The Spirit of Ramadan

 

A collage of some images in my gallery

Published today in Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/the-spirit-of-ramadan-1.1058147

I can’t believe that we are halfway through Ramadan. Before the month of fasting began, I have to admit that I was a bit worried — what with the searing heat of Dubai and no food or drink for 15 hours! Then Ramadan began, and I was surprised when things began to feel relatively comfortable after the first few days.

As time passes it gets easier to ignore that big bottle of cold water every time you open the fridge, and it becomes less agonising to feed your little ones, who insist on eating chilled mangoes every few hours.

One thing, however, still remains difficult. Fasting was prescribed on us so that we may become better people, so that we become God-fearing individuals who improve upon their personalities in an important and spiritual way. Yes, our tummies are supposed to get a break too — but most of us tend to over-compensate at iftar when we come face to face with deep-fried golden brown samosas and their co-conspirators. However, the part about achieving a better spiritual state is the most challenging.

We abstain from giving in to our physical desires yet our hearts are just as burdened with ill-feeling as they were before. We still remember that high-school grudge, the friend who wronged or embarrassed us and the co-worker who always takes all the credit in front of the boss.

Dealing with envy

We all but seethe at the mention of certain specimens of mankind and yes — we eye yet others with that very debilitating thing called envy. Our hearts are still mired deep in resentment and we hold on to the mistakes of others and vow never to forgive them or forget what they did to us. We act as vitriol for own ill-feeling, and whether or not we consume food hardly matters.

When we introspect, we refuse to forgive our own selves too. Our hearts are hard, not just for the world but for our own selves. The bitterness overwhelms any positivity that the holy month brings — simply because we have become too accustomed to living life with a lot of unnecessary baggage.

As this month draws towards its end I hope to shed all that excess baggage, once and for all. I am not only referring to the excesses that reside peacefully around the waistline (someone hide the samosas at iftar!) but also to all the negativity that has all but become a part of me.

I want to let go of all those unpleasant memories that I subconsciously kindle inside my heart. It is to let go of that burning feeling of revenge I get every time I think of certain things — to forget about what so-and-so said behind my back or how I felt when such-and-such thing happened. Clean slate. I mean it.

In many ways this month is a celebration for Muslims around the world because the Quran was first revealed in this month. And what better way to celebrate than bring about a significant and much-needed positive change within my own mental make-up?

I already feel a lot lighter, and this has nothing to do with the bathroom scales which, it has to be said, remain as obstinate as ever.

Yes, it’s okay to be different!

 

A few days back I asked my readers what they thought about being one’s own person in a society that is all about conforming to the norms. I got interesting answers, and finally I thought about the issue myself. Here’s what I realized.

It’s far safer to conform, it’s so much less challenging to go with the flow. But some of us just aren’t made for that. I know I would be miserable if I stopped following my heart and my gut feelings. I know I’d never be satisfied if I wasn’t true with myself.

This is me. And I’m not about to change.

Is it okay to be me?

Weird title. I know.

I try not to say a lot personal stuff on the www, but sometimes you just gotta let it out.  I am someone who can be herself anywhere, everywhere. I am someone who doesn’t really lose a lot of sleep over what people will think. Like they type of woman who will do what she wants as long as she feels strongly about it.

I’m the type of person who would speak up in a group if she disagrees about something. Never really cared about ‘what people will say and think’. And believe me, they say and think all sorts of stuff about me. Sometimes to my face. And yet I continue to be me, ruffled only temporarily by a world full of people who judge not just me, but all who dare to be different, dare to be themselves in world governed by what society thinks, and by enforced conformity.

I don’t mean to say that one should simply reject everything society says, rather I mean that one should have the guts to follow one’s own thought, and believe in it — even if people think it’s crap.

Yet, lately I’ve been wondering – is it okay to be yourself in front of people? Is it okay to be someone who is straightforward and honest? Or do people judge you just too damn much and too soon?

Please share your thoughts. I’d love to know what you think.

Are we better off conforming to the ways of the world? Or better off being ourselves?

Pic detail: Traditional Pakistani shoes ‘Khussa’.

