Live in the present and enjoy what is around you for now.

Think about the long-term gains vs. short-term inconveniences. Arguably, the experience of being immersed in other societies will make children more reflective and appreciative of their own identities.  It is these intangible, yet priceless, gains that make it all worthwhile. 

Teach your children first about who they are. 

At home, an understanding of what it means to be Muslim has to be inculcated at a young age. This is an essential preparation for children when they come to live amongst other communities whose customs and traditions may be very different from theirs. Taking that self-awareness into the public domain, where they are the anomaly, should not threaten their Muslim identity since they know this transcends all the other parts that make them whole.  It means that they can, to a large extent, discern culture from religion. They learn that ‘difference’ is not a synonym for ‘deviance’.  It’s just that there is more than one way to arrive at the same conclusion.  

For example, in Saudi Arabia, my children discovered it is the social norm for the host of a dinner party not to sit with his/her guests when food is served.  This is a way to honour the guests and give them undivided attention. The host only eats after everyone else has been taken care of. It is a social etiquette which may seem alien to many, yet it does not contradict Islam. It is simply a Saudi interpretation of hospitality.  These kinds of nuances in Islamic culture can only ever be understood from having had personal interactions with people different to ourselves.  

There is a priceless education to be learned. 

Unlike adults, young children have an innate innocence and purity of thought which helps them approach a situation with open-mindedness. They come to a new situation with an inquisitive mind and therefore fewer expectations. I have seen my sons strive to make the best of each social situation that they have been exposed to. Over the years, they have lived amongst a variety of cultures, languages, customs and even religions.  The net result is that they realise there is no singular way of living.  Even where they encountered fellow Muslims who represented different ethnic and social backgrounds, that cultural exchange was important in helping them understand the diverse composite parts of this great monolithic belief system called Islam.  As a result, today, cultural dogma has no place in their world. What they (and I) have seen is that a community is a beautiful social tapestry made of individual parts in which each brings their colourful contribution to the whole. The result is quite striking. Alhamdulillah, looking at the young adults today that are my sons, I feel the choices we made as parents were justified.

Packing up memories and not just things

Not everyone you meet will be liked or will like.

As a witness to their young lives, I will not pretend and say that the encounters my sons had with their peers have always been positive. There have been unsavoury characters too. Yet, that is the lesson in itself.  It’s impossible to like and be liked by everyone.  These negative experiences have been a character-building process in itself. I know that living in a monoculture can lead to a complacency about life, whereas interacting with a variety of people can be an enriching experience.  Children and adults alike often become more mindful of their social environment, values and belief systems. It doesn’t always have to be the case that our children will capitulate to peer pressure. As long as they are confident about who they are, they will not necessarily succumb.  It’s possible that through observation of others, they will self-reflect and understand that there are improvements they can make in their own lifestyle. 

It is an invaluable lesson in humility.

And there are those with whom a connection will continue…

In terms of meaningful friendships, some might argue that it is difficult to carry this forward through time when someone has been uprooted too often.  Whilst I do not deny this is a real issue for many people, Alhamdulillah, it is still possible to stay connected with several quality friends who all sit on that linear thread through one’s life.  My own sons have friends scattered across the world.  Although meeting up in person has not been possible in many cases, they still maintain a connection. It is proof that despite meeting and dispersing, they have found a commonality which supersedes their apparent differences and which bonds them across the miles. Thankfully, in the internet age, the task of keeping in touch is now much easier. 

For anyone contemplating a new start in another country with a young family, I would argue that this change invariably brings about self-reflection and maturity – an opportunity not to forfeit lightly.

Some of the most well-rounded and humble human beings I know are those who have allowed themselves to be immersed into other cultures and societies. 

They have surrendered the dogma of their own societal traditions and opened up to the possibility of doing things in alternative ways. In return, they exude an aura of humility and tolerance which are, in my opinion, qualities missing in today’s global village.  By the same token, it would be wrong to assume those who have not had such exposure are cultural chauvinists.  What is true though, is that an inward-looking aloofness can lead to arrogance. It is something I have consciously tried to steer my children away from.  What better way than being in the midst of a host community where daily challenges to preconceived ideas arise?  

