Home is Where…?

Not Just about Bricks and Mortar

I return here today after a hiatus of two weeks. It’s been an interesting time away; I’ve managed to fulfil one of my life’s ambitions which is to be somewhere else in the world on behalf of a charity and helping those less fortunate than me and in desperate situations.

My recent trip found me in Adana, Turkey where there is a plethora of Syrian refugees who have been displaced by war. In particular, our team was dealing with children who are suffering from cancer as a direct result of chemical warfare. The stories we heard were harrowing, unsurprisingly. Yet all along the way, I met resilience and patience both from the parents and children alike. That, for me, was the greatest lesson of all. Despite the horrors these people have endured, their willingness to face their lot in life and persevere for a better future is admirable. There were personal encounters with children and parents which will forever be etched into my memory.

Crowded but Alone

The trip out there also offered many moments when I would retreat into my own mind and question myself about my own future. Whilst Adana is definitely not a city I could envisage living in long-term, it is simultaneously somewhere I could consider making home if I were to be working on behalf of the charity itself. Even then, a few months would suffice. Not because of the nature of the work but more because the city, like many modern burgeoning cities worldwide, seems to have lost its soul. I need to live in a place that feeds my soul; a place that allows me respite and detachment from the monotony of life and helps me reconnect to my ultimate purpose in life. Adana did not do that for me. Were it not for the refugees who we were there to help, I would have no desire to be in that city.

That being said, I’ve since returned home to England and the proverbial question, “Where is home?” has popped into my thoughts constantly. It is not because of a romantic notion that living abroad in Turkey is the panacea to my unsettled mind. No doubt, travelling and being away from normal life does make me question so much. But even without short trips abroad, I have always maintained that British society has lost its soul. It has long been caught up in the insiduous but silent pandemic where the main ailment is that communities are suffering from a selfish disregard for the other. We are great at holding doorstep conversations for ages with our neighbours but never invite them in. Such a British oddity. At least it’s what I’ve observed amongst others. There is no community cohesion or a sense of selflessness.

So, shouldn’t home be the place where the heart is? Isn’t it where my sons are? That might seem logical but truth be told, I don’t even think my sons feel that permanent connection to the UK. Yes, I believe we’d all agree that having a base here is important. It is, after all, where we were all born and the society we are most familiar with. However, having lived abroad and in such diverse countries, I don’t think any of us feel we quite fit the mould of any one society. A positive thing as much as it is troublesome.

Home will never be a fixed place for me. I’ve lived a life of knowing the ephemeral nature of everything. I will always feel poised to pack up and move on if I have to. Not necessarily a convenient thing but at least it reminds me that life itself is not forever. My conclusion is that home is wherever I feel a sense of purpose. I can have the best bricks and mortar but if my life is empty and devoid of meaning, then staring at perfectly painted walls will be of no use to me. I know my sons also cannot give me meaning to my life. I will not be waiting around simply to see them move on and up. Whilst that is a very important part of my life, it is still more about being the observer of their lives. I need to have something for me which will be there irrespective of who is or is not in my life. Am I making any sense?

In all the melee of my thoughts, I grow more and more aware of the fragility of life itself. As time passes, so does the concept of home. There is no real excitement as there once was when I was young and newly married and on the cusp of great adventures. The lens through which I view life now is much narrower. In that light, home will never be a singular fixed place for me. It will always be a place where I feel I can be part of a community and not live in apathetic isolation. Having my sons nearby would be a huge bonus but the reality of life is that I can’t expect to be near all of them all of the time. They will one day most likely spread their wings and want to explore the world. Perhaps my home will move with one of them but to be lucky enough to be near all of them is most unlikely.

Till then, I have to make the best of what I have now and understand that Allah’s plan for me is the best.

A Leap of Faith

Calm and Afloat

When two of my sons recently returned on their separate but consecutive trips abroad to see their father, the question that family and friends asked me was, “How do you keep calm?

