Fourteen years later…

Life’s challenges were never so clear to me as they are now. Perhaps there is something about spending more time in this world, becoming more aware of everything around you and figuring out where you stand and what it is that you are really pursuing.

Roughly fourteen years ago I became a man’s wife. I was suddenly expected to be a caring, intelligent partner and with time, a parent. A mother who was meant to know how everything was done and who was someone to look up to. On a personal level I was going through myriad challenges. I was young, raw and not exactly angry but unpleasantly surprised with life and with the people around me. I had no idea how to be this wonderful partner and much less – how on earth – to be a mother, a somewhat okay mother. Fourteen years later the ignorance is still very much there, but for so long, somehow – and only God knows how – I stand as someone who this far seems to be doing alright. At any rate I haven’t killed anyone and I haven’t killed myself either. 🙂

If I were to talk about some of the more important lessons I hope to have learnt by now, the first of them would be that Allah swt lives on. He doesn’t die, He doesn’t even feel sleepy or tired, He doesn’t get sick, He doesn’t move to another country and He’s the One and Only Protective Friend and Guardian who doesn’t spill your secrets and doesn’t let you down. Calling upon Him is never expensive and private conversations can go on forever. Parents’ – the people you love and count on eventually fall sick, fade away and move on from this world. Friends can let you down and people can break you – both in distance as well as in nearness. But Allah swt, the All-Seer, the All-Knower, the One who doesn’t judge You because of how wealthy you might be or how perfect your body looks, listens to you every single time, understands you and calms you down. He is the Only One who has stood by me through the good and the challenging times, the One worthy of absolute love and trust, the One Who washes and enlightens my heart every time it darkens and then allows me to hope some more for an even better tomorrow.

hadith image, islamic quote

The next thing that’s started making sense is that there isn’t any real satisfaction, success or peace, or indeed lasting victory in getting laurels from the world. Sure, it’s a wonderful ‘I’m-floating-on-air’ kind of feeling when you see your name in print – but then once that’s over – then what? All creative people (writers, artists, poets etc) know that you are only as good as your last article/book/piece. Lasting peace and happiness comes from realizing that it is indeed Allah swt, His obedience and His remembrance that strengthens the heart, actualizes the soul’s existence and pours forth a shining bright light on the path ahead, illuminating the correct way in a maze of bewildering and overwhelming directions. Peace and happiness increases manifold when you perceive those around you with love, compassion and totally clean-slate forgiveness.

At a very deep level, marriage, first, for me, was about acceptance, as are so many things in life. Your partner might be an excellent person, and a righteous individual but if the two of you can’t stand each other there isn’t much in the relationship except random moments of passion that might exist. People fall in and out of love all the time but acceptance, I feel, is the more important one. There has to come a time when you stop blaming and shaming yourself, your partner or your parents or life and simply accept things and give thanks for whatever good is already manifest and for whatever khayr the Almighty has in store for you. A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way. Things begin to change. Acceptance gradually transforms into gratefulness. Giving thanks gives way to love. And love begets mercy and compassion, which finally transports you to a form of communication higher than love.

When no words are necessary between the two of you and when a gentle touch, a short but meaningful text or a tender back rub might mean so much more than just that. When you start caring about the other person and you’re not entirely sure why or when it started happening but you now understand the importance of their presence in your life and wouldn’t want it any other way. Understanding means being unselfish and letting the other person have their time and space if they need it.

One of the most essential ingredients of a good relationship is humility and ensuring that your ego doesn’t destroy you, both when you are right and more importantly when you are the one who you erred. One must question oneself all the time and make small but conscious efforts every single day to water the family tree.

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My husband is a great man. He really is. And I don’t say that just because he’s put up with me for all these years – although that in and of itself has got to be pretty remarkable. He’s a strong man with insides of steel because he takes all the personality assassination I do of him, digests it, takes whatever benefit he can from my ruthless analysis, discards the rest and then forgives me wholeheartedly. He then renews his vow to stay by my side forever. Yes, I know. I’m incredibly blessed. Alhamdulillah.

