The Gates of Paradise

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

The Deepening of the Spirit

The field of friendships is the one where I got most of my cuts, bruises and scars. In the unpredictable area of social interactions, I was always adrift, confused and unable to comprehend people fully. I either gave too much or too little, received too much or too little. I understood others only to remain a source of mystery to them, or vice versa. I didn’t know a thing about boundaries, either being a doormat, tyrant or people-pleaser. Until I met Umaima. And if you’ve spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, you probably know who she is.

We have very little in common on paper, the superficial differences between us are quite vast. She is Omani and I am a British Pakistani, we have entirely different family backgrounds, and our personalities are almost entirely conflicting. She’s very dry and sarcastic, I have dad humour. But during our final year at university, on every Wednesday during semester, we found ourselves arriving at the Sister’s Circle together, sitting with our legs crossed as we listened to our friend Jasmine repeat God’s words on the purpose of life, the Hereafter, the heart, the world and sincerity. And we unknowingly proceeded to build the foundations of our connection with Allah together, growing in the only way that seemed to matter, in heart and spirit. So after university ended and things went downhill for me, it was not surprising that she was the only one who really knew. Not that I told her, I crawled into my hole and didn’t come out or look at my phone for days at a time. She fought for our friendship, being blunt with me in a manner that I was unused to, and it gave me the strength to fight for my own life and mind. To demand of others and myself, the reverence I knew we are all due as receivers of the gift of life.

It is a cliché, but for some of us who aren’t entirely motivated by unshakable self-belief, the unconditional acceptance or patience of another gives us the strength we need to peek out of our comfort zones. Umaima has a supernatural level of self-respect, this is where her compassion and empathy for others comes from in my view, and it translates into respect for others. It wasn’t just me that she treated well, it was everyone. This does not mean universal agreement, but treating people as complex and autonomous, reflections of their own will and products of their context. Being around her can be liberating.

I have had friends in the past who declared their undying love for me, complimented me in every effusive way possible both publicly and privately, only to disappear or act disrespectfully. Umaima is not really a complimenting kind of person, she used to regularly feign puking at any hint of romanticism, but she has affirmed me in every other way. She has accepted me as I am, been genuinely interested in my growth, read up on things which she thinks are important to me, and watched rap videos with the lyrics on rapped to videos she knows every single lyric to because she is an amateur rapper in her free time actually, in order to understand some of my favourites. I do the same for her. I remember when we first met. She was so genuinely curious about me as a person, that I felt totally seen for the first time. Up until that moment, I had believed that people were blank slates. But I found myself talking about my past, my dreams, my history, even my pains to this woman I thought I had no previous connection with. Since then, I have come to a deeper understanding of myself, and have shared my experiences with people, where before they were a source of shame.

I have made many good friends since, but I always joke with her, that she was the original. Therefore the unforgettable, therefore the irreplaceable. I am sure she cringes when I say these things. She is quite stoic. Before I met her, I had a very fixed idea of what friendship was. It was allowing people to do whatever they wanted and reconvening every now and then to see how everything was going. Now I know it is intangible, it is simply an auspicious meeting of two souls in mutual familiarity and mutual transformation.

‘In so many love relationships, there seems to be a runner (someone who is more aloof) and a chaser (Someone who is more eager to connect). Often these are established patterns- some of us tend to either chase or flee in every relationship- but not always, as many of us have fears in both directions (the fear of abandonment, and the fear of being engulfed) and live out both patterns at various times. As we heal our wounds, we shed these patterns and get more comfortable with being with only those that meet us on equal footing- eye to eye, heart to heart. That’s when the real vulnerability begins.’ – Jeff Brown

I often felt like an anomaly, like I fitted in everywhere and nowhere. It was quite isolating, believe me. Until I met Umaima and felt sane for one of many first times. Wanderers appreciate true company more than most, especially when they meet fellow travelers and can find meaning in their wanderings. I pray we are able to travel this path of life well, and be reunited upon our return Home iA.

All praise is for God who guides the ebb and flow of souls in our lives. Often the losses we experience in love and friendship seem catastrophic, we feel rejected and heartbroken. But there is nobody that I can genuinely say that I miss. There is no-one who ‘left’, that I can’t see was for the better for them or for me. The restlessness never seems to end, but sometimes He sends us people within whom we can find some rest.

Down The Rabbit Hole

Part of the reason I find myself mostly apathetic these days is because the world seems hell-bent on continuing its onward march toward apparent oblivion with or without me. It’s difficult to believe anything we do is actually worth anything in the grander scheme of things. No wonder we fluctuate between being egocentric, fame-seeking, celebrity-obsessed materialistic hysterics and apathetic, bored, frustrated, irritable lost souls.