The truth is, I knew a time would come when my sons would voluntarily travel to visit their father. I have been bracing myself for that inevitability for a long time. So, when they each announced their intention, I was not completely surprised. Of course, knowing that day would come was one thing. Being absolutely mentally prepared for it was another. However, even the initial resistance on my part didn’t last for long. After all, I knew I would be wasting precious time and energy and achieving nothing in the end.

There are several reasons for that. The first is quite simply, my faith. In recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that whatever my emotions might tell me, my actions are circumscribed by the will of Allah. Deference to His command is what wins at the end of the day. So, trying to deny the inalienable rights of my children or their father over one another is a battle I am destined to lose right from the start. To be honest, I would not even begin to try. In facilitating a relationship between father and sons, or at least not being an obstacle to it, I stand to earn reward from Allah. In all honesty, their father may have made mistakes but malice was never part of his creed.

There is also the fragile nature of life itself. I have witnessed people that I know depart this world forever. Then I have heard of and seen others who have surrendered their own souls in pursuit of the duniya (temporal world) and yet happiness still eludes them. My own advanced age is a reminder that I definitely have lived the best years of my life in terms of my health. All these combined factors are a potent message that ultimately, my faith in Allah is what has – and will continue to – sustain me in the time that I have left, inshaAllah. So when a drama unfolds, I try these days to take a deep breath and pause before reacting recklessly. A few moments of inner contemplation and a firm faith in Allah’s wisdom are all it takes for a less explosive response. Knowing He is a better judge for what is good for me and putting things into perpective help to immediately placate my thoughts.

Tied with that, is the recent shift in focussing on me as first priority for a change. This isn’t just about ticking off exhilirating adventures on the ‘To Do’ list of life. It’s about clearing the board and leaving just two words on it: ‘Me’ and ‘Allah’. When that decluttering process has begun (and it has, Alhamdulillah), then I can think with a clear head.

I understand that having faith is more than just a bunch of prescribed roles we perform in our daily lives. Though those are fundamentally core to the life of a Muslim, when they become perfunctory, that’s when problems arise. It’s a challenge to always remain spiritually and emotionally connected to the duties we inherit as Muslims but try we must. Alhamdulillah, older age offers a kind of mellowing out and calmness. I have noticed an increased insouciance within when it comes to news and trivia about my past husband and his family. That state comes from the understanding that Allah has chosen a better path for me now than I care to imagine. Although anger sometimes does threaten to bubble inside the pit of my stomach, Alhamdulillah, I am just as able to pacify myself once more. Light always overcomes darkness. Faith always overcomes irrationality.

Not far behind my thoughts about my ultimate purpose on this Earth, but intrinscally connected, are my own personal goals which I have set about trying to achieve. The space that they occupy in my mind is a welcome distraction from things which would otherwise derail my progress. More than ever before, I understand the need to keep busy and keep moving forward. It is no coincidence that those goals have saved me from self-destruction. I refuse to feel sorry for myself and I don’t believe that the world owes me anything as recompense for my loss. Besides, there is always much more pleasure in giving than receiving. And so I want to step out into the world and reciprocate what I have been blessed with. These days, I see the horizon on my future having expanded; divorce has allowed for that. My children are now young adults. Time is now my own again. I am still very much a socially active person and have never felt the need to hide away and practise self-pity. Alhamdulillah, instead I have seen how other opportunities to experience so much have opened up. I understand that:

Life is much bigger than marriage itself.

Life is much bigger than divorce itself.

And certainly, even if it’s a short road ahead of me, I am finally ready for this solo expedition, Alhamdulillah.

Taking it All In

The Cost of Living

Working Our Way Through

Contrary to what I’m sure most people would expect me to be writing about here, I will not be talking about the insanely expensive utility bills that many of us have been floundering in over the last few months or so. My discussion today is more obscure than that.

There is another intangible cost of living which is much more permanent and yet does not make news headlines. It can be lumped under one broad title: Pain. That sounds quite depressing. That to exist in this world, an inevitable by-product of life is emotional and even physical pain. However, it is true. I have yet to meet an adult who has not experienced one or both of those things.