As for me, I’ve always found it a bit hard to totally forgive and forget, barring now when I’m finally learning that there’s absolutely nothing cool about being permanently hurt and there’s this incredible feeling of liberation and happiness when you just – let go. Intelligent people move on and embrace each day as an opportunity to receive and radiate all things good and positive.

My husband’s also a really creative guy. He can create power from a bunch of tired looking wires and solar panels and he can probably fix everything from broken glasses to a broken fridge – not impeccably, mind you, but good enough to get you by for a bit. He also loves breaking things apart and enjoys discovering how they work and how and when they don’t. I’m happy to say that he’s now learning to curb this same desire with the wife!

I’d like to sign off with a final piece of advice to myself and anyone else who might care for it. Always notice the little things. If she folds your laundry and puts it away remember to say thank you and mean it. If he clears the sink while you get your assignment done a smile and an “OMG what would I do without you” doesn’t hurt at all. Be respectful and don’t say things you wouldn’t say to a friend. Lastly remember Allah put you in their life for a reason and them in yours for an equally powerful one. Set time aside for just the two of you and remember that the joy, the happiness of the moments today require much thankfulness and acknowledgement. And for when things aren’t so hunky-dory, it pays to be patient and knowing that it too, shall pass. And we’re all going to return to Allah anyway. 🙂

And seek help thorugh patience and prayer

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I wonder if anyone’s still around…?

It’s an unhurried kind of peace, the kind of peace you feel listening to the waves on the beach, with the water gently caressing your feet and the early morning sun kissing your face. You make random shapes in the damp, soft sand and pick up a pebble every now and then and watch as it splashes into the vast, unmarred sea. The waves hit the shore in a calm and tranquil way and make just a little bit of noise so as to not disrupt your reverie of thoughts. My dearest Allah – what is this change? Why do I feel such a deep tranquility that I can’t quite place – or indeed associate with myself?Image result for calm beach

Why do I suddenly feel – there’s just one word for it – so happy? It’s not like my challenges have suddenly faded away, there are still moments of desperation and utter, complete failure that so define me.  And yet — I’m not worried.  Is it a sign? Or are you readying me for something important? Or both?

I’m consumed by a different kind of pain.

Image result for in my one desire to know you

 

 

PS: So I understand I’ve written on here after some 2 years! Just wondering if there’s somebody out there still reading/listening? How are all the lovely people I’ve met in the blogosphere?

Anxious men in the passenger seat

wife driving

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/anxious-men-in-the-passenger-seat-1.1871220

There are certain things you remember about your childhood that were an integral part of growing up. For me, one such thing was that funny little tomato-red Daihatsu Charade that we once owned. The car was a 1985 model that Dad had purchased refurbished, which meant we became its owners some 10 years after it was born.

It made funny noises when you drove it (stick-shift) and the trunk closed with an earth-shattering jolt. Pulling the windows up and down was good exercise for the biceps and if you got lucky, the air conditioner would sometimes work. This strange object, however, came in handy when I wanted to learn to drive.

After a few lessons of the basics, I decided to take my parents out for a ride. Bad idea, I know. Dad was a bundle of nerves as I took the car outside the gate, and he covered his face with his hands. A car sped along in the opposite direction and he jumped. “Can’t you see that car?” he said frantically. “We are on the other side Papa, please relax,” I told him.

Mum murmured in agreement from the back seat. Dad ground his teeth. I tried to laugh valiantly but found this first ride with him distinctly confidence-draining as I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine.

We were driving along the main road happily and I could sense him relaxing just a tiny bit. It was almost as though he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t look up much and we would all make it home in one piece. I was pleased that he wasn’t quite as excited as before and things started to get a little more pleasant. We finally turned home and as everything had gone well without any trouble whatsoever, I decided this was my time to speak. “Well, I’m quite okay driving, aren’t I? Look at you guys, you don’t trust me at all!”

