Ramadan ramblings

This month is usually one of great inspiration for me. In previous years, the words have overflowed on these pages each Ramadan – both in reflective postings as well as practical advices. But this year is different. I find myself being stifled by both time and circumstance; unable to bring forth even a shadow of the writing effort I exerted in years gone by.

Still, though, the spirit – and habit – can’t be buried any longer, and I find myself writing this post not so much out of inspiration, but more because I need to write. I can’t let another night go by taking the great benefits of the month (which I am enjoying), without expressing something from within.

So here I sit. I’ll probably stay awake far later than I would like, with the sole intent of pouring forth something that I hope will result in some benefit for both myself and you, the reader.

Planning to not plan

So, we’re more than a week into Ramadan, and for the most part, I’m very pleased with the spiritual revival it’s brought me personally. Due to circumstances that I’ve mentioned later on, I totally abandoned my usually-detailed Ramadan planning this year. My only plan was to ‘do a little more – consistently’, because I knew that any grand plans would be bound to fail given the impending events (again, read on to find out what I’m talking about).

So far, mostly, I’ve managed to stick to the vague plan – doing a little extra each day. And it’s been beautiful because the very concept that I always harp on – i.e. doing small and consistent deeds (which is from a hadith of the Prophet s.a.w.) – is what’s kept me spiritually ‘inflated’ so far. Prior to this, I felt like I’d been in spiritual ICU for far too long.

Work – spiritual life balance

I think probably a big contributing factor to that state was my job. I’ve been in a new job for nearly a year, and it’s been hands-down the most demanding position I’ve ever had. Compared to my previous job – which was actually quite easy – this one is really the answer to what I was seeking in a professional position. It’s filled with good challenges that help me grow, while still being something I can just manage – if I apply myself and look at it positively.

I’ve already taken precious lessons from an incident earlier this year, which was the biggest professional disaster I’ve ever faced. And as the weeks pass, I realise that that situation wasn’t necessarily an isolated example of pressure. By my standards (which are based on a relatively easy career path up to now), it is a really high pressure job, and I can see why the department I’m in has a reputation for having one of the highest sick rates in the overall institution.

Still though, my pressures are still small compared to others. (Though to be fair, the same can probably be said of my salary – so it works out in the end 🙂 ).

Anyway, my point here is that being under this much pressure for such an extended period has taken its toll on my spiritual state. And I realise now that, since this is now the permanent state of my professional life, I need to work harder on my spiritual side – to balance out the harder work and bigger focus that my work has demanded.

Without pushing myself spiritually, the worldly matters are going to continue to eat up more and more of me, until there’s nothing left but a superficial shell.

So there’s lesson number one for this post: When worldly pressures compromise your spiritual state, push harder on the spiritual side to maintain the balance.

The never-ending story

Aside from that, another big thing occupying me is home-related maintenance. We’ve just come through a few very challenging months of home maintenance related disasters. The biggest culprit was a leaking pipe, which in turn spawned hectic plumbing repairs, tiling, painting, and 2 rounds of re-flooring. Add to that separate electrical problems, a not-so-water-resistant window, and geyser issues, and you get many weeks of frustration.

These things just dragged on and on and on, and it was actually funny at times to think that when one thing was finished, you could pretty much expect something else would come up soon after.

Alhamdullilah – as of today, it seems that it’s finally over.

Mind you, we’ll need to get a few compliance certificates soon, so there’s a chance that the inspections will uncover even more work to be done….but by now, I really don’t care anymore. We’ll just have to deal with whatever comes up if it does.

Is there a lesson from this? Well, nothing deeply insightful. Just practical: when you move into a house (or before that, actually), get good, trustworthy people to check out your plumbing and electrical stuff. The previous resident isn’t necessarily going to tell you about all the flaws (or they may not even know), but it’s better for you to spend the money upfront, find out potential issues, and deal with it at the start – so that once you’re settled in, you don’t have to turn your house upside down with repairs.

Of course, you can never anticipate all the things that could go wrong – so it’s best to still expect trouble.

Actually, one other lesson for me in all this was to remember to be grateful for what I have. If you look at a home, there are so many wires and pipes running all over the place – in hard to reach places like walls and floors. Sure, one or two things may go wrong and become a headache. But what about the hundred other things that could have gone wrong but didn’t?

Bear patience in the things that do go wrong, and thank Allah for all the things that didn’t go wrong. And if you’re grateful, insha-Allah He will give you more (see Surah Ibrahim, verse 7).

The big event

And that brings me to the impending events mentioned earlier. What should have been my biggest focus for this last while, but hasn’t been: baby number 2 is due near the end of the month, insha-Allah.

Four years ago, before the birth of our first child, I wrote these reflections on this blog. I read through it again last night, and have picked up a recurring pattern: back then, I could barely remember the period before marriage – which was odd since that was the most emotionally intense period of my life. As life moved from one stage to the next, the old stage was forgotten.

Now, the almost-2-years of marriage before our daughter was born seems like a hundred years ago. Again, as I moved from one stage of life to the next, the old stage faded tremendously in my memory.

Chances are, this current stage I’m in is going to suffer that same fate in a few years. I’ll probably look back on tonight, and this post, and not remember much about how it was to be married with just one child.