Whilst nobody can claim to have had a life free from worries of some kind, the truth is that life has to go on. It is the price we pay to exist. Burdens of some sort are part and parcel of our journey through time and as much as some people complain about them, the stark reality is that they are only meant to make us stronger and more determined to soldier on. This is the cost of living.

Against All Odds

Arguably, the real focus has to shift from the word, ‘cost‘ to the word ‘living‘. We need to train ourselves to understand that smooth sailing through life will do nothing to enrich our souls. As sure as there are seismic activities constantly occurring under the Earth’s crust, we can be equally sure to meet obstacles to our individual plans which will throw everything into turmoil. But each obstacle needs to be embraced with an almost detached philosophical view – that by confronting and then overcoming it, we will be catapulted onto something better although unforeseen.

No doubt, as emotional beings, it isn’t always easy to be detached from a situation and be able to see the wood for the trees. Wouldn’t life be a breeze if we could do that? The emotional toll which we endure when the balance in life is dramatically upset, is something not to be suppressed either. That would be disastrous – to deny ourselves the right to go through the full range of wild emotions however unhinged we may seem. Having gone through my own challenges, I would be first to testify that I needed to allow myself those irrational and erratic thoughts to run through my mind till I could purge myself of them. There was never going to be any way to fast track that process. It had to happen organically and in its own time.

And there’s another thing too. A more subtle yet insiduous cost of living that many of us should learn to absorb into our lives is the ability to be hardened to the critics who question our decisions when they don’t synchronise with their own way of thinking. That’s a cost we have to endure and accept if we are going to live – and live freely. If there’s one thing I have learnt since divorce, it is to stand up for what I believe in. It may be against people’s better judgement but they need to understand nobody’s life mirrors their own. In many cases, their derision or doubts comes from a place of envy anyway.

In essence, there is always a price to pay when making choices in life. Some things will have to be forsaken but the focus should remain on what we stand to gain. When a farmer reaps his harvest, or a student graduates from university, I’m sure the pure delight in the final outcome enables them to forget how they worked tirelessly to reach their goal. It was all worth it in the end. And so, this is how we need to view every encounter, obstacle and experience in life. The choices we make may cost us in terms of money, time, energy and even friends. But as long as no malice was intended and we have Allah on our side, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Running To Stand Still

On that Road Already…

Today marks the first of those days I have been secretly looking forward to – when I can finally push my ‘back burner’ goals to the forefront of my life. The plan is finally in action, Alhamdulillah. The thing is, all those goals will not be achievable in a short time span. I’m acutely aware of that. But at least, the focus is now more on them than anything – or anyone – else.

I hvae even learnt to detach somewhat from whatever is going on in my sons’ lives. Not because I don’t care. Far from it. Instead, I know I have given them the essential knowledge they need to take care of themselves and own the responsibility of the mundane daily chores. This has freed up time for me. Besides, if they make mistakes, that’s perfectly fine. Those occasions will provide the best lessons in life. My own theory is that the current youth have had too many services delivered to them by their parents anyway. This is the lament of each generation of parents who looks back to their own childhood and compares it to their children’s. I confess to have fallen into that predictable pattern of thoughts. Yet, there is great truth in it. I know my own parents’ childhood struggles compared to my own. And now I see history repeating itself with the subsequent generation. However, I refuse to be the safety net for my sons each time. Sometimes, they need to understand the impact of a fall. Cruel to be kind.

Not quite done

Now that I have done my own running and can be still for a while, I want to relish in this moment of my life. It’s been an extremely busy phase, not just with work but with learning to balance so many volatile emotions over the years – and I’m not talking just my own. Alhamdulillah, life is beginning to settle somewhat. Challenges and stumbling blocks will always be there but the climb over them seems to be less onerous. That’s mainly because I have learnt to approach them with a reinvigorated sense of determination. My glass is half full and I want to fill it even more. I want to squeeze as much as I can from every day that I am blessed to exist on this earth. Maybe I am making up for lost time but that’s OK.

