No More IOUs

Moving Up and Out

When you’re starting out on your own again after divorce, it’s almost impossible not to call on the help of others.  There’s no shame in doing that.  Be it money, food or someone to talk to, all these collective forms of help are our lifeline of hope in those dark days when we are still so overwhelmed with our own grief. 

When I first emerged from the detritus of my marriage, I was fortunate enough to have had family and friends support me emotionally, financially and spiritually, Alhamdulillah.  I will never be able to repay their efforts although I continue to pray that Allah compensates them with things far better than I could ever offer.  Yet, this is where the complexity lies too:  whilst accepting help is nothing to be ashamed of, allowing it to extend into a long-term dependency is something to be concerned about.  We need to know our limits.

If I have learnt anything in the last few years, it is this – that Allah is Ar-Razzaq, the Provider.  Sure, He places people and opportunities in our midst but they are only the medium through which our provisions are attained.  They are not the sources of any goodness itself.  It is Allah who provides those people with the means to help in the first place.  The origin of everything we have is ultimately our Creator, Allah.  I know I have reiterated this point many times before but I make no apology for that.  It really can’t be overstated. 

The Real Creditor

Today though, I want to elaborate on the importance of not being too reliant on others.  Moreso, I want to make the distinction between the Provider and His agents.

There is a definite danger in depending on any one person for anything.  For sure, there will come a time when they disappoint, not because they are unable to help on one occasion or two, but because the dependency on them feeds into their ego.  It is human nature that people applaud themselves when they feel they have benefitted a fellow human being in some way.  What they fail to see, however, is that being the person available at that time was simply incidental.  If it wasn’t them, there would have been someone else to have fulfilled that role.  As it is, they simply happened to be there at the right time.  However, they may mistakenly place themselves on a pedestal and credit themselves for providing (especially) material comfort for those in need.  It is their actions alone that bring relief to others.  This is an absolute fallacy. 

In my own experience, I have witnessed a small number of people lavish praise upon themselves for being there to help me.  Often, self-adulation happens retrospectively but always entitles them to feel good about themselves.  On some occasions, they have even felt they have earned the right to know intimate details of my current personal situation – as if helping me gives them privy to this.  At these such times I realised that this co-dependency had to be severed.  I would not allow myself to be enslaved to their favours.  I would not allow my life to be put on public display without having any control.

As I mentioned at the start, there is no shame in asking for help.  However, being in the pocket of somebody else as a result of them abusing their kindness, is not a good place to be.  There is also another sinister problem which may arise.  It is that, deep in one’s own psyche, turning to others might be a way to avoid confronting your own fears about moving on with life.  Handing the responsibility of the daily grind to another human should only ever be seen as a temporary measure whilst you are dealing with the emotional struggle within.  At some point, as cruel or unjust as life may seem, it is so important to take back control again and recompose ourselves.  Easier said than done, I know.  Yet, an unhealthy dependency on others is a questionable relationship.  Inevitably, a hierarchy will set in and it goes without saying, which end of that hierarchy you may find yourself in if you are the one piecing your life back together.  It happens in marriages between spouses and it also definitely occurs between friends and even family.  Alhamdulillah, I have slowly begun to recognise that scenario before I blindly walk in.

I am reminded of a famous hadith, a prophetic saying, in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised Muslims to tie their camel in the desert.  This analogy refers to taking precautions in any given situation and to not be completely careless.  It speaks of a simple but beautiful equilibrium.  Whilst we always trust in Allah to take care of our affairs, we must also take some responsibility for our actions.  Looking deeper, we can see that tying our camel is tantamount to recognising that our reliance is upon Allah.  At the same time, we will learn a sense of independence and humility.  It is about our capabilities vs. our limits.  It is about rationale vs. faith.

Whilst I am forever grateful to those who stepped forward and helped me when I needed it most, I also know I had to eventually liberate myself from being tied to any individual.  I didn’t want to be stuck in a state of deference to them.  It’s true those individuals never demanded it from me but I know it was somehow implied.  I made the same mistake in my marriage and I am determined not to fall for it again. 

To associate rizq (fortune), solely with human effort is a mistake I will try to consciously avoid at all times.  I can’t even claim that any good that comes my way is due to my own efforts alone. This notion extends to others as well. I know people cannot take anything that was written for me nor provide anything which was not.  To be honest, that fact alone has given me so many reasons to feel bold to hold my own.  I can defend my position and principles in the face of opposition since I know nobody pays for my bread and butter.  I have learnt to stand my ground, Alhamdulillah.

