See this mouse? Cute, isn’t he? Looking all innocent – with his little whiskers and tiny eyes. And do you know why he’s cute? Because he’s not real. A real mouse isn’t something to gush over. Especially when it’s in your house. … Continue reading
This year (2017) has been a hurricane. The personal and family dramas have been intense and draining – starting from the very first day of the year. It’s like I can’t even think of thriving or growing. It’s been more a case of simply treading water…trying to survive. Continue reading
It’s been a challenging period of late, with illness, stress, and the burdens of life weighing heavily on me. I’m not complaining, though, because my struggles are miniscule in comparison to millions of others on this planet. People who suffer and persevere through the most cruel of circumstances, day after day.
As a resident on this planet – in this world – one should be very aware that trials will come your way. They are a part of life and should be expected at any time – regardless of how physically, mentally, or emotionally comfortable you are. And your job is to take each challenge and do the best you can with it. Recognise that what is put in your path is no accident – no mere matter of misfortune – but in fact a deliberate and calculated event, designed just for you, and given to you by the One Who controls all things.
When you can recognise the tests…when you approach challenges with that mindset, it becomes easier to be patient. It becomes a little easier to persevere through the difficulty. You know that there’s purpose to this occurrence…even if you don’t immediately recognise what that purpose is. And you know that if you keep calm and navigate your way through this, as best you can, you’ll come out better for it. You’ll come out stronger.
Getting to that mindset, however, is a challenge in itself if you are living well – carefree and without difficulties. It’s similar to remembering death. We all know that it’s highly virtuous – and beneficial – to remember death often, yet how often do we actually do this? How many of us actually live our lives with our impending death constantly in our minds? Or is it only when someone else departs, or is critically ill, that the reality sinks in?
But even then, the remembrance is temporary – short-lived – because we get back to ‘normal’ and are once more in our default state of heedlessness.
Living in an age of luxury and affluence only deepens this internal crisis, because we are so distracted from the reality of life.
I recall the story of a wise man, centuries ago, who dug himself a grave right next to his bed. And each night, before retiring, he would go and lay in it for a while, to remind himself of his future home. The home that – although temporary – is still far more long-lasting than the time we’ll spend alive on Earth.
None of us would go that far in today’s times; nor would we want such a stark and close reminder.
But maybe it’s just what we need to help us throw off the shackles of heedlessness that keep growing and tying us down, over and over, as we navigate through these minutes…days…years of our lives.
Regardless, though, whatever your struggles are on this day, I pray that you are blessed with the right mindset and the necessary patience and strength to see it through, and come out of it better and wiser…until the next challenge arises.
Note: This was not written by me, but I found it too powerful to not share. Original writer is Faz Ali (who I know nothing about).
You’re 29 years old with a wife, two children and a job. You have enough money, and can afford a few nice things, and you live in a small house in the city.
Suddenly the political situation in your country changes and a few months later soldiers are gathered in front of your house. And in front of your neighbours’ houses.
They say that if you don’t fight for them, they will shoot you.
Your neighbour refuses.
One shot. That’s it.
You overhear one of the soldiers telling your wife to spread her legs.
Somehow you get rid of the soldiers and spend the night deep in thought.
Suddenly you hear an explosion. Your house no longer has a living room.
You run outside and see that the whole street is destroyed.
Nothing is left standing.
You take your family back into the house, and then you run to your parents’ house.
It is no longer there. Nor are your parents.
You look around and find an arm with your Mother’s ring on its finger. You can’t find any other sign of your parents.
“But asylum seekers have so many luxury goods! Smartphones, and designer clothes!”
You immediately forget it. You rush home, and tell your wife to get the children dressed. You grab a small bag, because anything bigger will be impossible to carry for a long time, and in it you pack essentials. Only 2 pieces of clothing each can fit in the bag.
What do you take?
You will probably never see your home country again.
Not your family, not your neighbours, your workmates…
But how can you stay in contact?