I suppose the elephant in the room is choice. A vast expanse of life is spread out before us, uncoloured and blank. It is the responsibility to paint this canvas to the best of my ability that chokes me sometimes. And then we inevitably ask the question What if I miss something? I kind of see free will as a flowchart; where each decision leads inevitably to different outcomes and the obsession to get this route ‘perfect’ can be paralysing.

This is the intimidating yet seductive element of control. After understanding that much of what we create in life is our own responsibility, there is the fact that much of what happens in our life is a pure and utter inheritance. For instance, our genetics, the colour of our eyes, the texture of our hair, the shape of our skeleton and our cognitive strengths and weaknesses are somewhat predetermined. In addition to that, much of our self-image and ideas about the world, what psychologists call ‘schemas’, are shaped and formulated and put in place when we are children.

And what about the resistance to Love which is so prevalent on this material plane? On an individual level, there are the moments (perhaps lengthy periods) where we have felt misunderstood, ignored, unseen through periods of suffering and wounding. Moments, where the pain seems to gather into a worthless nothingness, when the love we freely give is unreturned or not felt and the endeavours we cautiously sell our life and soul for amount to vapour, nothing but a black hole in the timeline of our lives. There is the guilt we live with every day for our tenacious ignorance and subtle complicity in the pain of human beings who suffer daily in war zones, areas of civil conflict, villages and cities, towns and countries. Places where our gluttonous lifestyles are resourced at the expense and at the cost of the individual lives, pasts and futures of others exactly like us in form and spirit. We know we are different only in our ‘fortunate’ outcome in Life’s cruel genetic lottery. Not to mention the emotional trauma and pain of countless souls, without an identifiable source. So, what are we supposed to do?

‘The question sprung from the depths of our being & the answer must come from the same level as the question.’ – IAO131

If we ignore the tormenting aspects of existence, we live a half-life, in a kind of limbo or purgatory. We may ask ourselves if it is it not better then, to let life take the wheel and watch our default destiny fulfil itself. We know that surrendering our co-creative function is the opposite of freedom, but how can we step into freedom when we fear it? After all, we could never eradicate poverty, war and inequality totally right? It’s just human nature.

And with so much injustice infecting our every pore, it is easy to take the seat of spectator and immerse ourselves in the microcosm and try to forget. The thing is we can’t forget things we haven’t processed; our soul is too smart for self-deception. We leak out what we think we have forgotten through our emotions, and the cycle perpetuates itself and continues. In other words, there is no escape.

‘The only way out is in.’ – Junot Diaz

My intuition knows the cycle can only be broken through a form of collective repentance. Repentance or tawbah in Arabic means ‘to turn back’. It carries heavy, biblical connotations which make us think of it as cataclysmic, disempowering, humiliating and useless. It feels guilt-ridden and shame-filled. After all, who wants to turn back in any way to something they essentially gave up on in the first place, right? It would be embarrassing. Repentance is often conflated with a passive form of forgiveness. But there is a subtle distinction between the two. Repentance is incomplete without action and a departure from the sin or source of pain. I agree with IAO131 when he says we do not need further knowledge or possessions to ameliorate the human condition, rather we need a radical re-orientation of our way of being in this world, one where we become who we are. When we repent, we turn back to this every moment, despite every failure, fall, and humiliation. We start from scratch from where we are and seek to actualize the energy within us. And this is the active forgiveness which as Oprah Winfrey quotes is to ‘give up the hope that the past could have been any different’. In other words it is an acceptance that it [the past] is complete, and a visceral awareness that it happened. And to continue in pursuit of the Goal anyway. To ascend despite every weight chaining you to the Earth.

This is what it means to transcend Fear.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”- Atticus Finch

Light Up The Darkness

Once upon a time, lust was considered a taboo. The elephant in the room these days, however, is the green-eyed envy. Yet it is no less visceral, complex and powerful than our biological instincts for intimacy.

I would define envy as this:

‘taking another’s life personally.’

This means taking the [insert object(s) of envy here] of another person as an indicator of your own self worth. Ultimately, envy is an emotion. Like all emotions, it is borne out of the depths of the body and psyche as a signal to the individual. Thus, our engagement with it determines it’s positive or negative conclusion (i.e. whether the envy will be malignant or benign).

My own experience of envy led me to dig at its roots. I sought to learn what it had been trying to tell me.

‘And it may be that you dislike a thing that is good for you…’
[Qur’an 2:216]

Much of my own envy, had to do with perfectionism, an insatiable desire for all that is ‘good’. It is natural when you hold unrealistic expectations for yourself, to concurrently hold unrealistic expectations for others. I am not talking about the ‘realistic’ which is the birthplace of mediocrity. Rather, I mean an orientation of aspiration that is not authentic, and thus incompatible with your very being. These expectations are often imposed from the outside into us through societal and cultural conditioning. (For example, the idea of intelligence being solely academic, or beauty equalling some type of symmetry, or spirituality manifesting as an externally identifiable stereotype etc.)