Freedom is fantastically priceless.

Being true to one’s self

Questioning those who Question

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Blah, Blah, Blah….

Before, during and since my boys went off to university, I have had people ask me how I feel knowing they are no longer with me.  There have been occasions where I know the questions are not simply about me missing them.  I feel that underlying the questions are preconceived notions of what can be expected from young men living away from my watchful gaze.  It’s only a matter of time before everything will come unravelling…

Of course, a mother’s worries never cease no matter what stage of life her child is at.  They simply take on a different form as the years go by.  Right now, my main concerns for my sons are about the company they keep, that they are pursuing their own academic goals and looking after their physical and mental health, all to the best of their abilities.  Yet, above and beyond those things, I pray that they stay true to their identity as a Muslim.  This is whether they are in my presence or not for they know too well that they are always in the presence of Allah.

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If there is any invaluable advice I have imparted to my sons, it is that every action they do must be circumscribed by their Islamic values.  They are not accountable to me.  They are accountable to Allah and whether I am aware or not of things they do, they know the buck does not stop with me.  There is an infinitely more Supreme being to reckon with, As-Shaheed, the Witness. 

I know I have laboured the point about being skeptical of people’s intentions when asking questions.  However, when others question me about my boys living away, there seems to be disbelief that I am unperturbed by the situation. After all, my family is inherently flawed – there is no father figure as an authority for my boys.  So, it is not the words per se that these people say.  Rather, it is the tone in which the questions are asked – as if I have no right to succeed as a mother on my own.  Whilst I am not someone who explains away my life with the evil eye excuse, there have been times when I really do feel its ugly presence as with the recent questions about my sons.  Apparently, I have an unjustified audacity to hold my head high in the absence of a husband or a father to my sons.

Perhaps these thoughts in my mind are nothing more than ridiculous.  Maybe I have convinced myself that I’ve discovered something that was never actually there. But I have lived long enough on this Earth to know the secret malevolence that lurks just below seemingly innocuous thoughts and questions that people ask.  To this day, even in the 21st century, a divorced woman is still made to feel that she exists only on the periphery of Muslim society.  (What an irony when we know the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself married Khadijah, herself a divorcee but counted amongst the most honoured of all Muslims.) By relinquishing or losing her position as a wife, a woman becomes banished to the furthest corners of social circles which involve ‘normal’ families.  Her children become casualties too.  I know this is definitely not a figment of my imagination.  The antiquated narrowmindedness of some people, especially in Muslim communities, is very real.  Without a husband, a woman simply stops being significant to society.  It probably explains why many women hold onto their marriages for dear life.  A fate which sees her ostracised by society is worse than living the lie of a successful marriage.

A life still worth living…

Alhamdulillah, I refused to ever be made to feel deficient or less significant because of my new status.  My fighting spirit dictates that my boys will get the best that life offers them, insha’Allah, despite the new circumstances we are in.  Moreover, they should always feel they are fully-fledged members of their community. They will not simply become bookmarks of the past.    

I have said it before and I will keep saying it again and again.  As a woman, self-worth does not come from being married.  If that were the case, I would be a shadow of my former self today.  My self-worth comes from the comfortable knowledge that my life is in the hands of my Maker, Alhamdulillah.  As long as I strive to please Him, then everything else is a bonus.  The same rule applies to my own sons.  I am simply their brownie point.

Lessons from a Peripatetic Life

To load or unload?

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 recipe for disaster.  What’s more, forming long-term meaningful relationships with people becomes impossible.  Knowing that you are unlikely to be in a place for too long, almost stultifies any desire to make an effort to do any more than is necessary to get by in life.  Is that always the case though?

In the time I have been on this Earth, I have lived across different continents, cultures and climates.  I have, indeed, been a modern-day urban nomad.  During the 18 years of my past married life alone, I lived in as many places!  There is no denying that always being on standby, ready to pack up and move onto the next destination, does take its toll.  The physical job of collecting one’s worldly possessions and transporting them across the miles is, in itself, an arduous one.  Then, arriving at the next temporary stop, there is no choice but to unpack again and go through the cycle once more. 