For sure, living temporarily from place to place comes at a price.  However, the gains in terms of identity, friendships and humility, have proven why the packing and unpacking of boxes over the years have been worthwhile.

Today, I see my sons as young men able and willing to interact with a myriad of people and yet be true to their own identity.  They are uncompromising but respectful.  They are confident but humble.  They are young but exude maturity for their age.  Above all, the most valuable lesson has been that the inconveniences of an itinerant lifestyle are a constant reminder of the ephemeral nature of this world itself.  I am hopeful that this lesson is also not lost on my children, insha’Allah

Life Begins When You Want It

Refusing to Let the Dream Die

I have always reiterated in my blog posts how I have discovered that this post-divorce phase of my life is going to be about recentering my ambitions and goals. I am no more living on the periphery of someone else’s life, no matter who they are, not least a narcissist.

If I could offer any advice to any divorced woman, Muslim or not, I’d say do not waste any time in claiming your newly found independence. Of course, there are emotions to work through – there always will be. But time is ticking and life is a gift. Nobody is going to hand opportunities to you on a plate. Ultimately, you will need to search them out for yourself. Those opportunities could be to do with work, hobbies, health and so much more.

A Healthy Body Leads o a Healthy Mind

I have been on a path of self-discovery these past few years and have learnt things about myself that I didn’t even know were there. Like the determination to put my physical health as a priority. I have finally found the impetus to take care of myself and it hasn’t been a health scare or a phone call from the doctor. It has been the simple realisation that there is a direct correlation between my physical well-being and my mental well-being. If there’s anything I can testify to having experienced lately, it is that. Since I regained full independence in my life, so I have harnessed that reality and made it work for me. I no longer see exercise as a chore. Rather, I understand it is the prerequisite to feeling great in my headspace, Alhamdulillah. The formula is foolproof.

I thank my own sons for being the ones to nudge me in that direction. Being young people, they are more conscious about healthy living even if they haven’t been able to implement it themselves fully because of other constraints like time and studies. But it seems things have come full circle and now I am the one who keeps them updated on my own progress! They probably are sick of hearing me celebrate every little milestone that I reach… I say that and yet I know they celebrate my success along with me, Alhamdulillah.

So, do I regret not making some decisions earlier in life? Yes, of course. But I also know that the ground was not fertile back then. Even though I had the ambitions, any attempts to make headway in them were often thwarted by circumstances at the time. Nobody is to blame for that. It’s just life. However, now that I have been given this golden opportunity to take the reins on my own life, I really have no excuse.

I see how a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. That’s a given. What’s more, I’ve found that this extends to other areas of my life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to give something back to the world, especially to those less fortunate than me. One of the intentions I made in writing this blog was to inspire other divorced women – especially Muslim women – that they should not surrender their lives to the past and be stuck there. For every woman who has been dismissed as insignificant, worthless and a burden, I want her to know that she should never again measure herself against someone else’s value systems. There is still so much lying ahead of her if only she were to know.

Everyone else can go jump!

I also feel the time is finally ripe to fulfil another long ambition I have always had – to go out in the world and do something which will bring about a tangible difference to someone else’s life, beyond my own immediate circle of family and friends. Alhamdulillah, I have made a start. I hope to return here with an update in the near future, inshaAllah.

So, even though my worth was not appreciated by the person who should have known it well, I am not hanging around waiting for approval from him or anyone else. Divorce has made me emboldened and produced a wonderful defiance which I hope to use to ‘speak’ on behalf of all womankind.

I hope many more sisters, divorced or not, will find inspiration to stand under the banner of ‘Strong Sisters’ with me.

Spreading Good in the World

Absence Makes the Heart Grow…

A Physical Departure leads to Departures of Many Kinds

fonder?