Five things that can change my life

1.       Positive self-image and self-esteem:

Now, I want to consciously build a positive self-image. And self-belief as well, that I can indeed conquer the odds. I sometimes get in that mode when I find fault with everything I do and I just feel bad about myself.

2.       Attack the piles of work like… right away, not tomorrow:

I’m going to take action and read and revise and actually welcome my exams. Delayed action is sometimes equal to no action.

3.       Eat healthier:

Intelligent snacking is a good way to boost energy levels and can help you concentrate. Mindless snacking is the exact opposite.

4.       Pray with a purpose:

Prayer is a beautiful thing and if done in the correct spirit it can be immensely relaxing (meditative) and it can take care of just about everything. I will make a serious effort to pray better – qualitatively first.

 5.       Forgive: me and the world:

I am forgiving everyone, for whatever they did to me, and I am forgiving myself for making mistakes, for being imperfect and for goofing up.

Stay blessed!

The power to JUDGE

 

Apologies to those who’ve done me the honour of visiting and following this space. The hiatus has been a draining few days, both physically and emotionally. All praise and glory to Allah alone who brings the dead earth to life, and who Alone helps the broken heart heal itself and breathe again.

 

The power to judge

 

When was the last time you were judged by someone? If you’re anything like me, you get judged very often. I say what I think, I don’t mince words and I call a spade, a spade. And because of my straightforward ways, I am a soft target to pick on. There is always something that I’ve said that gets me into trouble.

I never really acquired the art of moulding a serious insult under a pile of gooey sweetness. Diplomacy if you like – it never really has been my thing.  Chances are if I get upset with someone, I will probably let them know in a simple, straightforward manner. I am a person with feelings and sensitivity – and I deserve to be treated with respect. If I feel that somehow that aspect has been overlooked, I tend to make it known

People – who are in no way qualified to pass judgements – have told me I am a gutter snipe from the worst gutter. Not necessarily in those words but you get the point.

So what next? Do I let people judge me? Do you let people judge you? Who really is the one to judge any person or any action?

Let’s get something clear. The only one who has the POWER, the RIGHT to judge is Allah alone. Only the Almighty. Just Him.

I live my life wanting to please Him, humbly and with a God-consciousness that drives me. And I can’t possibly please all of humanity. Or mould myself into a boiled cabbage, for that matter!

Many years have passed and I’m still the same confident woman, who will not conform to what she doesn’t believe in, who will not do something unless she’s totally convinced about it. And just because people pass unqualified judgements on me I don’t think I’m going to change.

And you know what? Someday, if Allah wills, it’s this varying from the oft-trodden path and finding my way across uncharted waters that will bring me success, both in the world and in the Hereafter.

And Allah Knows Best!

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)

Ben’s Story (Part Two)

As requested, here is Part Two for your perusal. Remember to leave a comment if you’d like more. Thanks. -M

Part One can be read here.

For the subsequent part of the day, Ben was even more quiet than usual, and if it hadn’t been for that peculiar Asian boy Ben wouldn’t have spoken at all. Khaleel was brown-skinned and black-eyed, and for lunch he would bring an egg sandwich which smelt as though it had onions in it. After break his breath would be less than fresh, to put it politely and if anyone else in the class (apart from Ben himself) was the target of some unwarranted attention it was Khaleel, the Pakistani boy. Yet Khaleel always had a smile on his face, yet he seemed composed. Ben wondered about Khaleel sometimes. How was it that Khaleel somehow managed the bullying so well, and became the better for it?

Ben watched quietly as the boys asked Khaleel, in a most mocking manner — if he was gay. Why was it that he never asked someone out? Khaleel bit his lip and said calmly, “Because it is disallowed in Islam.” Ben admired Khaleel’s composure. The boys continued to taunt him and only Ben saw when Khaleel whispered something to himself. He had no idea what it was that Khaleel’s lips were saying, but it seemed as though he drew strength from the repetition of his mantra. Ben felt impossibly curious.

Later in the day as the class filed out to go home, Ben walked beside Khaleel, for he had something to ask him. “Hey mate,” Ben said. Khaleel responded with a smile, as was his habit.

“Ask you something dude?”