Trying to synthesize these disparate threads of nebulous ideas and fantasies into my own existence was a recipe for disaster. Swathes of ungrateful insecurity follow idealization, drowning inner clarity with the fog of anxiety and desperation. The object of envy then becomes an idol, onto which you can project your spiritual and worldly aspirations.

Assuming that somebody else has already achieved everything we want or aspire to is a distraction from our own responsibilities in being alive. We somehow question whether there is really anything left for us to pursue, as if the abundance of the Universe is limited. This can make us despairing, demotivated and complacent; and it did for me, for a long time. Really, it is a form of intellectual laziness, a cop-out if you will.

No body and no thing external to ourselves can embody our own potential.

Ultimately, we don’t hold on to negative patterns of behaviour unless they serve us in some way. It took me a while to realize how my envy was actually a cover for a fear of making any commitments or decisions that could turn out to have disastrous consequences. The idealized object of envy however, reduced the need to think for myself.

When we envy or idealize, we neglect our inner knowing of the True equality of all beings in their essence. It allows us to play small, despite the fact that we were created to make manifest the Glory of God. We dismiss the miraculous nature of our own existence by failing to be present within our own lives, obsessing over the lives of others, living vicariously through them.

To an extent, it is understandable. We live in a competitive world, driven by a cancerous form of social Darwinism; exacerbated now by the materialistic use of social media to measure our worth. Yet, simultaneously, we are obsessed with the race to keep up appearances, to appear polite, correct, altruistic, moral and decent.This incongruence and division of our Selves leads to the pain of duplicity. Kant outlined the complexity of envy in a world which is interconnected by its very nature:

‘Envy is a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own. [It is] a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others.’

Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals

‘But, what about if someone is actually better than you in some form you value?’ I often asked myself. Well, I decided I would learn what I could from them because clearly they were in my life for a reason. And if this question applies to you too, please remember, you are not them. We cannot steal another person’s destiny. It does not belong to us. And neither can any person imitate another’s path in an effort to reap the fruits of the seeds that they have sown or inherited. This failure to distinguish our own existence from that of others is an illness. Whilst we are all connected, we are not all the same. Equality is not uniformity. These are very sophisticated tricks of the Ego to keep us from fulfilling our purpose.

Envy is probably the starkest indication that there are some issues of humility within us that need to be addressed. In the Qur’an, Satan used his limited intellect as creation, to concoct a superficial hierarchy between himself and Adam (AS). Based on his limited perception, he felt a certain entitlement to the blessings of Adam (AS) and superiority over him. However, the appearance of levels and distinctions between individuals, may be Allah’s ultimate test for us. Nothing hurts us as much as losing, being beat or humiliated. In such instances, we are presented with the choice to cling to our ego or freedom. We can identify with the roles society has placed upon us, or we can be free and open to the Mystery of existence.

However, we cannot forget that we are all equal in essence. Identification with illusory happenings in the material world veil us from the instantly available Reality of the Divine, accessible in each moment, to everyone. Equally.

Despite our interconnected nature and all the comparisons and consequences this entails, we will all die alone. We will face Allah alone. We can’t let the noise of people’s expressions drown out the individual free agency of our own soul. This is because ultimately, it is for that gift, which we will be held to account.

‘No burdened soul will bear the burden of another: if a heavily laden soul should cry for help, none of its load will be carried, not even by a close relative.’ 

[Qur’an 35:18]

The above account is drawn from my own experiences with envy, and the subsequent realisations that freed me from its grips. In many ways freedom from envy, or comparison, meant freedom from what Lupita Nyong’o so eloquently called the ‘seduction of inadequacy’. Envy is a messy business. It can lead you to question everything you ever thought about yourself. I would hope though that it will not lead to any more unnecessary self-loathing for you, if you are suffering from it and experiencing shame. It is a human emotion, sent to us from the depths of our soul as a signpost to re-calibrate us back on to our Straight Path. Heed the call, examine all the facets of its ugliness, a potential tool for enlightenment. Welcome the darkness as an inevitable part of yourself, and light it up with Awareness.

‘The day you stop racing, is the day you win the race.’ – Bob Marley

Man On The Moon

‘God is manifest, the veil is with us.’

I was told I had Depression in October 2012. It took a severe form which left me unable to leave my bed for 6 months at a time. I denied anything was really wrong even through this debilitating period. After a lengthy healing process which included Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Depression Alliance Group meetings, I saw that I had had a tussle with something tangible and spiritually invasive. I believe coming out at the other side (although I’m not quite there completely) is and perhaps always will be my proudest achievement. I regained the will to live. 

