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

dates iftar

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.

Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?

favours of your lord

I look up in wonder at the sky,

I want to connect and I want to say so much,

I want to say sorry and I want to give thanks,

Words fail me my Lord; I somehow go blank.

 

My own silliness and my own mistakes line up before me,

All too obvious in hindsight, ironically,

Incredulous, I know how You still didn’t let me fall,

Oh Allah, You listened even when I was unable to call.

 

I made promises, and I vowed to mend my ways,

I broke my word countless times, but to You is all praise,

You didn’t judge me – you dealt with mercy and with love,

A love so complete, so powerful, that I am unworthy of.

 

You bless me my Rabb, with every passing moment,

I while away this wonderful gift of life in thankless enjoyment,

A discomfort so deep nestles within my humiliated heart,

I’ve taken things for granted and I haven’t played my part.

 

But does it matter ya Allah, if I say sorry yet another time?

Is there a way to fully convey the ghastliness of my crimes?

Is there a way to turn back, when I know I’ve ventured too far out?

Allah I know You understand the profound embarrassment that I speak about.

 

But I talk to You this day with hope and with yearning,

Knowing that to the Most Forgiving, Most Merciful I am turning,

Who forgives, forgets, cleanses me, even when I’m wrong, so wrong,

Please hold me once more Ya Allah — to You I belong.

 

I’ve messed up time and again, and I’ve not amended myself,

Yet there’s no despair in Your mercy, You said so Yourself,

I need miracles, I need more chances, and I need Your helping hand,

Mercy that befits You my Lord, indeed You are grand!

 

Don’t let me down, don’t let me turn astray,

Why I am unable to bend and why is it that I cannot pray?

I call on You in humility, defeated, undone by my own madness,

Still holding on to the ultimate hope of Your greatness.

 

My Lord words fail me again everything seems inadequate,

But You comprehend what lies beneath my tears, unstoppable and adamant,

I’ll leave it at that, Wallahu Aleemum Bi Dhaat is Sudoor,

My heart, and all its dirt and blackness — awaits your dazzling Noor.

The motivation for change

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/the-motivation-for-change-1.996480

 

Let the change begin.

 

Change. Such a poignant word. In every day of our lives we see it happening — sometimes we are conscious of it, at other times it happens so unobtrusively that we don’t even notice it. A pretty obvious example would be about how this city was just a few years back, without the looming Burj Khalifa, the metro and various other developments. Changes, in the way we are, in the way we behave and invariably, in the way we look are inevitable.

Like the oft-repeated Isaac Asimov quote, change is really the only constant in life. This piece of writing comes about because after an intense period of soul searching, I’ve come to one conclusion: I want the changes that will happen in the future to be positive. I want to cast off old attitudes of cynicism and embitterment nestled deep within and I want to ‘be the change’ I want to see, to quote another famous personality. It is true that I can’t control the future, but I can at least let the road ahead of me glow with the sheen of positivity and clarity that emits from my own self.

Change, when you consciously want it to happen can be hard too. It can be challenging to let go of old but undesirable patterns in life just as it is difficult to sever infected limbs from the body. But I want these changes to take place. I want to learn, I want to grow, I want to conquer, and I desperately want to make up for lost time. Because I can, and it would be foolish — nay criminal, to let life slip by without making it count.

As I see it, the best impetus for modifications of one’s own shortcomings comes from reading and learning. Far from feeling empowered, with every new bit of information I acquire, I feel like a bigger ignoramus, and no, there isn’t an ounce of sarcasm when I say that. To put it metaphorically, as I scrape the tip of the iceberg, I realise just how deep into the obscurity of the waters it is, and that there are a million more icebergs left to surmount.

I find myself submerged in a raging sea of self-doubt as I question my decisions, my activities and my principles, wondering if I’ve always got it all wrong. Yes, learning is exciting, and it is unnerving too. Change happens when I let the wisdom of the words seep through my insecurities and welcome the new with courage.

Restrictive parameters

Change is when I learn to make lemonade with the lemons life throws at me, change is when I rise again, confident and assured after every unpleasant experience. Change is when I try sincerely without the fear of failure snagging my soul. Change is when I let myself soar free of the boundaries I think exist, but in reality are just invisible restrictive parameters I’ve laid out for myself. Change is snapping out of a virtual fog and entering the sunlight, accepting realities and moving on, even if the harsh glow from the sun sometimes hurts your eyes. Change is allowing oneself to fail (and cry) because failure is a certain part of life, and knowing that when that happens, as it often will, it is not the end of the world. Change is persevering till the end; it is painting the full picture, not leaving it half-finished. Change is learning to love, and learning not just to forgive, but also to truly forget.

I believe in destiny, yet I know we ourselves play an enormous role in shaping our lives, our relationships and in finding true contentment. It will take time to learn, to understand, and to adjust but the biggest change that has occurred within me is that I consciously want to jettison the old and embrace the new. It feels as though there’s a clean slate now, with me left to write my own story. Pun intended.

(Text and photo by me)

Why?

Because nothing is perfect, and even flowers have thorny stems.

 

Why? I know I’ve asked this question perhaps a million times already but I never seem to find the answer. Questions about why I am the way I am, why people are the way they are, and why I can’t be perfect.

Why doesn’t a day go by when I can’t do everything exactly as it should be done? Why do I have inherent weaknesses? Why on earth am I so vulnerable? Why are relationships always so tricky? Why do we judge others and why do others judge us? Why do we feel so good some days and so rotten on some other days?

Why do things never go as planned? Why are things never simple? Why do I find no clear answers and everyone else seems to get along just fine? Why am I such a child sometimes? Why do we age physically yet stay just as tender as a green shoot inside?

Why on earth do I never understand it’s not good to speak my mind like that – most certainly not on the world wide web?

Questions. Questions.

The answers lie deep within.

Let me explain.

The reasons for our own imperfections – and indeed of life – and those that lie in people are because we are human. And that we’re not meant to be perfect and we’ll always be like an imperfect picture – with a dash of red that’s too strong or a blue that’s too light. But it is these so called ‘deviations’ that make the picture real, likable and individual. And it should appreciated for what it is – a masterpiece.

I certainly don’t mean to say I am one, but simply that we’re all masterpieces in our right. And we’re imperfect. Perfect, yet full of imperfections. And it’s okay. What matters is that we accept that and move on.

In the end, I conclude perfection is

Contentment.

That’s right. If I’m content with who and what I am, I’ll feel perfect, knowing I’m full of faults.