Arguably, there is also the emotional price of not settling in one place for too long.  For those who have experienced this kind of life, we know too well the challenge to incentivise ourselves to make new friends.  The desire to invest too much in a place where we will not be stationary for long is usually lacking.  My own children have often complained of this problem.  Shifting between schools in different countries, they have not been able to plant their feet firmly on the ground before it has been time to move on again. 

Packing up memories and not just things

Despite their complaints and the real drudgery of a nomadic life, I have still managed to see the benefits such a lifestyle has given them – and me, Alhamdulillah.  I myself was uprooted from London as a child and spent three years abroad.  At the time, I resented the decision my father had made.  Now, in retrospect, I see it was perhaps one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had.  Ostensibly, my childhood peers were more fortunate given they enjoyed a static and sheltered life.  But this dull continuity has rendered those same people unable to cope with anything outside the familiar, especially in later life.  

There is also the idea that it is difficult to carry friendships forward through time when you have been uprooted too soon and too often.  Whilst I don’t deny this is a real issue for many people, Alhamdulillah, I have been fortunate enough to have stay connected with several quality friends who all sit on that linear thread through my life.  Others have fallen by the wayside but isn’t that true in any person’s life?  It is up to the individuals involved to make it work and in the internet age, that task is made even easier. 

Even my own children, who lament the instability they had growing up, have actually managed to keep in contact with friends from different phases of their lives.  True, those friends are scattered across the world and meeting up in person hasn’t been possible in many cases.  Yet, there is communication still and I have seen how enduring and enriching these friendships have been.  They have found a commonality and a cultural exchange which bonds them across the miles.

As with my own life, I see my sons learning to take the best of each society that they have been exposed to and internalise it.  They don’t recognise that now but I do.  I will not pretend and say that none of those encounters with other communities have caused derision on both sides.  Yet, I am philosophical about life and I strongly believe that even the negative experiences are part of the enriching and character-building process of the individual.  I believe it is too early to expect my sons to appreciate that stance now.

Travel is, I believe, the best form of education a person can wish for and to live not as a tourist, but as an ordinary citizen in a foreign land, is an education not to forfeit lightly.  Invariably, the people I have also met, who have allowed themselves to be immersed into other cultures and societies, are some of the most well-rounded, respectful and interesting people I know.  This is not to denigrate those who have not had exposure to other cultures etc.  Yet, I can often identify someone who has lived in different places.  They exude an aura of respect and tolerance and are quite frankly, in my opinion, just alluring.  It’s clear they have surrendered the dogma of their own societal traditions and opened up to other possible ways of doing things.  It is this lack of arrogance which is the most endearingly palpable characteristic that comes through each time.

So, yes, living temporarily from place to place is definitely physically and mentally challenging.  However, I have seen and experienced alternative ways of living and being.  I consider myself a very amateur anthropologist in this regard. Above all, the greatest advantage I have over those who have never experienced the inconveniences of this itinerant lifestyle is that I am constantly reminded of the ephemeral nature of life itself.  I have not allowed myself to lay firm roots anywhere and this is what the life of a Muslim is anyway.  We know the final stop is not in this world.  With this in mind, I hope to always have my sights set on a permanent home elsewhere which far supersedes anything this life can offer, Insha’Allah.

Searching for Home away from Earth

Me and A Thousand Others

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The kind of followers you’d rather not have

There are times when I come to this blog with a clear plan about what I want to say. Sometimes, the thoughts which materialise onto paper are those which have been brewing in my mind for a while. Other times, the thoughts come to the fore often last minute. In almost all those cases, the thoughts are inspired by real encounters with people in my life. Yesterday, was one such example. I had a chance encounter with a young Muslim mother – someone I had never met before. In that first conversation, between two complete strangers, she ended up in tears and I found myself inadvertently in the role of counsellor. She had expressed her sorrow and distress that her marriage was almost coming to an end.

Meeting this lady, I could not help but recall my own parallel experiences with her. Of course, I do not know the details of her life but I do know too well the emotional devastation that such life events cause us to go through. Too often, it is the women who suffer the consequences of such turmoil and are the victims. And let’s not forget the children.