In all of this, I pray that my connection to Allah (the one who has blessed me with so much in this life) deepens. It’s a dangerous place to be if it’s only the worldly goals that occupy our minds. My own belief is that those ambitions have to be rooted in spiritual consciousness and again, they must reconnect back to a heightened God-consciousness. It is a complete circle. Nothing is worth pursuing if that connection is not made. For example, aspiring to more money for the sake of money per se, is always going to be doomed to a miserable life since our appetite for it is insatiable. However, acquiring money to also serve humanity and improve others’ lot in life, is destined not only to bring about the pleasure of Allah but also a sense of higher purpose for our existence. The end goal should never be sought in this temporal world.

So, in some ways, I am going on a retreat except this one is within my mind and hasn’t required me to physically go anywhere. The opportunity to pause, take stock and even realign my moral compass is one which can’t be taken frivolously. InshaAllah, I will suprass my own expectations of myself and reset my mindset to that default mode of deep gratitude to Allah for everything: the good, the ugly and even the seemingly bad.

Keeping the Wheels Turning…

Out of My Comfort Zone

No Going Back Now

It’s no secret that refusing to try something new is never going to allow us to develop as discerning people. Whether it’s cooking the same curry, driving the known route home or even wearing a limited style of clothes, repeating the same routine is going to limit our experiences of life and even perceptions of the wider world.

With that in mind, I have done the unthinkable and thrown myself in the deep end. I’ve just recently left a job which was no longer inspiring me to give it my all. Some might say this was an irresponsible thing to do. However, I know that without that drastic and bold move, I’d forever live in quiet complacency that life is fine and I don’t need to do anything more. Now, given I no longer have the job to fall back on, I need to get my thinking cap on and move fast. The situation I am in is the precise impetus I need to set my sights on my next goal. Without that buffer, I am now forced to take action.

I have learnt (in the last six years especially), that I cannot and should not reply on anyone else to take responsibility for my life. I am not bitter about that fact. If anything, it’s quite liberating. I am my own person now. I can finally see once intangible and fanciful ideas becoming a sure reality.

Taking Off with New Dreams…

In a few weeks time inshaAllah, I am off to another part of the world for a few days. It isn’t for a holiday (although I’d love time out to do nothing and just sit in awe of the sights in front of me). This trip is more momentous than that. It is the culmination of a lifetime’s dream to do something in the name of charity and help make a difference to some people’s lives, inshaAllah. So, there is a very serious purpose of my trip. Yet, the fact that I am even going on such a mission is a miracle in itself. Not only have I waited years for an opportunity such as this to arise, the convoluted way in which it came about is something I never envisaged. But here I am, Alhamdulillah.

I know some traditional minds might frown upon my decision to do this. I’m sure they will question how I could leave my sons behind and pursue something for myself. The thing such people forget is that although I may be thousands of miles away, I will never stop being a mother. That role continues for me however near or far my boys are. They are also very supportive of my goals. My sons have witnessed the sacrifices I have made for them – and still am. They are also of an age where they are independent and can manage the home without me. This is a skill I have nurtured in them not for my own benefit but primarily for their own. Besides, I maintain that I have given the best years of my life to everyone else; I have always put my own aspirations on the back burner. Now it’s my time to step up and step forward…

I feel with this upcoming trip, that I am just warming up. I hope it will be the harbinger of change for many more things for me. I know I needed to push the boat further out into the water to see what is out there. This is what I have done. I knew being moored on the banks was never going to produce greater things for me. Not taking risks is something borne out of fear and fear is something I refuse to let win. I am not a caged hamster on a wheel. I am not a dolphin confined to acrobatic acts in an aquarium. My spirit is free and always has been. I have reached a juncture in my life where I know the only limits on me are the ones I erroneously convince myself I need to work within.

Of course, needless to say (and yet I will say it still), Allah is the One in full control of my life and more. Yet, His control is often viewed as restrictive- as if He is all about shrinking our experience of this duniya (world) rather than expanding it to include more. I now have come to understand that His control is not all about limiting our lives. His control is about His guidance and as long as I live within those Islamic parameters, then I need to squeeze more out of life than just the mundane. I believe Allah has put me on this new trajectory and given me the opportunity to explore new things. He is inviting me to go further, learn more and do more. It would be a form of ingratitude not to take up this offer and let it slip through my fingers.