Dad almost looked sorry and he was about to say something, but I’ll never know what it was because at that precise moment I banged the rear of the car while reversing into our unopened front gate, which I had presumed was open. Typical. Dad felt vindicated and the “I told you so” lecture that followed was positively grating. Fast forward a few years and I drive every day, sometimes for long distances. It has become second nature. I would even say that I enjoy it (minus the traffic, of course) and ferrying the girls around town is part of my job description. Yet, my husband recoils with apprehension every time he sits with me in the passenger seat.

We are driving to the airport to drop him off. “Change lanes, we need to take the next exit,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Thanks, but I kind of know the way,” I respond coolly. He shrugs. When I finally do change lanes he shakes his head in despair and wonders how much to say because he is travelling after all and making up over the phone might prove a little tricky. He (wisely) restrains himself from speaking about the details of my lane-changing abilities, but I notice from the corner of my eye, he looks extremely stressed. I don’t know about you, but the men in my life generally hyperventilate when I’m driving.

I enjoy speeding every now and then (the engine roar is so satisfying) but sadly my husband doesn’t agree. “No wonder the fuel costs as much as it does and do you realise how unsafe this is?” he says pointedly as I let it rip. I slow down because we need to pick up something on the way and the only parking available near the grocery store is parallel. Herein lies my real test. I take a deep breath and try it — five times out of ten I manage to do it and at other times, the car just doesn’t seem to obey. Sadly, this time the car ends up jutting out at a strange angle and he smiles vindictively. “You bribed them to pass your driving test, didn’t you?” He breathes easy and I scowl. He picks up the grocery and then knocks at my window. “I’m driving,” he tells me.

The man who looked completely distraught moments ago is now happy and relaxed and shows the girls how we take off in an aeroplane by going full throttle and making the engine thunder. My eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline. It’s nostalgic. I remember that red Charade and Dad. I smile wryly. Until he learns to relax in the passenger seat, I really don’t mind being chauffeured around by my man, especially if there’s parallel parking around.

 

So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/so-why-should-i-fast-anyway-1.1850796

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The clock strikes four and I gulp down the water quickly. I hear the distant call of the Fajr (dawn) prayer and realise that for the next 15 hours, I can neither eat nor drink anything. I think warily of the fact that the girls have school almost half this Ramadan and pick-ups must be braved in the searing heat. It’s not the food I mind giving up, I say grudgingly to myself, it’s the water and the caffeine — and the sleep that gets interrupted when I wake up to eat the pre-dawn meal. I’m a grouch early in the morning and the idea of not being able to get a long lie-in irks me.

“Why must I fast anyway?” I ask myself in a moment of restless, bleary-eyed grumpiness. There’s a voice inside me that tells me to come to my senses, but another stronger voice pipes up, “Because everyone fasts during Ramadan”. I complete the Fajr prayer lazily and throw dirty looks at the clock that just doesn’t seem to move on. As the day wears on, my mood thankfully improves, much to the relief of my family. The conscience is uncomfortably guilty as I question myself again, this time wide-awake and pleasant enough — why, at any rate, do we fast in Ramadan?

The obvious answer of course would be that because Allah commanded us in the Quran to do so. He also told us that He intends ease for us and not difficulty, and that those who are unable to fast due to reasons such as ill-health, travelling and child birth are exempt from doing so. There is also great reward in paradise for those who fast. Just that should be enough for someone of sound faith to want to fast, but I want to delve deeper into this question.

Let me, for starters, examine my relationship with God. When things are going well, I don’t really talk to Him much. I pray mechanically, almost like I just want to tick off a task in my day. But when the going gets tough, I earnestly talk to Him, in the darkness of the night and during the day when no one but Him understands my whispered pleas. When I feel inadequate, unable to do everything that’s expected of me, I reach out to Him and tell Him everything, safe in the knowledge that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that He, alone will not judge me.