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Lost for words…

The sadness I felt for her, and so many other stories I learn about online and in person, is something immeasurable. It is a pain that only someone who has personally experienced, can ever begin to empathise with. Standing in front of this stranger yesterday, listening to her story, reading her face, seeing her tears, all collectively brought a deluge of memories flooding back to my mind. Yet, oddly enough, I became acutely aware of how far down the line I have travelled, creating an even wider gap with each day between my past and my present. It was a moment of self-realisation.

I explained to this lady that there would be light at the end of the tunnel; there would be clear skies after the clouds; that she would be just fine. All the time, I felt like I was having a conversation with my former self – that this person was like a reincarnation of the previous me and I was going back to my past to tell myself everything would be OK. Hearing myself give that advice to someone else actually was a profound experience. It was as if Allah had given me yet another opportunity to judge for myself how much progress I have made in recent years. Similar to the epiphany I had when descending Mount Snowdon, yesterday’s meeting with a perfect stranger provided that same feeling. It was such a surreal moment.

As already mentioned, I have read far too many stories of women suffering abuse of all kinds at the hands of their menfolk. To be honest, I often don’t make it to the end of those stories because the outcomes are, sadly, just too predictable. I am tired of seeing many men escape retribution from society or the law and I’m tired of seeing women get hurt. Even if I want to tell them (the women) that they are going to be just fine, I know they will have to go through the motions themselves. I can’t fast forward life or help them skip that ditch of darkness. Alhamdulillah, I am living proof that there is a life to be had enjoyed after divorce. The fruits of hard labour will definitely ripen some day and we will be ready to take from that harvest what is rightfully ours, inshaAllah.

So, my sisters, to all those who are in the throes of divorce and have stumbled across today’s blog, may this post serve as a gentle ray of hope that we womenfolk have an innate and almost infinite reslience that will not allow us to hang up our boots just yet. Hold your head up high and carry the torch for your children. You are indeed a trailblazer.

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My Crafted Realm

Crafted realms are not only a virtual thing

Yesterday, I dropped off my son to university where he will be entering a new phase of his life, inshaAllah. How do I feel? Excited. Not just for him, obviously. I am also excited for myself.

To be around to witness the academic journeys of my sons and their evolving maturity as they move onto independent living, is something that would make any parent quietly proud. I hesitate to use that word ‘proud’ since it has many negative connotations; it makes me seem arrogant – as if their development was a credit to my efforts alone. I will never take full credit for anything my sons have achieved. All along the way, I have been so conscious of a quiet divine intervention which has brought us all to where we are today, Alhamdulillah.

Tên gọi University và College khác nhau thế nào - VnExpress
The lobby leading to adulthood

That being said, it is also divine intervention that has kept me grounded and not let me lose my head at a time when I could very easily have done so. My faith in Allah was the only thing that reassured me that He was – and always is – dictating from behind the curtains of the stage of life. Just like an actor deserves praise for their performance, so too the director is a key figure without whose instructions, things may turn out very differently.

With my sons now fast becoming young men and less dependent on me for their daily survival, I feel these next few years, should I live to see them, will continue to bring great reward for me, inshaAllah. Although the worries of a parent never cease, they take a different form as the children grow up. I don’t deny I am relieved to be almost free of the essential schooling years now that my youngest is at his last stage too. Whilst I miss the formative childhood years with my children, I don’t miss the constant monitoring and policing of almost everything they did or said. I have now learnt to loosen the rope between myself and them so that they have the room to grow and even make minor mistakes. After all, what is a life which hasn’t had mistakes? Aren’t they the most efficient and long-lasting way of learning not to fall into the same pithole twice?

It is only now that I have come to find that I can sit and talk with all my sons as a group of adults. I relish the times we have sat together and talked candidly about so many things. Sometimes I have let them dictate the direction and flow of the conversation. Other times, I have instigated healthy debates and discussions. Most recently, we spoke about the sordid topic of pornography. Alhamdulillah, there was not any awkwardness in that conversation since I presented the preamble that, in life, uncomfortable subjects need to be spoken about to clear any misconceptions and to be aware of the world around us. As Muslims, we know there is no shame in discussing these things for the sake of educating ourselves. More importantly, I want my boys to know that, with their mother, they have a safe place to talk about such topics without judgement. I would much rather they come to me than resort to an unreliable and misleading alternative. What has been quite revealing is that they even told me they would much rather have had these conversations with me than their father even though it would seem that, man-to-man, it would have made sense if he were here today to guide them. For me, that was a testament to the closeness and the trust we have developed between us over these last few years. I see now that this could have only happened when other distractions had been removed. My wish is that, as brothers, my sons amongst themselves will always maintain a sense of responsibility towards one another irrespective of the other variables in their lives.