I was unable to to be productive or ‘strive’. Unable to envision changes, set goals or grow in the conventional sense. I was paralyzed by almost every meaning of the word. My love for my family and friends evaporated, any concern for my own well being disappeared. Instead I lived alone in a heavy, looming and sinister Void. It carried itself within me everywhere I went; in my skull and in my mouth- like an abusive and needy parasite. Inside my mind, my face was caught frozen in a silent distressed scream. But monotony, apathy and sadness were all I could express.

I experienced vivid and petrifying lucid dreams.The memory of these encounters followed me into my waking hours to the extent that I lived in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety. My own self had turned against me leaving me rootless, without weight and very very lost.

Throughout this period, I wrote hundreds of poems to God. During my illness, I sensed complete abandonment. My poems conveyed my anger, disillusionment, betrayal, nihilism, yearning for any contact from Him, even Hell. Evidently, I felt He had condemned me to it. I felt I had been blinded by His light.

Existentialism and an obsession with mortality have been a part of my consciousness from as far back as I can remember. A small example of this ontological insecurity is in the memory of an event when I was 7 and saw the cartoon Tom being sent to Hell by the Devil for his incessant bullying of Jerry. I was inconsolable witnessing what was effectively entertainment to others my age. I was not raised ‘religiously’ either, it was the finality and responsibility which resonated with me.

Solace was found in music that expressed an element of philosophical anguish and alienation; Kid Cudi was a favourite. On every social media site I signed up to I’d put ‘Man on the Moon’ in my biography. I subsequently found comfort in education and learning, able to channel my confusion and uncertainty about existence into a productive endeavour in which some explanations for my environment emerged. I found my true Home in spirituality and religion, the only community which granted succour to my metaphysical yearnings and instincts to soar.

When I found myself unable to feel or think anymore, I simply existed and could no longer find peace in the rituals and accompanying presence of peace which I had taken for granted. I saw the logic in New Age and Ancient philosophies which state that most of our thoughts come from the ego, and most of us live in a state of almost schizoid insanity latching on to man made interpretations of reality and dogma. Dogma, as Steve Jobs defines, is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

And then finally I knew I could no longer lean on crutches. I had to think for myself. Not in the political or religious sense but existentially, always present in my own being. During this time, I had a lifelike dream in which Kate Winslet, who inspired me as a woman, sat at the bedside of a dying man. I must have been a type of ether because I looked over this set up from the corner of a room. She said ‘Being yourself is easy. It is knowing that only you can see life through your eyes.’ I have often thought about this statement over the last year and a half and have come closer to realizing its truth in my life with the passage of time.

I had to find my own voice, and it was a terrifying prospect. Living each moment uniquely is a breath taking experience in which if you pardon my rhetoric, life and soul expand in a timeless embrace climaxing in the awareness that it is all going to be alright and we are free. Everything is a plus, because we came from Nothing, and yet we are Here.

Once again, it was knowledge that saved me by the Grace of the One who guides us through His Signs. I never doubted that every moment had a purpose. And even during this period of spiritual and psychological death, I simply wanted to know ‘Why?’. Why is this happening to me? Why now? Not out of a victim mentality, but out of an almost sadistic curiosity and interest in my self and my surroundings.

I read multiple interpretations of the causes of neurosis but I must say that this is the one which stuck with me:

When the natural course of a man’s development through life was held up, either by misfortune or by his failure to meet life’s obligations, his libido became turned in upon himself and reactivated the attitudes and feelings of childhood which would normally have been left behind him. Jung believed that there was a natural and proper path of development for each individual; and that neurosis might actually be a valuable signal which indicated when, through intellectual arrogance, a false set of values or an evasion of responsibilities, a person was straying too far from his own true path. Neurotic symptoms, therefore, might be compensatory; part of a self-regulating mechanism whose aim was the achievement of a better balance within the psyche. Jung sometimes said of an individual: ‘Thank God, he became neurotic!’ Just as pain might make a man realize there was something wrong with his body, so neurotic symptoms could draw attention to psychological problems of which the individual was unaware.

Anthony Storr, ‘The Development of Personality’ Extract, The Essential Jung: Selected Writings

Slowly, I found my way out and learnt God had not abandoned me, after asking an Imam I trusted about the Hadith where the One says to mankind ‘I am as my servant thinks of me’. I was concerned that my negative thinking and feeling would have meant God had morphed into a nightmare. He replied that I was a sign of God, as was he. What we saw in the world was a projection of the state of our soul and dependent on our attitude. When we saw beauty or ugliness around us we were able to see more or less of God’s Majesty depending on how much our own nafs were in the way and a part of our perception. He told me that to believe God changed according to our attitude would be akin to believing he was a type of personal slave whose characteristics would fluctuate along with our own-  in a nutshell, that I had misunderstood the Hadith. God is who He is regardless of my inadequacies or nafs. I am of course paraphrasing, and unfortunately have lost some of the terminology he used, but this was beauty.