You hastily throw your smartphone and the charger in the bag.
Along with the few clothes, some bread and your small daughters favourite teddy.
“They can easily afford to get away. They aren’t poor!”
Because you could see the emergency coming, you have already scraped all your money together.
You managed to save some money because of your well paid job.
The kind people smuggler in the neighbourhood charges 5,000 euros per person.
You have 15,000 euros. With a bit of luck, you’ll all be able to go. If not, you will have to let your wife go.
You love her and pray that you the smugglers will take you all.
By now you are totally wiped out and have nothing else. Just your family and the bag.
The journey to the border takes two weeks on foot.
You are hungry and for the last week have barely eaten. You are weak, as is your wife. But at least the children have enough.
They have cried for the whole 2 weeks.
Half the time you have to carry your younger daughter. She is only 21 months old.
A further 2 weeks and you arrive at the sea.
In the middle of the night you’re loaded onto a ship with other refugees.
You are lucky: your whole family can travel.
The ship is so full that it threatens to capsize. You pray that you don’t drown.
The people around you are crying and screaming.
A few small children have died of thirst.
The smugglers throw them overboard.
Your wife sits, vacantly, in a corner. She hasn’t had anything to drink for 2 days.
When the coast is in sight, you are loaded onto small boats.
Your wife and the younger child are on one, you and your older child are on another.
You are warned to stay silent so that nobody knows you’re there.
Your older daughter understands.
But your younger one in the other boat doesn’t. She doesn’t stop crying.
The other refugees are getting nervous. They demand that your wife keeps the child quiet.
She doesn’t manage it.
One of the men grabs your daughter, rips her away from your wife and throws her overboard.
You jump in after her, but you can’t find her again.
In 3 months she would have turned 2 years old.
Isn’t that enough for you? They still have it too good here and have everything handed to them on a plate?
You don’t know how you, your wife and your older daughter manage to get to the country that takes you in.
It’s as though everything is all foggy. Your wife hasn’t spoken a word since your daughter died.
Your older daughter hasn’t let go of her sister’s teddy and is totally apathetic.
But you have to keep going. You are just about to arrive at the emergency accommodation.
It is 10pm. A man whose language you don’t understand takes you to a hall with camp beds. There are 500 beds all very close together.
In the hall it’s stuffy and loud.
You try to get your bearings. To understand what the people there want from you.
But in reality you can barely stand up. You nearly wish that they had shot you.
Instead you unpack your meagre possessions:
Two items of clothing each and your smartphone.
Then you spend your first night in a safe country.
The next morning you’re given some clothes.
Among the donated clothes are even branded ‘label’ clothes. And a toy for your daughter.
You are given 140 euros. For the whole month.
“They’re safe here. Therefore they should be happy!”
Outside in the yard, dressed in your new clothes, you hold your smartphone high in the air and hope to have some reception.
You need to know if anyone from your city is still alive.
Then a ‘concerned citizen‘ comes by and abuses you.
You don’t know why. You don’t understand “Go back to your own country!”
You understand some things like “smartphone” and “handed everything on a plate.”
Somebody translates it for you.
And now tell me how you feel and what you own?
The answer to both parts of that is “Nothing.”
I’m down with a throat infection at the moment ( ‘ pharyngitis ‘, if you want to make it sound serious), and it’s the first time in quite a while that the pain is bothering me. Usually, I embrace the fever and aches – knowing that each bit of sickness is actually a blessing – an expiation of sins. This time, however, it’s worse than usual.
I’m not complaining though, because I get time off work – which is always good. Best of all is the actual space and time – free of the usual pressures of life. I can sleep until 9a.m., take really long, hot showers (which counteract the chills of fever), and enjoy undisturbed afternoon naps – giving my body the physical rest it needs (but most often doesn’t get).