Unlocking Awkwardness and Finding Candour

Alhamdulillah, for everything. As the months and years go by, I am deeply grateful for the permanent deviation which I experienced from my previous path five years ago. It is no exaggeration to say that I am finally beginning to enjoy the fruits of my labour. And no sooner than I utter those words, I must immediately follow it up with an eternally heartfelt sense of gratitude to my Creator, without whom I would not be here and without whom I could not reach anywhere else. It all starts and ends with Him.

A Year (and more) of MyMotherHalf

It’s been just over a year now since I took that leap of faith and plunged into the world of blogging. As seems to be the tradition of many bloggers, this is an appropriate point to look back and reflect. As a reminder to myself, I just read my very first blog post to see how much I have remained truthful to my intentions or if I strayed from the original purpose. So far, I feel I am still on course.

I know I have sometimes/often been repetitive in my posts. The same thoughts and ideas have come through in different ways. However, given this was always going to be a cathartic exercise, like a self-awareness course, I make no apology for sounding like a broken record. I have needed to exorcise the negative emotions out of me and go through a process of self-cleansing. Through it all, I’ve also gradually come to the realisation that I am on the mend, that this ongoing writing exercise has helped me in many ways…

It isn’t just that I have forced myself to come face-to-face with my own inner demons or the horrible upheaval I went through several years ago. I have also actually realised how much I miss writing itself! For someone who used to keep a travel journal on her travels (with small kids), I relish the opportunity to record experiences I have had in life just so others can benefit and share in them too. As a student, I recall always having my nose buried in a book on an overcrowded train. I breathed books and inhaled words. I read at almost any given opportunity, lost in a parallel undisturbed existence. I have read sentences which are analogous to a mellifluous voice floating in the warm spring air in the silent countryside. Put together beautifully, words are alluring.

I don’t pretend to be of such a high calibre in my own writing but I have found inspiration at least. Thanks to my recent experiences in life I feel I have a lot to say. At least now I have found a creative way of channelling my frustrations and grievances; I am not fruitlessly pummelling walls instead. That would be a pitiable expression of my feelings. Alhamdulillah, I feel I have taken a ‘bad’ situation in my life (namely, divorce) and turned it into something good. I can even confidently say that divorce wasn’t a bad thing. One door closed but so many others opened up for me. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

Initially, setting myself a goal of writing a blog once a week was something I thought may have been a tall order. However, I knew I had to push myself and keep the momentum going. After all, it was more for myself than a public audience. Now, each time I offload my thoughts, I feel I have just exited a therapy session except I am both the counsellor and patient. Talking to myself, seeing my own thoughts staring back at me on the screen, is an honest acknowledgement of what I am feeling at that time. Better still, reading these posts in retrospect is a way of assessing how much progress I have made over time. And I do believe there has been progress, Alhamdulillah.

Perhaps even more gratifying is the occasional reply I have received from others who have honoured me by following my blog and privately responded saying how relatable some of my experiences have been. That has been a bonus for sure.

Above all – and this cannot be understated – I have come to understand my relationship with Allah better. In a convoluted but certain way, I have discovered my true purpose in this life and how all roads, straight or meandering, lead back to Him, Alhamdulillah.

No Lemonade is Made Without Lemons

The sum of the parts deserve their recognition and not just the whole

Everyone’s life is full of uncertainty. No matter how well-organised (or not) someone is, there is no telling what’s around the corner. Yet uncertainty itself isn’t always a negative thing. Arguably, it’s what keeps us on our toes. Knowing that life isn’t always a level playing field, and that the only constant is inconsistency, is the surest way of not lapsing into a state of complacency about anything.

The question is how we deal with a situation that is unexpected. Do we start flailing our arms and become flustered or do we take it in our stride? I would be the first to admit that I’ve done both those things in my life and everything in-between – depending on what the situation was. Recently, I have found, though, that many circumstances that have presented themselves have left me less perturbed than if I had faced them a few years ago. I know why that is. Simply, it’s because my divorce was by far the biggest and rudest awakening in my life. The emotional trauma it thrust upon me was unprecedented. To date, I have not experienced anything quite so unsettling. I lost my father last year, but he had not been a part of my life since I was a child and so, his loss, though hugely upsetting, did not leave a yawning gap as much as one might expect.