God is not my slave and He does not react to my individual whims and desires or emotions which are ultimately fallible, even biological and certainly ignorant in the grander scheme of infinite intelligence. This is a humbling concept. It reminds me that there is more in existence that is NOT me, than there is matter in the Universe which is me. I am a part of creation. Although I am limited to a locus of consciousness which is centered in my physical body. I share existence with the rest. I do not have the right to demand that all existence bend to my will. Buddha said that expectation was the root of all suffering. Expectation is often a result of material and social conditioning which pales in comparison to the working of the Tao; the countless subtle and super-massive interactions that had to take place for you to be sat where you are reading this, and for me to have written it. It is God’s Will which is always being Done. 

My Cognitive Behavioural Therapist was a beautiful woman named Anne. Before I went to Oman she told me to respect the Ocean. She knew that I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time. I asked why? She replied that the Ocean was a body with its own laws. A phenomenon with a unique reality and way of life. In the depths of its massive entirety, I would be a small body of skin and bone and organs. The onus was on me to prove trustworthy and to treat the water and its life with respect and reverence or risk engulfment. To learn its ways I would have to be cautious and loving. The crucial role of reverence is equally relevant to our engagements with the Universe. We are a small speck of the Cosmos, inextricably linked to the entirety of all that exists. We found ourselves here one day, and we are unsure which of our actions or expressions will echo in all eternity or tip the balance of energy in our favour when we die

I then asked the Imam how one was to remove all their projections to know God as He Is. He replied that this was the purpose behind his teaching. Some people were so restless in this world of attachments that they would have to experience the truth of what the Prophet SAW said in the Hadith ‘Die before you Die.’ This spiritual death would result in a removal of all that was unreal to reveal what was True. I then asked him, that in partaking in this process of spiritual death, was there not a risk that the psyche would implode? That the person seeking to become close to God could lose their mind? I quoted Elif Shafak; ‘There is a fine line between losing yourself in God, and losing your mind.’ I told him I had experienced this first hand. His reply shook me.

He said ‘That is because you did not have permission’. I said ‘Sorry?’. He said ‘When one goes to the Abode of the King, one does not barge in. One seeks permission. Knowing Allah is a reality which unveils according to His time. Not yours.’ I wanted to know how to obtain permission and he introduced me to the concept of Wilayah. To follow those who remind me of Allah. Sometimes Allah would grace an individual with this awareness organically, but it was rare. Most often we would have to approach the people around us as signs to Allah. Then we would come to Know Him.

I learnt God had not abandoned me, that it would be an impossibility. God cannot leave when He is the very Source of existence. He is the One who keeps the stars in the firmament, and our feet on the concrete. ‘Whether called upon or not, God will be present.’

your lord did not abandon you

 

Clint Mansell – The Last Man

‘The Development of Personality’ Extract- The Essential Jung: Selected Writings

What is it in the end that induces a man to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist? Not necessity, for necessity comes to many, and they all take refuge in convention. Not moral decision, for nine ties out of ten we decide for convention likewise. What is it, then, that inexorably tips the scale in favour of the extra-ordinary?

 

It is what is commonly called a vocation: an irrational factor that destines a man to emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths. True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite its being, as the ordinary man would say, only a personal feeling. But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape. The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing to one who has a vocation. He must obey his own law, as if it were a daemon whispering to him of new and wonderful paths. Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called. That is why the legends say he possesses a private daemon who counsels him and whose mandates he must obey.

The original meaning of ‘to have a vocation’ is ‘to be addressed by a voice.’ The clearest examples of this are to be found in the avowals of the Old Testament prophets. That it is not just a quaint old-fashioned way of speaking is proved by the confessions of historical personalities such as Goethe and Napoleon, to mention only two familiar examples, who made no secret of their feeling of vocation.

Waiting for Superman

Today we had a bailiff come to our door. He wanted £627 immediately or he would be removing goods from the house.

Last night I had experienced a brief moment of enlightenment. After musing endlessly about the next step to take in my life I decided to call it an early night. Perhaps I needed energy. I went to sleep. Except I couldn’t. As I lay on the sofa bed in my front living room on a ragged duvet with another faded and stained one over me; something told me to get up. I went and sat immediately in the next room in silence. I listened to the boiler running, to the whirr of the electronics in our house. I sat on a pile of dirty laundry on my sofa and thought. I wanted to STOP thinking. I removed the music, I removed the doubts and the worries and I sat.

Immediately I saw a vision. Nothing drastic. Nothing revolutionary. But just what I needed. Clean clothes, a clean room and applications for a job. I got up and sat on the sofa I was sleeping on. I wrote out and re-read a cover letter. I then churned out applications to 34 jobs. Tired, I went to sleep.