“Of course man. Shoot.” Khaleeel said.

“What was it that you were reading in class? When they you know.. umm..”

“Yeah. When they called me gay you mean?”

“Exactly,” Ben responded relieved.

“Oh that. It was a portion of the Quran. Helps to calm me down you know,” Khaleel replied matter-of-factly.

“Oh — that’s the Muslim Bible right?” Ben queried.

“Yeah man”

“It’s a book right? Do you remember it?”

“Just a few portions of it. It’s in Arabic though.”

“So can you understand it?”

“Not the whole thing. Just bits of it.”

“What were you repeating? What did it mean?”

“Would you like to see?”

“Sure.”

Khaleel walked back to the computer lab with Ben and knowledge always excited Ben. He wanted to know, he needed to know what calmed Khaleel down so wonderfully well.

“It’s called Ayat-ul-Kursi,” Khaleel said as he read something in Arabic. On the computer screen Ben read the following words.

There is no god but He,
The Living, the Everlasting,
Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep,
To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth.
Who is there that can intercede with His, except by His leave?
He knows what lies before them and what is after them,
And they comprehend not anything of His Knowledge save as He wills.
His throne comprises the heavens and the earth,
The preserving of them fatigues Him not,
And He is the All-High, All-Glorious.

[Al-Quran: Surat al-Baqarah, Ayah 255]

Over and over Ben read the words to himself. To Him belongs the heaven and the earth, he repeated. Melanie, Josh, the Math teacher, Khaleel and even his own self, belonged to this Unseen God that Khaleel and his book spoke about. The majesty and the power of the words hit him.

So there was a God who controlled everything, who was Eternal, Everlasting, and watched over the world. Ben knew who God was since family were Catholics, but Mom never insisted on going to the Church, because Jesus (PBUH) could be called upon anywhere.

This was something different though. It appeared that Khaleel’s book was talking about a God that Jesus (PBUH) himself prayed TO. Ben was reading, only gaining knowledge about this supposedly terrorist religion. And he was surprised at the profound peace it brought to his heart.

**************************************************************************************************************************************

“Ben?”

“Benjamin?”

“BEN!” his mother said loudly.

“Oh sorry! Yes Mom?” he replied, momentarily alarmed.

“Ben, for the umpteenth time, how was your day?”

“The usual Mom. Th-th-thanks.” Ben said guardedly.

His mother shrugged as she put on some country music as they drove back home from school in their 1999 Chevrolet station wagon. Ben loved the old car. It had been around for as long he could remember, and he had profound memories of his Dad driving the car, back when things had been different. Ben didn’t always stammer. Not back when Dad was around anyway. When God decided to take his father away in a horrific accident on the beach in high tide, their life had turned topsy-turvy. Ben was five. From the calm, supportive parent she was, his mother had turned into a chronically depressed woman who practically lived on cigarettes.

“Mom? Could you please t-t-turn that o-o-off?” Ben said gesturing towards the car’s tape recorder.

“Sure Ben. Anything,” His mother replied quietly, as she expertly lit a cigarette with one hand on the steering wheel. Ben pulled down the window, his face scrunched up in disgust. He hated the smell.

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Ben watched apprehensively as Melanie, Josh and Nathan walked towards him. He hurriedly put his corned beef sandwich back in the tuckbox, and shut it. Melanie had a beautiful smile, Ben noted. Pity she had the vile nature of a vixen, he thought cynically to himself.

“Hey Tadpole! ‘Sup?” Josh, whose voice had just started breaking into a manly pitch said.

Ben looked wary. What was it that they wanted now? Couldn’t they just leave him alone?

“Khaleel and you! Who would have thought!” Josh said tauntingly. “We know you disappeared in the computer lab with him after school, Tadpole. Smart work kid! Everyone knows about Khaleel, right? But you too!” Josh said with a wink.

Ben clenched his fist and ground his teeth. His eyes blazed dangerously.

“There’s a God more powerful than Josh. To Him belongs everything,” he whispered to himself.

Josh looked worried at Ben’s complete silence.

He’s doesn’t get tired. Ever,” He repeated, careful not to move his lips.