In the past, I have had to let opportunities go for reasons I don’t regret. Now, I will seek opportunities out for reasons I don’t need to explain.

Focussing on Opportunities

The Flotsam and Jetsam of a Post-Divorce Life

Always Threatening to Resurface

As a blogger, I always write with the intention that someone out there, particularly a woman who has gone through a similar experience to me, will hopefully stumble across my musings and take comfort from knowing that she isn’t the only one feeling what she does. From speaking to friends, I know that my writing often strikes a chord with some of my readers. After all, the anecdotes I share are not unusual.

Today, I return to this inextinguishable topic of ‘divorce’. I make no apology for it. After all, the ramifications of this event in my life are still being felt. I guess they always will be. What has brought the debris of that disaster surging forward now is that one of my sons has gone to visit his father abroad. He is the first one to make the trip out there since his father and I parted ways six years ago. Although my ex-husband is in touch with his sons via mobile phone and has visited them here – they have somehow not been able (or is it willing?) to travel to see him. However, this is the first time one of my sons will be on his father’s territory and surrounded by the paternal extended family. Although the planned visit will be a brief one, I guess it will provide enough opportunity for them over there to garner information about us over here and (should I be inadvertently made aware of this) for me to become increasingly irritated.

In Constant Battle…

On the one hand, I know I have the determination and strength to remain calm knowing that my life is finally moving forward and peace and happiness are two things I have reclaimed for myself again, Alhamdulillah. On the other hand, knowing my son is out there, inevitably makes me slip back into the past and some less savoury memories are relived again. And so, the yinyang forces are out in full force in the battlefield of my mind. This is what is going on inside…

I’ve come to accept that this “two steps forward/one step back” motion is one that will plague me for a long while yet. I haven’t completely exorcised the darker memories from within; I wonder sometimes if I ever will. What I do know though is that the time for my sons to be more involved with their father, on their terms, is ripe. They are mature enough to know they have a duty towards him and to separate my relationship or experience with him from their own.

This is why I have no qualms about my son being out there today. I understand it is the right of both father and sons to nurture that relationship and I have always made it abundantly clear that I would never stand in their way. What is more, over these past few years, my sons and I have grown closer together in a way which may not have happened had their father and I not separated, Alhamdulillah. That mother-son relationship is one I treasure and hold dearly and is a solid silver lining around the dark cloud. This is my rational self talking; at these times, I can easily separate my erratic emotions from sound Islamic teachings.

My faith in Allah, the custodian of my thoughts – indeed, my life – is the reason why, despite the resurgence of the pain from the past, I know I will be OK in the end. Every step I take towards detaching myself a little from the past and walking towards a more honourable goal, is the only way I can be sure I am doing OK. That goal isn’t about getting even or taking revenge. It is simply about acknowledging that Allah had – and has – a better plan for me. I would much rather lose in this life but score a victory where it matters most.

Last but Not Least

25 Years Without a TV

Who’s in Control of Who?

This is not a call for a pity party. It is not even meant to be a lament. It is simply a statement of fact.

I recently succumbed to the purchase of a TV after so many years and yet I had resisted having one for different reasons. The main justification for this decision has been my children. The second is that I view the TV as a malevolent magnet for all things evil. Across most channels, viewers are bombarded with references to a decadent society behaving at its worst. Pure debauchery. This assault on the visual and audio senses was something I knew I did not want pervading my home. After all, home is my sanctuary and a place of peace and contemplation.