I woke up, I dealt with teachers coming to inspect why my little brother was not at school. He had complained to us of a migraine- he has epilepsy- we got worried and let him take the day off. He then proceeded to play on the playstation. I cleaned the house, I washed the dishes, I ate burgers and chips with my mum, I watched Deal or No Deal, I put my clothes in the wash, and out to dry. I dealt with the bailiffs.

The stress induced by a bailiff can only be related to if experienced first hand. well I believe so anyway. In this day and age we believe the one thing that is secure is the property we have bought and invested in with our own money and effort. But no, not if you owe a fine to the government or if you’re behind on your mortgage repayments. Usually we negotiate, this guy was not having it.

To be honest with you, I did not feel fear as I did when I was a bit younger, I felt stress and injustice. This was my dad’s bill yet we knew that he was too aggressive and abusive to be informed of the order to seize our goods. He complained continuously, with a quick and mean tongue, my mum was his main victim. So no. We weren’t going to inform him. Me and my brothers and sisters would sort this out on our own. Just as we had always done.

This time it was my sister’s turn to pay him off with her student finance after the police had visited to authorise the transaction. I had graduated.

After they left, I sat and cried. I had hoped things would look up. I thought my siblings and I would not have to endure the humiliation or insecurity that comes from such encounters. I felt an inability to protect them. But I also felt special. I was being tested. This would only make me stronger. I had been selected to take up a challenge, and I was definitely not going to throw it away. Some things would repeat themselves in life until we learnt and became free from them. This was probably one of them.

Feeling disheartened, I spoke to friends, and organised to meet them. But it was one friend in particular who showed me the light. Over the past couple of months I had gone into hibernation, reading books, watching movies, resting. My friend showed me a blog post about a time he had experienced bailiffs. This was the first friend I had talked to about this experience.

As I read his account, I immediately saw my way out. Simple small steps. Get a job. do my course, get training, read, do what I love, make sure I handle all the paperwork and tie up any loose ends. This was not the time to wait for Superman. This was the time to take action. And strangely for me, the task was not colossal. I’ve never been good at small inconspicuous challenges, I’m usually good at the ones that stare you in the face. They usually inspire action. No, this year I’d have to slow down.

Thoreau and dreams

by PAULO COELHO on SEPTEMBER 27, 2012

…. I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

“He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

“In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ”

Henry Thoreau

الصراط المستقيم- The Straight Path

Dear you,

You know who you are. And everybody I know knows who you are too. Its been months since we have embarked on separate paths after being physically and mentally inseparable for years.

I tried cutting everything out in the hopes that it would bring me closer to Allah. I threw out clothes, put on Hijab, said goodbye to some friends,  cut you out, took away music, to replace all that is temporary with the promise of what is Eternal. You were the biggest physical obstacle, and after I cut you out, I thought God would make everything nice and easy for me. I literally thought the blessings and signposts to the elusive Straight Path would become significantly more abundant and clear.

I was wrong.

In fact, things have become way more difficult. Cutting you out opened up paths to speaking to people I had never been allowed to speak to before.  I became aware of a gaping hole which was left in your absence. I don’t know what to replace it with. And the temptations seem to have increased rather than decreased as I run around trying to find something to define my worth.

That isn’t true to be honest. I do know what to replace it with. But it requires a strength I could never have anticipated of myself. I know I can do it because Allah SWT says

‘No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear’ Al Baqarah: 233

So this is the greatest yet most simple challenge. Because when it comes to to our actions, thoughts, beliefs and intentions at the end of the day, it all boils down to Imaan. How much do we truly believe in the existence of Allah? And how much do we truly believe in the authentic and  miraculous nature of the Qur’an? Because if we are firm in our belief and in what we practice, then we would have complete and utter faith in the words of God. In his promise of Judgment.

My faith fluctuates; and no human being on earth is perfect. It’s not in our nature to be so. The imperfections of our characters, the struggles we face and the flaws we all have are part of the test. Because the reward is in the effort and the will to please God, to purify ourselves of all the worldly and temporary distractions we are surrounded by. The outcome is in the will of Allah.

I know you keep trying to get in touch with me; but there are infinite reasons why I won’t give you a second glance. I hold no resentment toward you. I know I should be angry about your incessant lying and all the mess which that brought with it. But I don’t. You need to go through the pain of loneliness and insecurity before you realize that you never needed me. Believe me you don’t. All the tools we need in life survive even after everything else is destroyed. A sound mind, body, heart and soul. If God thought we needed a mere human being to complete us, I’m sure things would have been much different. Relationships of intense dependency for example, would be infinitely less unhealthy and unstable than they are.  This seems to sum it up:

Some think love without Attachments means being cold towards the Creation. On the contrary, it is the warmest kind of love. When you love for the sake of the nafs, the source of love is limited. To give is to become depleted. So you are always needy and dependent. When you love for,in and because of God, the source of love is God, a source that never gets depleted. And you can give without needing, because your fill, your taking, is from Him. Love for the sake of God means He is the source of giving and taking. The purest love.- Yasmin Mogahed

And we know how ugly neediness is. Detachment from all worldly things is true beauty.