One thing about people is that they’re quick to judge you. Say, a woman might be having an illicit affair and people would condemn her for being a two-faced hypocrite, but the only One who knows her full story and still has the door of mercy and forgiveness open for her is Allah. When you’re in the wrong — say things you dearly regret and actions that you’d give anything to eradicate — Allah is the One and only who understands you and still loves you and appreciates the fact that you came back and said sorry. Just the thought is emancipating.

Another beautiful thing about this relationship is that Allah knows me better than anyone, imperfections and all. He still loves me and listens to me every time I need to talk — no matter even if it is too trivial and I can be myself. He takes care of my requests, provided I ask like I really mean them. Even while I prayed and fasted like it was a chore, He continued to bless me with every passing day with gifts such as a functioning body, my family and countless other things.

I feel like a very selfish person — all I seem to care about is MY comfort, MY coffee and MY entertainment. I feel shallow, insincere — but one thing I do not feel is despair, because I know that the moment I reciprocate the love He shows me, Allah will give me another chance.

Outward signs of practising religion are indeed a part of it, but the actions are weightless if the conviction of faith isn’t behind them. I reflect upon the fact that I have this One friend that I have counted on in every moment of need and found Him to be true and incredibly caring and merciful. He continues to love me despite the fact that I mess up way too often. The more I know Him, the more thankful I am to Him and the more I want to show Him my love and devotion too. From hereon, I will fast because I want to, because He said so, because it is a privilege to be able to worship Him in the way He wants me to.

My Harry Potter obsession

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Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” Published May1, 2016

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/my-harry-potter-obsession-1.1816154

‘Sweetheart?” I prod her on the shoulder gently. She looks up distractedly from her book. “It’s time for lunch,” I tell her, gesturing towards the book in her hand, which she must now close and join the family. I see her slip the book discretely behind her back and throughout the meal, the book is open at a strange angle on her knee, held with her left hand as she surreptitiously reads while eating. She thinks I’m not aware but I watch her eyes moving swiftly across the concealed book and she knows I know but reads on the Famous Five novel anyway with a sheepish smile.

We have a “no screens on the table” policy but I wonder now if I will have to include books in the agreement too. My oldest one reminds me of myself a lot. I remember when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the seven-part series came out I was 14. I was the biggest Potter-fan I knew — the orphaned boy-wizard in his magical world had me hooked and I would have given anything to get into Hogwarts. I had read the first three books so many times I could probably recite them verbatim from memory. The new 640-page book was eagerly devoured in a matter of three days and two nights. By the end of it I was a mess (much to my mother’s dismay), but I felt great. The rest of the series was read with a similar frenzy, but by the time the last book, The Deathly Hallows, came out, I had a year-old baby, and reading without a break was far trickier, but of course, I managed somehow.

This same baby is now ten years old and she adores reading. She was recently gifted a white Kindle reader for her birthday by her paternal grandparents with the entire Harry Potter series preloaded. I was, understandably, very excited. She’s loved all the books I loved as a child — Heidi, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Pollyanna, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl’s books to name a few, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t see her for the next few days as she would want to read the Harry Potter series like I did — all at once.

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It was lovely to read the opening pages of The Sorcerer’s Stonetogether until she took over and was enjoying the book. I would finally be able to discuss Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with her, and we could do a little quiz to see who remembered more spells!

She finished the first book in a day or so and began reading The Chamber of Secrets. Then after a couple of days, I expected her to begin The Prisoner of Azkaban, but things had taken a different course. The Kindle was lying on her bedside and she was back to her Malory Towers. I was positively despondent. “What, you’re not reading Harry Potter?” I said ashen-faced. She shrugged. “I think the second book is a bit boring, honestly.” The book hadn’t even been read halfway through.

I began reading the book (again) from where she had stopped. It didn’t have the charm that it did when I was younger but it was fun all the same. It came as a bit of a shock that my daughter wasn’t glued to Harry Potter like I had been. The Potter-fan inside me was indignant, but the mother shrugged as though to say, “Well, it’s her life after all. She certainly wouldn’t like everything you did as a child.”