Thus, in recent years, I have always been on the edge of my seat . I have learnt the valuable lesson of being mentally prepared for change – that the diversions in life’s journey may be sudden and drastic. Sometimes change comes from within; sometimes it comes from without. We are all evolving be it at different rates from one another. Change isn’t a bad thing although it often mistakenly has too many negative connotations. I have seen change within me which my recent life has provided the fertile ground for. Whilst some of it has been forced upon me as I adapt to the responsibilities of family life on my own, the rest is what I have voluntarily pursued. I feel I am finally embracing it. I like it too.

Reading signposts ahead of me

Since coming back to ground level from Mount Snowdon (only three weeks ago), I feel a light has been ignited within me. Ask me what my plan is moving ahead, I am not entirely sure but I do know I am feeling restless. I may no longer be in the prime of my life but I feel an effervescent energy pushing me to do things before my time is up. Things which I just put on hold because everyone else always came first. It’s time to come to the front of the queue.

I have often read inspiring stories of other people who have bravely taken on new challenges in their twilight years. As happy as I am for them, I am tired of reading about others. I want to be part of that list too. Whether I take my writing ambitions more seriously, or I put my health as a priority, or I go visit a part of the world which I’ve always wanted to see, I feel I am fired up to try any – or all – of them.

Above everything else, I am extremely grateful that Allah has opened my eyes to His wisdom. He has brought me to a place of internal and external peace, Alhamdulillah, which I naively believed was only ever accomplishable within marriage. I now know that there are many paths to the same destination. I can’t believe that I am even saying this! I want anyone who is reading this to know that life isn’t over, no matter what their struggle. Happiness and peace and gratitude are goals for which there are many different formulae. With trial and error, the answer can – and will – be found, inshaAllah.

Allah: Al-Hakim, The Perfectly Wise

Where the Grass is Greener

It’s all fine here too

As my own sons enter the next phase of their lives, I feel I am doing the same. Yet, whereas their next steps involve new academic journeys, mine obviously is not of that nature. To be honest, I haven’t actually officially embarked on any new venture but, in my mind, I feel it’s time to try something different.

For all the years I’ve put a major part of my own life on hold, watching and waiting for my kids to grow up and become independent, I now feel the time is ripe for me to do something just for me. Yes. Me and nobody else. I plan to start with necessary things like taking better care of my health. At the other end of the scale, if I am fortunate enough inshaAllah, I want to find myself standing on another corner of the world and exploring a new place on my own. I want to enjoy my own company – single and in silence with uninterrupted thoughts. Gosh, that sounds shamelessly narcissistic.

However, for many, we often lose ourselves in the company of others and find that we unwittingly allow ourselves to be led in whichever direction the crowd takes us. Not a negative thing necessarily. But for a change, I want to make a decision by myself, for myself and with myself. I am going to lap the situation up. So many women complain of not ‘having time out’, being overwhelmed with family life, the demands of husband and home etc. So, now that Allah has given me the opportunity to do something on my own, inshaAllah I will take it. I don’t want pity. This is not a sour grapes attitude. Rather, I simply want to make the best of the situation I am in.

I already have been so fortunate to have had some memorabe and cherished experiences in the last few years. I have to pinch myself to remind myself that they even came to pass. My recent climb up Mount Snowdon was, quite literally, the pinnacle of those achievements. But it’s not about going higher now. It’s just about keeping going. I have been awakened to the realisation that I am still surrounded by beauty in its many forms and my zest for life has been reinvigorated. I contemplate my personal situation often. Sometimes those thoughts occur as a fleeting moment in a day; other times it can be longer periods of deep reflection of how I came to be in this ‘here and now’. Alhamdulillah, I can never separate the knowledge that this is all the brilliant mastery of my Creator. When He says he is closer to us than our own jugular vein, I get it now. Like how a parent teaches their young child to ride that first bike and watches them fall over and over and when eventually the stabilisers come off, and they witness their child racing through on their own, so I liken Allah’s guidance and support towards me. Whether we acknowledge it or not, Allah’s divine intervention and control is an indisuptable fact. He sees our initial scrapes and scars but He knows how to help and heal. All at the same time.