But this is the thing; if you were not somewhat of a let down, I would never have realized the importance of Truth. The lack of truth, and the enigma you created in your persona made me seek to know what I didn’t. In my frustrations, I cried and begged and prayed to God to make things clearer for me. Because I know that no matter what you said, or what I speculated, the real Truth of both our hearts were known by only One.

So I won’t reply to you because I fear Allah. Because I know I am weak, and that my soul deserves more than to be ugly and wretched in its attachment to another who seeks to complete itself through me. I will keep my distance until you leave me alone. Because I know this is a test. And when it comes to replying to your text and phone calls, or being disloyal to my Creator; the decision is very very simple. And easy.

I always told you that my love for you competed with my love for Allah. I can think of countless times when I put you before Him. This was a great injustice to myself. The only One who has been with me in my moments of departure from the Truth (which causes pain, anger, confusion and so on) was Him. My Love should have been first and foremost for Him.

“Say: “Verily, my Salah, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of all that exists”. [Quran (6:162)]

Now I see why there was no Barakah in our relationship. Every single thing was difficult. Every opportunity to meet became repetitive and hostile. How could we love each other when we didn’t love ourselves? If we loved ourselves we would have been just to our souls and submitted to the will of Allah rather than to our whims and desires . How could we love each other when we did not love Allah?

Trust me, I’m probably no different to the last time we spoke. I’ve made so many mistakes and had ridiculous moments of weakness. I’ve made excuses for myself and blurred the boundaries of what I know to be Halal and Haraam. People tell me I’m being too hard on myself. That its a lot of change for a short space of time.

And I’m sure it is. But not for a Believer. Not for a Righteous person. Not for someone who wishes for an easy death; or a peaceful resting place. Or for someone who chases Jannah as if they can see it; as if they can taste it. I want to be this focused. Although it seems elusive. I wish I could be that detached from this world.Because nothing within it brings me peace.

I came across this idea. Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could be any different. I can’t change all the sins we committed. Or that we could have. I can’t define my future by the mistakes of the past. And I don’t want my current identity to be defined by that either. I feel that it does at the moment. So I know I had to write this to get it out of my system. Because there’s so many things I want to scream out to everyone. I felt responsible for your happiness for a long time. But your life is not in my hands. It is in the hands of Allah.

I didn’t think I was angry. Until I learnt that anger comes from pain. I don’t have to be screaming and shouting, the anger can come across in the boundaries we place to protect ourselves from others. In the very energy we give out.

I didn’t know where to start from. I feel like the more steps I take to get closer to Allah, the devil brings out everything he can to tempt me. I can hear him sometimes, the whispering is so clearly misguided that I know its not from myself. I’m sure my soul doesn’t feel it belongs in hell, so how would it feel inclined to sin? But its clear. The Prophet SAW instructed us:

‘Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt’  [At-Tirmidhi]

The Straight Path is really clear. Its so black and white that the simplicity of it would astonish our supposedly rational and intellectual minds. Because if we saw everything from the point of view of eternity, genuinely looking at the bigger picture; we would make the right decision every single time. But we get caught up in the moment, and our pragmatism gets the best of us. Allah SWT says:

‘There is no compulsion in religion; true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. Allah is all hearing and all knowing.’

We seek safety and security. And Allah SWT has told us that His is the only hand hold which will never break. Small sins blacken our heart as much as the big ones. So although, I feel I have strayed since we split; the search it puts me through is so great that I realise now how clear it is. And its always been clear. This is why we no longer speak. The fact that I could leave you, someone who I lived my life for (God forgive me), makes most other issues of doubt quite easy to decide.

May Allah SWT bring us closer to Him.

We Will All Laugh At Gilded Butterflies

Some people are so enigmatic and powerful in their energy that the merest clue or hint at their spirituality sends masses into a search for its meaning. Most people don’t have this elevated interpretation of a woman named Megan Fox.

I do all I can most days to avoid the excessive world of showbizness and celebrity. The mere involvement or interest in such stories sends my mind into stagnation. But when I came across an article which discussed a Marilyn Monroe tattoo that the aforementioned actress had decided to have removed, it intrigued me.