Not always true. Unfortunately, life is not so simple. There are actually times when the absence of a person is a chance for those left behind to heal and recover from gaping wounds.

calmer?

That is more akin to the reality my sons and I have experienced over these last six years. Having been ravaged by the storm, we have pulled through and emerged into a sense of calm, Alhamdulillah. We have gone through our own rites of passage. I call this recent one the “post-divorce rebirth”. Now that I am standing on the other side of the fence, I can honestly say I like it here. I have acquired a new vantage point on life which I never had before and am not ready to give it up now that I am here, Alhamdulillah. I know I speak on behalf of my sons too.

…stronger?

Definitely so. The void that is created when a person leaves can only be felt for so long. The sense of loss for those who have been betrayed cannot be sustained forever. Life has to go on. And it does. Hearts heal. The disconnect becomes mutual and permeates across the board. In fact, I’d argue that for the victims, they reciprocate the detachment in a much more visceral manner since, unlike the aggressor, they have many emotions to purge. Therefore, the need to protect themselves again becomes an inevitable response to the situation they have just exited. It is a situation which not many fathers who leave to buy the milk ever envisage would come back to bite them. Two can play at that game.

No Room for Anyone Else

It is arrogant for those who sought their escape to think they can return and expect the status quo to have continued in their absence. How is it that a person can seek change for themselves and yet have the audacity to think that those left behind have no right to move on too? These are the hallmarks of a narcissist: to think that the world revolves around them; they are the only ones allowed to expedite change and that everyone will naturally gravitate towards them when they return out of the blue. How presumptuous!

So, as I write today, I recognise the gallimaufry of negative emotions swirling within me – anger, frustration, hurt and dismay. After all, this post is being written at a time when the source of all that negativity has come to haunt my boys and, therefore, me too.

In the same breath, I have also decided that my sons are old enough to decide what they want from the frayed relationship with their father. This is also what I mean when I say that I want to disconnect from the whole situation to the best of my ability. It is not my place to dictate what others should feel and so, I leave it to them to figure it out. I will support them however they wish to proceed.

I am, strangely enough, content to be rid of the past and want to enjoy the blessings that my current life offers me every day – freedom and independence. Not in the sense of immorality or decadence but the peace in my mind that I do not need to answer to another human being. So, despite the resurfacing of the past, I am also confident it will eventually be contained and left to sink back into a deep place again from where it becomes increasingly difficult to retrieve.

Victim is now Victor.

New Writing is on the Wall

Father has Gone for Milk

No Guarantee on Delivery

I never knew about the phrase above until my sons made me aware of its meaning.

For the last six years, we have managed to buy our own milk and returned many times, Alhamdulillah.

Tomorrow is going to be a pensive day for my sons as father is finally returning for a short but unwelcome visit. I usually don’t write with this much candour and raw emotions but I am deeply concerned about the mental health of my sons. This visit was not planned with any consultation with them – about their own schedules or preferences. With a typical arrogance, they were simply told about the upcoming event and even then, they had to painfully extract details. It’s so shocking that a person cannot read the signs of unrequited love. But, given their allegiance is to their Islamic faith, my sons know that they will at least agree to meet with their father to fulfil his rights over them. What they cannot offer however, is any emotional attachment to him. It will be a very perfunctory encounter on their part.

Dates to Avoid or Meet?

As a parent, I cannot imagine turning my back on my children because I need to pursue something evidently greater and more important than them. This is what separates a mother from a father. I know there are mothers who have acted horribly too but statistics show they are not the norm.

My own frustration is that absentee parents can waltz in at their whims and expect to receive an update of several years in several days. What about all the details that are inevtiably left out? What happens when the whirlwind visit is over and the detritus left behind is for the others to pick and clean up? It’s shockingly selfish.

I have witnessed every single day of my sons’ lives and been their support for all things academic, financial, emotional, physical and spiritual. Needless to say, Allah has been the One we have all collectively depended on in turn. So, when a parent decides to show up when it is convenient for themselves, and leave when it is also convenient for themselves, it is nothing more than a great source of irritation and anger.