What I love most about fever, though, is sleep. Fever-infused sleep is amazing because dreams are so much more intense and varied. For example, last night I took an incredible journey through the solar system – somehow passing very closely by the moon and planets
The depth of sleep also is different. Sleep – especially at night – feels so incredibly lengthy…where 2 hours feel like 5, and even though you don’t feel
tired, you can just close your eyes and go back to bed.
Such luxuries – though free – are rare in life today, and I imagine I’ll never know them for an extended period until I hit retirement age (30 years to go!).
So for now, I take this blessing of sickness and am grateful for the little things that come with it. I think everyone deserves times like these once in a while 🙂
When calamity strikes
Recently, I went through the unprecedented experience of being extremely pressured at work. Circumstances meant that I was on a very, very tight deadline – with a mountain of work to do and zero room for failure.
I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those people who take work home. On not being one of those people who work on weekends or long hours overtime. For me, the work-life balance is a critical one, and I never, ever wanted work to encroach on my personal time. There’s a time for work, and a time for normal life – and the two shouldn’t mix.
But this situation struck me so hard and was so crucial that I had no choice. Over these last few weeks, I’ve found myself working harder than ever and putting in more hours than ever. In particular, there was one weekend where I worked late every day – even Saturday and Sunday.
When the calamity that caused this first struck, my initial reaction – predictably for a human – was emotional. I was angry at the person making these demands, and argued my case (in my head, at least – since external argument would only make things worse). But soon after, I realised that – whoever’s fault it was – this was a trial that Allah had placed in my path. Every trial – every experience in life – is meant to teach us something. And I realised that this one was specifically put in my way, and I needed to rise to the challenge, and try to get the best out of it.
I needed to use this opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and to be grateful that this circumstance was forced upon me.
This was out of the norm. This wasn’t my usual routine. Aside from the crazy amount of work I needed to put in, this was an experience that was meant to teach me lessons that I could take into the future and apply once my life settled down again…ways I could and should improve once things went ‘back to normal’.
To the extreme
So that weekend, I was in hyper-productive mode. I was going on adrenaline – having a far-decreased desire for food, free time, and even sleep. I was intensely focussed on getting the work done – getting through this challenge so that things could go back to normal. I worked and worked and worked, and all through that weekend, I felt Allah’s help with me. If you remember Him, He will remember you – and such consciousness on our side can only ever be a positive thing.
Alhamdullilah – by the end of that weekend, I’d met my target (in the worldly work).
Through that period, I rediscovered my true potential in terms of work and productivity. I remembered previous times – in my studies – where I was also under intense pressure, and out of necessity, I pushed myself to get the work done in time and ended up achieving success (in the worldly sense).
I witnessed, once more, how capable I am of getting through a lot of work with minimal time-wasting and distraction.
I realised that the over-indulgences that so taint my time really can be overcome – if my attitude is correct, and my focus is on something worthy – rather than being complacent in the comfort of routine and ‘normal’ circumstances.
The ultimate deadline
But I also reaped the spiritual benefits of such exertion. I drew a critical lesson about humans and time: when we’re faced with a deadline in worldly matters, we (hopefully) do whatever it takes to meet that deadline. We have a sense of urgency, an increased work ethic, and have little or no time for distractions and things of little real importance. We focus on our goal, and work hard to achieve it.
But as Muslims, we should also have the perspective of our most important deadline – which we know we will definitely face: that of death.
We will all die, and once that happens, our chance for meeting our goals pretty much come to an end. While we’re alive, we have the chance to do good – through obedience to Allah, and restraint from disobedience. These years and moments of our lives are our chances for sending forth preparations for our graves, standing on the Day of Judgment, and our Eternity thereafter.
What we do here determines whether our eternal journey will be good or bad.
So, in a sense, we have a deadline to meet.
But the difference is, none of us knows when our deadlines will come.
We could be young or old, occupied or relaxing, engaged in good or engaged in bad. Whatever the case, death will find us.
And once that happens, our book of deeds is closed – and our deeds are all that we can take with us beyond that barrier.