“Tadpole’s lost the power of s-p-p-peech!” Josh interjected.

“God, if You really are all that Khaleel’s book says, show me. Handle this. Please,” Ben beseeched silently, his eyes closed.

Melanie looked on interested, and a throng of older boys and girls was fast approaching. Ben seemed to draw strength from the fact that to the real God, Josh and his entire group was probably equal to speck of dust. He was all-powerful. Suddenly Ben stood up and looked Josh square in the eye.

“If you’ll excuse me, Josh, your fly is open. Close it before something falls out,” Ben said, sounding far more assured than he felt. With that he stood up and walked calmly away from the crowd, with the sound of raucous laughter following him. The laughter that for the first time, wasn’t directed at him, as Josh, embarrassed, zipped up his jeans. The unwanted attention had been redirected and Ben couldn’t believe himself. He’d stood up to Josh, the big annoying Josh! He smiled as he noted how he, for the first time in years, hadn’t stammered. It felt weird. Surreal, but great.

“God, if You’re really there, thanks,” Ben murmured as he walked back to class. He’d have to learn more about this God and His book. Seriously.

To be continued…

Ben’s Story

Note to readers: This is the beginning of a short story that I’m writing. I would appreciate feedback!

Tadpole. That’s what they called him. Little Benjamin was almost thirteen years old, but you couldn’t have guessed. He was short and waif-like and a sparse brown fringe covered his forehead. He had beautiful brown eyes – not that anyone could ever see them, for they were always covered with thick tortoise-shell glasses.

Ben liked being alone, particularly at school, because the boys never passed up an opportunity to jeer at him. Many in his class wondered if Ben could even utter proper sentences – all they had ever heard from him were monosyllables. Ben had big ideas, and he had big dreams, but he was just afraid to bring out his thoughts. What if he stammered? What if everyone laughed? What if Ben just looked silly? He spoke with an embarrassing stutter and to rub salt in his wounds, the boys at school would sometimes call him ‘t-t-t-tadpole’. Then, even Melanie, the gorgeous blue-eyed Melanie would laugh. On those days, Ben would retreat in his shell and pretend he didn’t exist.

During lunch Ben would disinterestedly pick at his lunch, which was always, always a carelessly prepared corn beef sandwich which gooey veggies on the side. Then at PE Ben would sometimes pretend to be sick, just so he could slink towards the bench and sit himself down and read that wonderful book about stars and planets and milky ways. The walk back to the classroom was tedious too; he would walk with his head down, lost in thought, startled whenever someone called out his name.

In the classroom Ben sat alone in the chair by the large window and he usually liked being in that secluded spot, where he could think calmly and work. He watched half-interested as the teacher droned on about a math problem. Math was one subject Ben actually enjoyed – it was something he could do without being taught. In fact, no one except his mother knew he could spend long afternoons doing nothing except solving new problems, the thrill of conquering each problem urging him on to the next one. “Who knows the answer to question number 6 on the board?” the teacher said.

Never had Ben ever ventured to speak in class, but as he saw the math problem on the board, he was sure of the answer. He had come across the problem only two days back in the comfort of his bedroom. Slowly but surely Ben raised his hand. The teacher looked toward him incredulously. “Ben? Well, what a pleasant surprise. Do you know the answer?” Suddenly the class was quiet; you could have heard a pin drop as with bated breath the class waited for Ben to answer.

Ben stood up awkwardly, a deep flush creeping up his neck. He took a deep breath. “Well, the answer is, 2a-a-a-a minus b, is equal to s-s-s-even a plus 6b-b-b.” There, he’d said it. And he was sure he’d gotten it right too. Except that as he was halfway through his answer, Josh, a tall back-bencher with a hint of a moustache on his upper lip said: “But wouldn’t that be 6a-2b? He scanned the writing on the board again. Of course. He saw it now — he’d been so silly. His answer was incorrect and as he sat back into his chair blushing furiously, dejected and mortified, a voice from the back said, “Th-th-th-think before you answer tadpole.” Someone giggled. Ben was sure it was Melanie.

To be continued….

So would you like to know what happens next? Would you read if Part 2 was posted on this blog? Do let me know. Thanks.

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.