We always think the grass is greener on the other side. From where I am standing, Alhamdulillah, I have already got plenty to be content with. For me, this is the other side.

How to Climb a Mountain by Accident

The world at my feet, Thorpe Cloud, Peak District

For those readers who have been following my blog, they would know by now that a recurring theme in my writing is the mindset which does not give up easily and wallow in self-pity.

Last week, I skipped a blog post not because of the lack of anything to say. Far from it! I was away in the Peak District of England and then Snowdonia in Wales, exploring the countryside and deliberately losing myself in nature. It wasn’t my first time to either places. Yet the novelty of being there and liberated from the shackles of city life had not worn off. Dipping into a completely different ‘otherness’ is not only refreshing and exhilirating. It’s actually necessary. Like how a good dose of hot lemon and ginger offsets a bad flu, so an escape to the country is the perfect panacea for the humdrum monotony of life.

Our holiday this summer was a long time in the planning. In fact, it had been postponed from 2020 due to Covid. For a while I was doubting if we’d even manage to get away this year. Alhamdulillah though, we did. Myself, my boys and their cousins – eight of us all footloose and fancy free.

Being in the open countryside meant being away from home and its beckoning calls to take care of this and that. I immediately felt my mind and my soul empty themselves of any distractions. I was fully present – physically, emotionally and spiritually – in my surroundings of green fields, forests, lakes and rivers. Allah is the ultimate artist and I was standing on His palette of pristine blues and greens and relishing the visual perfection.

Looking out from within Thor’s Cave

Each day we explored new places, climbed new mountains and hills and from high and low I never stopped marvelling at the beauty and majesty of the natural world Allah has created on Earth. It was so hard to imagine how much of this planet is suffering at the hands of humans when I was sitting in places that seemed to have remained completely untouched since the beginning of time. It is easy to understand why many prophets were shepherds. Out in the open, away from the distractions of people, they must have enjoyed a deep connection to nature and ultimately, a connection to their Creator. It allows for a purity of thought and, no doubt, a lot of soul-searching. Back to today and despite the influx of summer tourists, for the most part, there is a deep regard for the preservation of the countryside and most of it remains unspoiled. So it’s still very easy to find a way back to Allah in those silent moments on a mountain, in awe of the vista from up there.

On our Snowdonia leg of our trip, we were joined by my oldest nephew and his wife, so our group size had increased to ten. We had all agreed to try see Mount Snowdon up close. I had erroneously assumed the rest of the group would have been content to stay at ground level. Silly me! I should have realised that youth is a synonym for audacity. So, it wasn’t long before I found myself nervously tagging along at the back of a fearless line of novice mountain hikers. Not daring to look down, for fear of falling and neither daring to look up, for fear of not seeing a convenient stopping point, I gingerly clambered on.

The weather had started off on a promising note with clouds providing cover but no rain in sight. Every so often, I was lead to believe that we had reached our final stop but when I paused to catch my breath, the others simply carried on upwards. It wasn’t long before I realised the group had been secretly planning to reach the summit! By then, I was damned if I were to turn back and return alone. The only option was to continue on regardless of how apprehensive I was.

The love is mutual, looking on from Mount Snowdon

About halfway up Snowdon, I was silently satisfied with the knowledge that I had climbed about 540m. That was good enough for me. I was mentally preparing to retrace my steps and head back down. However, my middle son quipped that I wouldn’t be returning to Snowdon any time soon and questioned if I was prepared to write in my next blog that I had only partially climbed Snowdon? Of course, he knew which buttons to push. His trick had worked and precisely at that moment, I knew I was going to see this mission through to the very end. I don’t deny it was a very tough undertaking. Further on, the clouds had decided to offload their burdens upon us and visibility was poor. Our waterproofs were anything but that and my puddled boots squelched water with every step. We were all soaked to the skin but determined to complete our mission.

Three cold and blustery hours later, we finally emerged at the top of Snowdon. I wish I could tell my readers of the wonderful vista from up there. But the truth is we were shrouded in cloud and mist and could barely see 10m in front of us. Additionally, the wind was very strong in the exposed parts so, pausing just long enough to take a few quick photos to document our accomplishment, we soon started our descent. But none of that mattered too much. I was still reeling from the fact that I had actually made it to the top. I had defied my own self-expectations and found myself standing 1085m high up in the world. It is a moment I will never forget.