From that point on, I gave up trying to make her like the Harry Potterbooks, but I did have another sneaky plan. The movies! Over the weekend, I played The Chamber of Secrets and began watching it myself — all the while looking at her from the corner of my eye to see if she was interested. The plan worked! She plopped down beside me on the couch and began to watch. When we reached the place where she had given up on the book, I told her we could go on only if she’d read the written work first. She finished the book by the next day and has now embarked upon The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter made up a huge chunk of my teenage and young adulthood and I’d love to share the fun of the enchanting series with my daughter, and relive an interesting part of my childhood. While I certainly hope that she gets nowhere near as obsessed as I did, I do hope she discovers all of what goes on inside the mysterious magical world and appreciates the literary genius that is J.K. Rowling.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” published March 27, 2016

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/what-doesn-t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-1.1698786

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Bullying is real. Bullying in schools, in the workplace and even in homes, is a reality that many of us go through. My 10-year-old has recently become the target of it in school and as I heard her recount her experiences, I felt like a little schoolgirl myself, all over again. I had that uncomfortable, familiar feeling of being hot in the face, feeling the redness creep up my cheeks as it consumed my insides and made them writhe, as though I wouldn’t be able to face anyone ever again. What my girl went through at school is a form of psychological abuse.

The bullying did not, (this time) come from her peers. It came from above — a teacher. The woman first developed a bond with my daughter, gave her extra responsibilities and then, gave her an unwarranted personality analysis (twice in two weeks), which explained exactly all that was supposedly wrong with my daughter’s mental make-up. That she was outspoken, over the top and didn’t feel “right”. That her bubbly nature was simply not what people were looking for and she would never be successful/appreciated in life because she was a little too “in your face”.

All this and more was said to her under the premise of “because I want to make your life better”. Understandably, she was shaken and began to cry and has not wanted to return to school since. My daughter is a sensitive, emotional girl and her self-esteem has taken a beating.

I could rage and storm and complain to the management and I feel like doing so, and may well complain at some stage. But on the other hand, I could give my daughter strategies to deal with this and prepare her for the big bad world. As our tete–a–tete went on, I noticed a hopeful and inquiring look in her eyes, as though she expected me to somehow make it all better. I’m just desperately trying to do this parenting thing right, and sometimes it’s more challenging than anything else in the world.

Finding internal strength

A response such as “that really hurt my feelings and I wish you wouldn’t speak to me like that” to a bullying superior at school or work may just backfire because research proves that responding to a bullying superior irks them, and they go about making your life more difficult than before.

Being extra nice to them does not work either and possibly the only thing that really helps is finding internal strength to still have confidence in yourself and to tell yourself that you are still good, and valuable and worthy, no matter what anyone else might think — and to distance yourself from the bully as much as possible.

There’s that nagging feeling at the back of your mind “what if everything she said was true? What if I really am a worthless person?” That’s when you realise that the negativity really did make an impression inside your head. I looked my little girl in the eyes and told her that she needed to understand and accept the fact that she had been emotionally abused, and that the abuser probably has too many skeletons in the closet herself.

We know nothing about the lives of people, about how much they may have on their plate at any given point of time, and what prompted them to commit actions that are cruel or passive-aggression. Unless we truly forgive them and detach ourselves mentally from the situation in a healthy way, we cannot move on. And moving on is essential for healing.

As is another thing — counting your blessings and remembering that there are so many precious things in life other than this one person and how he or she feels about you — and that they cannot get inside your head unless you allow them to. Connecting with yourself and God on a deeply spiritual level and finding that inner peace and satisfaction helps bring balance back to life.

I can’t help feeling like my daughter has had to grow up a little too soon over the past few weeks, but I’m sure there’s some good in it — however painful it may seem right now. I want my girls to grow up strong, independent women and I will leave the decision of responding to this teacher to my daughter.