With this deadline so much more worthy, and so much more urgent than any worldly deadline, we should be pushing ourselves each and every day. We should have no time for disobedience to Allah. We should have no time for unnecessary distraction and time-wasting.
In short, we should live our lives as if it’s our last day – because in reality, it might just be our last. And when we wake up from the dream that is this dunya, we’ll see the reality of things. So the time for action is now – before it’s too late.
Making it real
Such thoughts and feelings about the future can be solidified and made more permanent via knowledge. Our religion is one in which we’ve been given a vast amount of knowledge about exactly what will happen to us – from when we close our eyes for the last time on Earth, to what follows in the realm we depart to, to the Day that we’ll all be standing – awaiting our books of deeds, and what comes after.
And our teachers and scholars provide these reminders – for example, in Jumuah khutbahs. But unfortunately, in some cases, they don’t really reach our hearts or minds. It’s not that the message is irrelevant or uninteresting. It’s that the speaker isn’t effective in the way he delivers the message. It’s like he has his position, and his audience has to be there every week, so it seems he doesn’t really make the effort to improve his delivery of the message or vary his styles to capture the audience’s attention.
So it can be frustrating for many of us, who receive the knowledge, but it doesn’t get beyond our ears. Or if it does, it fades quickly because the speaker hasn’t captured our attention.
If such a description rings true for your local scholars, it doesn’t mean hope is lost. In today’s time, we have the wonders of technology to help us receive the message from some of the world’s greatest and most effective Islamic scholars and public speakers.
In particular, I’d recommend watching / listening to the following speakers and series – which do a great job of explaining the topic of the Hereafter in ways which, insha-Allah, will stick with us and benefit us much more than the quickly-forgotten Jumuah khutbah we might’ve fallen asleep in:
- Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick – Journey to the Hereafter
- Imam Anwar Awlaki – The Hereafter
- Muhammad Al-Shareef – Conversations in Paradise and Hell
So seek out the knowledge, and do it with the intention of benefitting yourself in both this life and the next.
May we all benefit from such reminders, and may we all reach our final moments in this dunya in a state that we’ll be ready to meet our Maker.
I wrote this exactly one year ago – in Mina on the first day of Hajj 2011. May it be a reminder to myself and others of how the journey of Hajj is this life’s preparation for a more important journey we’ll all take.
“Friday 4th November 2011
Death’s dress rehearsal
Day 1 of Hajj, and being in the tent is quite cramped. But it’s a reminder of the grave – we’re all lined up in rows, space just sufficient for each of us – all in the same, white cloths that we’ll be wrapped in when we die. Except this is still life – there’s still time to change our ways in future insha-Allah.
Today, being Youm-al-Tarwiyyah, is a day of personal reflection: why did Allah bring me here on Hajj? What is my personal, unique mission on this journey?
I know what my intentions are – but is that also Allah’s purpose in bringing me here? I hope so.
I spent a lot of time preparing for this – even though I wanted to do more; and felt I fell well short of my expectations. But my dua lists are comprehensive, well-rehearsed already, and waiting for Arafah. And my life-changes – those ambitions – are also thought through, documented, and waiting for me to pursue after this trip. No…maybe even from now.
The nakedness in here strikes me: men – myself included – sleeping, laying, or sitting – topless. And while I’m self-conscious about it, it reminds me of Qiyamah – when we’ll ALL be totally naked; yet we won’t care about that. What states we’ll be in – how terrifying, and immense the events and anxiety of that day.
So as this bareness reminds me of that Day’s bareness, I know that it’s not the external appearance that counts here. It’s what’s inside – the state of the heart – that’ll determine our condition that Day. May this day, and journey, put me – and us all – on the road to arriving on that Day with that clean and pure heart (Qalb-us saleem) – which will, insha-Allah, secure us the best possible standing when we stand waiting for our Books of Judgement.”
Poem read by the amazing Boonaa Mohammed, who recently graced our shores as part of the “Strangers Tour”. You can read the words and find more of his work at this link.