And this is how I came to find myself accidentally climbing Snowdon. Any regrets? Absolutely not! It was one occasion that I was so grateful for the tenacity of the young people around me. Had it not been for their gentle coaxing and encouragement, I probably would never have stepped foot on Snowdon itself. I can’t explain how surreal it was for me standing at the summit when I had never envisaged hiking up a hill let alone the highest mountain in Wales. It was something only other people did. Not me.

All the way down, I was contemplating the enormity of what I had just achieved. I had just proved to myself that I can (and should) pursue new goals outside my comfort zone. Yet the main lesson which the Snowdon experience confirmed to me was that I am living my best life now since my divorce. I actually had an epiphany right there. Not only am I a survivor but I am thriving, Alhamdulillah. I have ventured into new unchartered territory on many fronts. My life is not over just because my marriage expired. I am simply in a new phase and I will embrace new opportunities and adventures with open arms, inshaAllah.

Nobody knows exactly how much time they have on this Earth but inshaAllah I plan to continue my journey of discovery. For years I had thought I knew myself but I see I am still learning. Without doubt, the most wonderfully inexplicable thing in all of this is that I have not lost my faith in Allah at all. On the contrary, the last few years He has taken me down an unexpected road only for me to realise that His design, His beauty and His mercy were (and are) always there. I just needed to see them from a very different perspective. To use that loathsome cliche Facebook-speak, “I am feeling blessed.” I see now that I have accomplished things in recent years that I probably would never have dared try had I been married still.

This is the subliminal message I internalised from Mount Snowdon. I will always look back on that place with awe and respect. On the 7th of August, 2021, a handful of people would have unwittingly witnessed a 50 year old first-timer hike up a mountain and go back down. The truth is I did much more than that. I conquered a mental impasse and feel poised to scale many more self-imposed emotional embargoes, with Allah’s help.

From Pique to Peak

Peak District, UK

I know that title doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance. However, I can explain. Lately, I have been going through bouts of feeling high and low as is normal when looking back at the past and looking ahead to the future all at once. Nothing unusual. Everyone has those moments although recently, I’ve been leaning more towards a restlessness which I can’t fully explain.

Alhamdulillah, I am in a fortunate position to be able to say that I’m heading off on a short break to escape the monotony of life for a while. My destination is the Peak District in England – a little respite offered by Mother Nature that nestles quietly in the middle of this verdant green island of ours. It will feel like deja vu since I am returning to the same place where wonderful memories were created exactly two years ago with my boys and their cousins. Some people would argue that you can’t recreate the same experience twice. I beg to differ. I leave tomorrow with the same high expectations that we will all have another wonderful time in that place inshaAllah. Even the vagaries of the British summer weather will not be enough to dampen my spirits.

Determined to make the most of it…

This summer was originally the year I had planned to go abroad as it is this year where my boys would have all been at a suitable juncture of their lives; we could have escaped before the madding crowds had been released from their own work and school commitments. Covid changed all that but that’s OK. InshaAllah, I hope I can still fulfil that dream holiday in the not so distant future.

If it can’t be fulfilled, then I hope to travel alone to a destination I’ve never visited before. It’s something I want to challenge myself to do. I don’t pretend to go backpacking as an intrepid solo traveller but I would like to do something and go somewhere where I am able to just watch life go by and be uninterrupted in my thoughts. I want to do something completely on my own terms.

As for my imminent trip tomorrow, I have packed my travel journal. I last wrote in this book 16 years ago! Back then, my last notes were about our road trip from England to Mauritania and all the encounters and experiences in between. I am so glad I kept the journal as I can relive small details about my travels which would have definitely been lost to the wind had I not written them down. I’ve enjoyed many other holidays and trips since that time but never recorded them diligently. Usually, I didn’t have the time nor the inclination. Since I now have a new cartridge pen gifted to me by my oldest son, plus the journal with its empty pages waiting to be filled, I have the perfect excuses to pick up my pen and so I intend to write again.

InshaAllah, I shall return to my blog with an update and summary of my trip to the Peak District. I hope I can share tales of unexpected adventure, laughter, reflections and a deep appreciation of the beautiful world we all still inhabit. Alhamdulillah.

Destinations calling for the pages to be filled…

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