For myself, as time passes, so too does the emotional gap between the past and present. This upcoming visit, though I will not be involved, does nothing but cause painful memories to be dredged up from the stagnant floor of my mind. I would much rather they stayed right there and become ossified with time.

So, in anticipation of what the next couple of weeks are to bring, I am on standby with an even greater alacrity, poised for the deluge of anger, frustration and sadness that my sons will invariably relay back to me after the whirlwind has passed through.

Maybe we didn’t want that milk after all…

No Choice but to Watch the Spectacle

Goodbye Ramadan

The month of Ramadan has flown by. Today, Muslims will bid farewell to this beautiful time and yet set our sights on another meeting next year, inshaAllah. In the meantime, we hope we have reaped plenty of rewards during the month; we also hope the lessons learned will carry us through to the rest of the year.

I liken the passing of Ramadan to the change in season from summer to autumn. Whilst I endeavour to keep my heart in deep connection to my Creator, where my efforts are in full bloom, when the month leaves, those good habits begin to come undone somewhat and the bloom begins to wither. Just as the leaves wilt and eventually fall off the trees.

Cautiously watching..

Of course, the challenge is to keep the momentum going and even though I know I will falter and fail on many occasions, I hope the unravelling process is an extremely slow one.

Aside from the reward I hope to have gained from Ramadan itself through worship of Allah, I have found that the month has brought with it countless precious moments of peace. Even to have had a few minutes to sit with my sons and reflect on our day, or to sit in silence on many nights and track the course of the waxing and waning moon, all these simple things have brought immense serenity and joy within. I understand that, at times, wonderful moments are to be found in the most routine things. I don’t necessarily have to be jetsetting across the world looking for them. Perhaps that’s also a sign of mellowing out in my latter life. Who knows?

I pray the lessons learnt in Ramadan will not be lost on me in time to come. I have seen how this year, for some reason, the last thing I have concerned myself with during fasting is food and any elaborate preparation of it. I’d like to think that’s a good sign. A sign of maturity; a realisation that Ramadan is not about hunger per se but something so much deeper. The month has shown me the excesses of life and how little we in fact need to get by. Decluttering in the material, physical and emotional senses, has inevitably made more room for the things that really matter – my connection to Allah and the understanding of my ultimate purpose in this life.

The truth is, the lifestyle we adopt as Muslims in Ramadan is something we should be aspiring to throughout the year. But being the arrogant mere mortals that we are, we often fall far short of that lofty ideal. My hope is that even having had the chance to experience it for a short time, should at least leave me yearning to return to it again and aspiring to hold onto whatever good I have managed to establish in this time.

So, I bid farewell to this annual visitor but believe the friendship is one that will sustain me for the rest of the year and till we meet again, inshaAllah.

Till Next Year, inshaAllah

Walks and Worship

The Creation leads to Worship of the Creator

This Ramadan, as I try to learn more about my relationship with Allah, so I find that I am learning more about myself. I have tried to make this not a month of rituals only and of no substance, that is, I want to internalise and reflect on words I hear or read about Allah and all that He encompasses. It’s not an easy goal but I take comfort knowing that sincere efforts towards understanding life and its purpose is all that I am asked to do.

In my mission to try to figure out what Allah is asking of me in my own unique situation, I have pondered over His book, the Glorious Quran. There have been some verses in it which have made me stop in my tracks. Not because I have never seen them before. It’s quite often the case that I have read these verses many times previously. However, one of the indescribable miracles of the Quran is that you can read the same verse many times and yet extrapolate different things from it each time. It’s like peeling away at a layer at a time of a delicious fruit until you are finally presented with the innermost and most perfect core at the centre. It’s quite surreal.