All I want for her is to know that her parents and her family will stand by her no matter what and appreciate her for who she is, love her to bits and are very proud of her. I want her empowered with self-belief, backed by our love and appreciation. And to anyone out there who’s being bullied right now as we speak, let me tell you one thing. You’re wonderful.

Does my ten-year old need her own mobile phone?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion, published March 9, 2016: http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/does-my-ten-year-old-need-her-own-mobile-phone-1.1687337

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She looks at my old, battered iPhone 5 (now repaired exactly four times) as though it’s the most beautiful thing on earth and I swallow my chuckle. “Well, nine days. You can have the phone for nine days. Only until we’re out of Dubai,” I say firmly.

The next nine days, while we were on vacation, were all about “my phone” and selfies, videos and texts were the order of the day. At the end of the nine days, however, the device was taken away. My daughter insisted that many of her classmates had their own phones and that she too, deserved to own one, but we did not relent.

The average age at which children are given ownership of mobile devices is getting younger than ever before. In a 2014 survey involving 10,985 parents from the Middle East (conducted by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government), it was determined that 20 per cent of parents felt that children between the ages of eight and 10 should be allowed to own their own smartphones. The largest majority of parents, 28 per cent however, felt that children only above the age of 16 should be given smartphones, while 6 per cent believed that children under the age of five can be given their own smartphones.

Smartphones are used for everything — from talking, to texting, to playing games and of course for using the internet. In research conducted by the GSM Association (GSMA) involving children from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria, it was determined that 38 per cent of those children who own a smartphone are “cell-mostly” internet users — they mostly go online using their phone and not on a desktop or laptop. The internet comes with its own risks — McAfee (intel security) reports that 87 per cent of children have been the target of cyber bullying, leading to anger and embarrassment.

McAfee further states that only 61 per cent of youth have enabled the privacy settings on their social networking profiles to protect their content, and 52 per cent do not turn off their location or GPS services across apps, leaving their locations visible to strangers. Additionally, 14 per cent have posted their home addresses online.

As parents, we trust our children to make smart decisions online, but monitoring them on the internet (and educating them about it) is essential. GSMA reports that 60 per cent of parents have concerns about their child being online and a whopping 88 per cent were worried about their children viewing inappropriate content. McAfee’s research further states that 74 per cent of parents (children’s ages 10-23) say they don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with everything their child is doing online. 46 per cent of children say they would change their online behaviour if they knew their parents were watching. Mobile phones offer far more freedom and personal space than, say, a family desktop or laptop and it becomes all the more tricky to keep a check.

When entrusting a child with a device such as a mobile phone, academics, in some cases, appear to suffer as well. Kent State University in Ohio carried out research that linked excessive mobile phone usage to poor grades and anxiety. Many children stay up at night just to be able to text their friends and many sleep with their devices under their pillows, exposing them to harmful radiation.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified smartphones as possibly carcinogenic to human beings. Radio waves received and sent by mobile phones transmit in all directions to find the nearest base station, even when the device is not being used and are absorbed by the body closest to where the device is held. A study by the Environmentalist Health Trust determined that the rate of radio wave absorption is higher in children than adults because their brain tissues are more absorbent, their skulls are thinner and their relative size is smaller. According to one study by De La Salle et al (2006), children absorb 60 per cent more radiation into the head than an adult.

Children’s immature nervous system makes them more susceptible to the long-term effects of mobile phone radiation, most of which remain to be documented. The heavy usage of mobile phones is only a few decades old and studies to find out just how damaging to health mobile devices are, are ongoing. It will take time before enough data is collected to prove anything certain, but many studies point towards brain tumours, reproductive problems, sleep disorders, headaches and anxiety.

For us, the risks of giving our ten-year-old a smartphone outweigh the benefits. Perhaps a simple device without internet would be useful in situations when she needs to contact us, but for the most part, I will be encouraging face-to-face contact with friends, sports, sunshine and as less screen time as possible.