For years, even without having a TV, I have reluctantly grown to accept that access to the programmes described is still possible through the internet. Computers have become the insiduous substitutes for that black box that sits on our living room table. That being said, I’ve always taken necessary measures to protect my young children from inappropriate material. This includes the usual parental blocks but also the important conversations to help them navigate their way through life. Yet even without owning a TV, we have still come to know about programmes which we have never watched a single episode of! For example, the infamous reality TV shows where privileged mortals take up the podium as self-proclaimed demigods and watch as underlings sacrifice their dignity in the race for fame and fortune. It’s a sinister setup and yet the increasing popularity of this genre is very disturbing. Society seems to take a sick sense of pleasure at watching people make a fool of themselves.

As already mentioned, my incentive for abstaining from having a TV was always my children. In their formative years, I wanted to show them that we can always look for alternatives; there is not one single way of doing things. My sons know my famous line: “If 99% of people do something one way, you can be the 1% that dares to be different.” With that mindset, I fought off many comments from people who simply couldn’t understand my wish to teach my children that it was OK to deviate from the popular (but not necessarily correct) opinion. I always sought alternative pastimes for them as it was important to me that they didn’t grow up vegetating in front of a TV. I have never wanted to raise merely obedient sheep. I’ve always wanted my sons to be shepherds. Have I been successful? At the very least, they have seen how remaining defiant in the face of wider peer pressure can actually be sustained.

Another scenario I have always wanted to avoid is the idea of a TV becoming the shrine in a room. I have seen how, in other homes, people are expected to pay homage to that black box by muting themselves in its presence and giving it undivided attention. That situation is one I could do without at a time when my children were immature and impressionable. What I wanted instead with them was good conversation and proper engagement between them and myself. Alhamdulillah, my sons have grown up never knowing the experience of a TV in our home and I would argue they are no less deficient for it.

Awe-Inspiring and Free Viewing

I won’t deny that I have had to fight the request for this machine to be installed over the years. As citizens of the 21st century, of course, my sons have been exposed to it at other people’s homes and I have not denied them that pleasure. (Remember: catapult effect?) However, for the most part, my intention was to make them cognizant of the world around them: the sky, trees, rain, animals and plants, to name but a few. How could that have been achieved if their eyes were glued to and minds were numbed by ephemeral and vacuous entertainment on a screen?

And so, here we are… Today, it would seem as if I have succumbed; as if I have surrendered all my principles which I held on to so dearly for years. But that is far from the truth. We now have a TV. True. However, even the place it has taken in the living room is such that it is not a shrine. It blends strategically with the other furniture and I refuse to let it take prominence in our hearts and our home. Also, the incentive to buy it was to actually serve as a giant monitor and nothing more. As a house of adults, where we know what is wrong and right as Muslims, we also control what we we subscribe to (or not). What’s more, even since we purchased it, the time spent in front of it hasn’t actually been that much. There is no dizzy excitement as the decision to purchase it was made with careful consideration. We all have other priorities in life so having time to chill in front of ‘the box’ is welcome but also inevitably limited.

It’s for this reason I feel the time was ripe to acquiesce to their request. I don’t deride anyone who has a TV with its traditional trimmings but I do take offence to those who have never understood my choice not to have one. Why can’t I also claim the absurdity of their decision as much as they have mine? I guess, ultimately, the lesson I have always wanted to teach my children is that they don’t need to subscribe to mass opinion and instead, should be able to hold their own. InshaAllah, this is only one example where they have witnessed it in me. I pray they have been taking mental notes and can take a similar stance should the need ever arise.

I hope the following words will always echo in their ears:

Dare to be different!

A Year On from Snowdon

From One High to Another

7 August 2021.

An unforgettable day in my life. I accomplished something I had never even dreamt of doing…climbing Mount Snowdon.

Exactly one year on and in my mind, I have often returned to that moment when I was descending the mountain with my troupe and suddenly realised the enormity of what I had just achieved! It wasn’t about climbing the mountain per se. The experience was a harbinger of change for my life. I have now made it a point to never be still in terms of wanting to explore what more I can do. I won’t pretend and say I have since achieved countless more things which are out of the ordinary. I haven’t. Yet, the more important thing is to keep moving.