There are many people who struggle with mental illness due to an inability to communicate their sense of existence and interaction with the world around them.  The majority of the most famous people we have at our disposal are such creatures. People who give up their very being in their quest for nearness to the Eternal Truth. What intrigued me was that this woman, Megan Fox, would spend hours reading up on Marilyn Monroe. She would empathize with her, see a beacon of hope and understanding in the life of an icon whose life was deeply turbulent and full of turmoil, as was her quest for love.

Now, the only image I had before this of Miss Fox, was a lady bent over a truck in the Transformers movie, and semi-naked on the posters of public transport in Central London selling Armani. Needless to say, she was not somebody I had considered taking seriously in matters outside of beauty.

And such is the nature of women, we tend to dismiss those who appear fully comfortable with their sexuality,  dismissing them in more than derogatory terms. Its much worse when this sexuality is coupled with mischief. The mature and demure Angelina Jolie for example is not as much of a ‘bimbo’ to the average women than the less physically dominant Fox.  Jolie is considered a role model, an icon, a beacon of hope and intelligience within the world of fame and fortune. Yet thousands continue to be fixated with Fox. The mind is captivated by the control and elegance which Angeline Jolie oozes with her very speech and presence. Yet it is the heart which is captured by the refreshing intensity and carelessness of Megan Fox.

The reason for the biased perception women have of each other is insecurity of course, I mean anybody can tell you that. But I believe it goes much deeper. In our day to day lives we see many many women beautiful and successful traipsing the streets we live on, dominating the social and career workplaces we crave to dominate ourselves. We see alot of women putting a concerted effort into maintaining their carefully polished image, meticulous manners and well crafted mannerisms and personality in order to be detached from the judgment of an unforgiving society. When we see a free spirit devoid of the concerns of  the opinions of their peers, we are shocked and intimidated.

I was watching Pocahontas with family for example, when my brother and sister burst out that Pocahontas was in fact, to put it politely, a ‘loose woman’. Now nobody says this about Jasmine, Cinderella or Mulan. Why is that?

Fox embodies a sense of carefree enjoyment and mischief which is deeply embedded within all of us but which tends only to be revealed our nearest and dearest out of fear. I mean there is definitely a way of doing this whilst maintaining good grace and integrity.

The article I mentioned above also included the following reference in passing to Fox’s other tattoos

”Fox still has several tattoos that haven’t been touched, including “We will all laugh at gilded butterflies” on her right shoulder, which is a quote from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and “there once was a little girl who never knew love until a boy broke her heart” on her ribs.”- Source

Something about the gilded butterfly quote touched me. It resonated within me as a light to some distant Truth. Googling the quote shed some light on its meaning. Its from Shakespeare’s King Lear, the complete quote reads:

”No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies
, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too-
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out-
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.”

The image this quote creates within my mind is one so intimate and true that it touches my heart and soul. It at once makes reference to the excessive and degraded world, filled with its pretension and obnoxiousness, as well as a sense of knowledge and wisdom, gentleness, love and unity. All underneath the facade the world portrays with all its seduction and illusion.

gild 1 http://img.tfd.com/m/sound.swf (gld)

tr.v. gild·ed or gilt (glt), gild·inggilds

1. To cover with or as if with a thin layer of gold.
2. To give an often deceptively attractive or improved appearance to.
3. Archaic To smear with blood.

Idiom:

gild the lily

1. To adorn unnecessarily something already beautiful.
2. To make superfluous additions to what is already complete.
The world currently is excessively concerned with appearance.  Encouraging us to do ourselves up to attain an ideal which is unnatural. The end result is an artificial and ‘gilded’ appearance which is passed off as deep beauty, mystery and wisdom. When in fact it is empty and hollow. Yet the quote sees through all this to the humour which is all around us. The planet we live on is in fact dazzling in its natural beauty. Dressed up now with skycrapers, transport systems, complicated fashions and furniture and above all, deep feelings of superiority and arrogance. All this, to the one who can see the world for what it truly is, fills a person with contentment and incites humour. Thus laughing at the ‘gilded butterflies’ more beautiful in their nature than their gold covering. To the truth which tries to pass itself of as a second rate interpretation of itself. A paradox.
Finally, I don’t agree with the degradation and objectification of women at all, thus I don’t agree nor condone a lot of the work Miss Fox partakes in. And I would like to leave with a quote which applies both to the woman who herself agrees to be objectified as well as the woman who looks down on her peer as being objectified whilst also holding subconscious objectified notions of femininity.

“Only the noble ennoble women and only the wretched and debased degrade women” Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

Most Muslims are familiar with the story of the woman who would sit opposite the house of a prostitute, praying her rosary beads and throwing a stone into a pot (or something similar, don’t quote me on this story, I’m paraphrasing) for every time a man would enter the home of the prostitute. When they both passed a way, the prostitute was taken to Heaven whilst the woman who lived opposite counting her neighbours sins was taken to Hell. I think the lesson in this speaks for itself.

Lots and lots of love,

M x