Perfection Visualised

The verses that often leave me in awe are those relating to nature and all the parts that make it whole. So, whether we are reminded of the living creatures, the seas, the skies, the plants, the fruits or the land, it all comes together to leave me mesmerised and humbled. With that sense of wonder reverberating in my mind, I have then gone for long walks in my neighbourhood only to be presented with actual physical manifestations and proof of Allah’s words in His own book. Flowers, trees, water, the sky…. the list goes on. None of them I could have produced on my own and yet they work together seamlessly in smooth calibration. For me, worshipping Allah also takes the form of admiring His creation. Whilst out on my walks, I have had ample opportunities to marvel at the world around me. It then begs the question, “How can anyone deny Allah exists?” I actually pity those who are in plain denial of this simple truth.

In essence, Ramadan has made me understand my insignificant position in the grand scheme of things. That being said, I do exist and so my part in this world is very real. Whilst I go about my daily routine, I also pray I can continue to hold onto the informal teachings that the natural world has presented to me so far and use it to stay connected to the Creator of all things, inshAllah.

..and which of His Favours Will You Deny? (The Quran: 55:13)

Ramadan Resolutions

Capturing the Beauty of Ramadan

Alhamdulillah, we are halfway through Ramadan. It has gone by quickly. Even more surprisingly, it has gone by almost effortlessly, Alhamdulillah.

This year, like many others, I have not felt the physical toll of fasting. My own theory is that it’s because I have learnt to be distracted with other things such as the daily chores at home or being occupied with work, albeit a reduced schedule. Most importantly though, I know that at my age, I have a healthier relationship with food and understand that fasting is not about the concerns of the stomach per se.

Healthy Reflections lead to Healthy Actions

To be honest, for many years, whenever Ramadan has come along, I have consciously endeavoured to move to the next/higher level of fasting and check myself in terms of where my temporal desires may want to take me. In other words, I want to curb the bad thoughts which sometimes threaten to translate into bad actions and words. The best way to do that is to disconnect with unnecessary conversations with others, either in person or virtually, and immerse myself in the remembrance of Allah through his noble book, the Quran. I find myself wishing that this kind of hermetically-sealed life is something I could sustain beyond Ramadan. However, Allah knows we are social beings and trying to isolate oneself from the wider community for a long period of time, is not realistic or even acceptable. The real challenge is to take the reflections and lessons of Ramadan and apply them to my life once this month passes – if I am fortunate enough to see it through.

Being in this month right now also reminds me that I am truly blessed and grateful (simultaneously) for having my faith to guide me in my moments of despair and darkness. I can’t imagine what desperate state I’d have been in in recent years had I not had the quiet assurance given to me by Allah that everything is going to be OK. Ramadan serves to heighten that awareness, Alhamdulillah.

Perhaps most importantly, I am also reminded of all the nefarious things I need to weed out from within. I recognise that I have much to correct about myself. Just the other day, I was listening to a lecture where the speaker related that one of the best types of people is he/she who gives themselves in the service of others. It gave me hope. That’s because I know that although I may not have scholarly knowledge about Islam, or have memorised the Quran from cover to cover, or have the ability to save a life through medical skills, at least I can find a niche in life and apply my skills and talent there. Islam recognises that we are all of different abilities and strengths and it draws upon those so beautifully. For myself, helping others, whether it’s with my time, knowledge or money, is the realm where I see I might redeem myself.

If it were honourable kings, political leaders or religious scholars who were the only calibre of people guaranteed success in the hereafter, life would be pretty hopeless for many of us. Alhamdulillah, that is far from the truth. The likes of those who stand a chance of success in the next life are people who have the sincere intention to do and be good. We are all on our own journey, each travelling with our own baggage and at different speeds. What I need to make sure is that I am in the driving seat in my vehicle and not simply riding as a passenger in someone else’s. In a way, being divorced gives me that privilege. I am responsible for finding answers to any questions and that forces me to be an active learner and not a passive student. I have the rationale and tools to make informed choices and best of all, I still have my faith. Alhamdulillah. I already know the road I want to travel and hope it will lead to the ultimate and best destination inshaAllah.

Using my Past to Keep my Eye on the Road Ahead
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