I love life and yet I know that its adornments must not take over and consume me. Whenever I have made a decision to explore something new, be it switching jobs or my other interests, I try to frame them all within the Islamic perspective. That attitude gives me the best of both worlds. I am reminded not to be too absorbed in the duniya (material world) and yet I don’t feel unrealistically detached from it. I would never aspire to live like an ascetic in a hermetically sealed room anyway; I would never fool myself into thinking that kind of life is sufficient for me. It isn’t. If being on my own has taught me anything, it is that I need to seek opportunities out there. I am restless. I want adventure. I want self-development. InshaAllah.

I also don’t delude myself into thinking I can change the world. Indeed, that is impossible for any one individual. However, I can change myself. In the process, I hope to inspire others that they too can move forward and stake their claim in this world. For some, making that journey will be more arduous than others. That’s because society itself will put up barriers which might not be so easily surmountable, e.g. racism or religious antagonism. But sometimes, we are our own worst enemies and convince ourselves that “We can’t” or “We shouldn’t”. That internal battle is perhaps the hardest one of all. Yet so many great people in history have galvanised change by believing in themselves first; it requires absolute conviction. Without that instrinsic prerequisite, nothing can ever be achieved and sustained. With that self-determination, individuals have positively influenced others and created entire movements. It is contagious.

It All Adds Up

I say all this today because I have learnt to incorporate this principle in my own life ever since I came down from Snowdon. Alhamdulillah, there has been progress and when I look back at all the metaphoric stepping stones I have crossed in this past year, I see that I have walked a long path. I have deliberately kept concrete examples of this to myself for fear of ruining it all by openly mentioning it to others. However, suffice to say, my zest for life is real and this stems from a deep belief that I was sent to this world not to serve my own selfish interests and desires. I’m sure, for those who have every material thing imaginable in their life, they would testify that all of those things do nothing to bring out true happiness. Quite the opposite, in fact. Being at peace comes from giving back rather than taking.

In conversations with my young adult sons, I always request that their own paths through life, be it academic, career and spiritual, will always see that they are giving back to humanity. This is the surest way to show gratitude to Allah for the privilege of having the ability to do so in the first place.

No Strings Attached

Wise Counsel

Everyone’s Voice Matters

With a title like that, one would be forgiven for thinking of a few examples of people who would fall into that esteemed category: mother, father, grandparents, teachers, religious figures and perhaps older people generally.

However, I want to challenge that preconception and argue that wise counsel might also be found in the places we would least expect. In my own experience, I have found it in my own ‘children’. I use that word loosely since my children are anything but juvenile and have now entered in adulthood, Alhamdulillah.

Before I continue any further, in my post today, I want to address all the independent mothers out there who are going it alone. This post is specifically for you…

In the time where they have matured and developed emotionally, I have found myself often turning to my children for their opinions and even advice. Readers might find that for me, as a mother, it’s somewhat bizarre that I would need to consult the very people I gave birth to and who are therefore less experienced in life than myself. A very dangerous position to put myself in perhaps?

Who’s Asking and Who’s Answering?

There is no denying that whilst the children are young (before they reach their teen years), there might be little scope for them to have their opinions taken seriously. This is especially with regards to the big decisions in life such as: What school should they attend? What friends are the most suitable for them? Where to go for the summer holidays? No rational adult would find themselves sitting across the table having these kind of conversations with a 10 year old and being dictated to!

However, for all those mothers out there who are going it alone, they know too well that they don’t have the luxury of turning to their spouse for support or consultation on matters to do with the family and children. For years, women like myself, have had to rely on their own instincts and judgement to make crucial decisions. Many times we have either overthought our decisions or secretly harboured doubts but know we have to plough on. It’s a mentally exhausting position to be in but what choice is there? We are forced to continue our lives and learn to develop even a smidgen of confidence.

Then, as the children grow up and emerge into adulthood, so too the onerous task of making decisions alone, is lifted from a mother’s shoulders to some extent. Finally, it seems, we can actually have sensible conversations with our young adult children and learn to listen to them. Their encounters in and experiences of the world can’t be written off as irrelevant. Leaning on our children who are now adults clearly isn’t an overnight process and can’t happen without having laid some basic foundations. So, what are they? My belief is that turning to one’s children for counsel can only happen if, over the years, a relationship of mutual respect has been forged between everyone involved. Being a strong mother – or at least aiming to be one – is a trait that can filter down to one’s children. They in turn learn to have the confidence to stand tall and strong; they know they can also make decisions pertaining to their own lives if not others around them.

Given I’ve not had their father to rely on for advice or moral support, I’ve had to learn to be bold in making my own decisions. I don’t suggest for a minute that all those decision have been the right ones. But I do know that I have made them in good faith and my children have been witness to that conviction and audacity. I also take responsibility for any decision that has turned out to be less favourable than I imagined. Being a mother of boys in particular, I feel it’s even more important that they witness strength and determination in me. InshaAllah, this will feed into their own perception of what Woman can do.

So, today my wise counsel are my sons, Alhamdulillah. Not in every matter but for sure, in some key decisions relating to our family. For years, I have nurtured their interest in the wellbeing of everyone in the family; they know that being selfish and detached simply won’t do. I have often called them together in family meetings not only to hear their views but to implicitly let them know that their views matter. To deny them a voice is to deny their role as a key player in this family. Ultimately, they know that I am interested in what they have to say even if I may beg to differ.

Learning to Agree to Disagree

Alhamdulillah, each of us rooting our thoughts within the teachings of the Quran and the Seerah (the life of the Prophet ) to the best of our abilitiy, is an absolutely fundamental part in creating wise counsel. Every action or inaction we choose has to have Islam as it’s reference and justification.

The Lighthouse

Keeping an Eye on Things

Recently, a good friend of mine generously described me as ‘The Lighthouse’. I was genuinely touched by the accolade. My goal in life is not to fish for compliments but my goal in life is to be in the service of others. I don’t mean in the form of a sycophantic deference to another human being. I simply wish that with whatever time I have been endowed with by Allah, and the blessings He has put in my way, that I use those tools at my disposal for the greater good inshaAllah.

I don’t wish for someone to remember me in a eulogy at the pulpit. InshaAllah, like many others, I want my recognition from Allah when and where it matters most – the other side of this life. That being said, if I can bring a smile to someone’s face, prevent a person from slipping into a dark black hole or just metaphorically hold their hand through their strife, then I hope they will recompense me with duas (supplications) that will allow me to reach a place infinitely better than any spot in this duniya (world).

I know just talking about all this makes me run the risk of displaying a fake humility. However, I know that ever since I was a child, I have always felt the proclivity of helping someone in need as my calling in life. That is why trying to find an inroad into the charity sector has been a dream I have never let go of. Even through my married years, whilst raising a young family, I never totally surrendered those aspirations that were beyond the existence I was living then. I was just biding my time. Looking back on my life, I see that I have actually been fortunate to have had roles in the charity sector albeit working from behind a desk rather than being out there in the field. InshaAllah, that’s about to change. I am hopeful that my lifelong aspiration of being in the recipient country is something I am going to experience for myself.

Even now as a tutor to young children, I have never viewed my role as simply one of educator. Although my students don’t know it, I secretly hope that, many times over, they achieve that light bulb moment where everything suddenly makes sense and falls into place. I imagine a jumbled jigsaw in their minds where all the pieces are thrown upwards and miraculously land only to come together in perfect cohesion. It’s not only about my students understanding the task to hand; my mission goes much deeper than that. I wish for every child I work with to walk away knowing that no problem is insurmountable; that the only obstacle is their own imagination. To me, it’s important that people, young or old, are never sold the lie that they can’t do something without having even tried. Of course, there will be some situations which no human can defy. However, taking calculated risks is important. Living life in safe contentment is never going to produce great things for anyone.

So, although this lighthouse wishes to guide passing ships on their way to safety, it also wants those ships to know that no encounter is fortuitous. A lighthouse is only as useful as the ships it serves and, as such, it is those ships that justify the existence of the lighthouse in the first place.

No Such Thing as Chance Encounters
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