Such is life: it moves on. What was once so important to us, and so immediate in our minds, becomes a vague memory, as we have new things to focus on.

And on and on the pattern continues.

I guess the lesson from this segment is: appreciate what you have in the moment, and take what benefit you can from it now, because in time, it’ll become nothing more than a memory. Related to that, if your current situation is one of extreme challenges, remember that in one year, five years, or ten years, it’ll probably meet the same fate – becoming just a memory. You just need to get through it now, be patient, try to take whatever benefit you can from it, and know that it’ll pass. Life moves on. And so will you, insha-Allah.

Final thoughts

So there we have it. The Ramadan magic strikes again – inspiring lessons through the process of writing, and I hope that – first and foremost – I will remember and apply these lessons going forward.

As for this blog for the rest of the month, you’ll have to forgive me if I write nothing else after this. It’s looking like the baby will be arriving in 2 weeks’ time, so hopefully I’ll get something else up here before that – but after that, I’m going to have my hands full.

As mentioned before, though, you can expect the Hajj Chronicles series to continue roughly every 2 weeks – finishing in late September insha-Allah (which is just before this year’s Hajj). For those wanting to read the rest before then, though, I’m hoping to have the complete e-book version ready by the end of Ramadan, and make that my Eid gift to you.

There are about three weeks remaining, and we’re heading into the mid-month slump in which our efforts usually wane. If that’s the case for you, remember that this month is a very precious and extremely limited opportunity – just a few days and nights, which you may not live to see again next year. Even if you start slacking now, keep striving to some degree – even if it’s only a little extra you do. Just do it consistently, and with the right intention.

If you can, check out Mufti Menk’s daily 30 minute tafseer from Cape Town – Pearls of Peace from the Noble Quran. These kinds of reminders are especially beautiful in this month, when our hearts are softened.

Remember to make dua for all those suffering across the globe – especially in Syria, Burma, Palestine, Guantanamo, and Egypt; as well as the Uighur Muslims in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, and everywhere else where Muslims are deprived of Ramadan by the authorities.

Also, when the final 10 nights come around, don’t fall victim to 27th night syndrome.  Keep pushing until the end, and insha-Allah you’ll see the benefits stretching far into the year ahead.

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your Ramadan. May it be the best month of your life, and one which will inspire in you the greatest spirituality that will bring you ever closer to Allah both now and in the months and years to come.

– Yacoob

Life lessons (Part 2): Things to do

Continuing the “Life lessons” series (see previous entry in this series for details) one of the lessons from Richard Carlson’s book is:

“Remind yourself that when you die, your ‘In basket’ won’t be empty”

In short, the lesson is about how your “to do” list fits into your life. The author brings up the perception that many of us have: that our ‘to-do’ list is only temporary; and once we get through the list, we’ll be calm, relaxed, and happy – and can spend time with our loved ones, and do the things we love to do.

But the reality, as you’ve probably realised, is that this simply is not true. There’s always something else on the list. There’s always more stuff you need to “do”; more stuff to “take care of”, “handle”, “get out of the way.”

The author makes the point that the very nature of this ‘to-do list’ is that it’s meant to have uncompleted tasks on it…it’s NOT meant to be empty. A full ‘to-do list’ means your time is in demand – which is probably a good sign (unless, of course, most of the items on that list are non-beneficial things).

I’m very guilty of letting my ‘to do list’ stress me out, making me feel so constricted that I sometimes end up mistreating others because I can’t manage my frustration (which, by the way, is part of another post I hope to do – on Emotional Intelligence).

So anyway, the author’s solution to this endless ‘to-do list’ problem is that we need to realise that we should not let ourselves be consumed by the responsibilities / tasks we face. Our first priority should be our own inner calmness and happiness. If we obsess about ‘getting things done’ all the time, we’re always on the go, and we’ll never be calm, and we’ll never have a healthy balance or a good sense of well-being.

So, prioritise what’s really important, and for the things that are not so urgent or significant, don’t obsess about getting it done.

The extreme implementation of this advice is procrastination – which, of course, I’m not advocating.

What I’m saying is, we need to approach this ‘to-do list’ with the right perception: a balanced perspective that lets us see things for what they really are; rather than the obsessive “must get it all done” mode – or the lazy “I’ll do everything later” attitude.

The author closes with the advice that life isn’t about getting everything done. We should try to enjoy each step of the way. And at the end of your life, there will still be things on your ‘to-do list’ – but you won’t be worrying about them at that point.

To add an Islamic perspective: prioritise your tasks with consciousness of your Creator in mind. The most important things are those that are loved by Allah: the duties made obligatory on you (duties towards Allah, such as salaah; as well as duties towards your family and creation), and then everything else extra / non-obligatory which will earn His pleasure (e.g. doing your work with excellence, showing patience in the face of hardship, etc).

Those two categories pretty much cover everything in life – because Islam is a complete way of life which should permeate through everything we do.

So, in essence, my addition to the author’s lesson is to manage our to-do lists with taqwa. And, insha-Allah, it’ll make a world of difference in not only the way we manage those lists, but in the way we live our lives.

(Source: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson; and Personal reflection)

Life Lessons (Introduction and Part 1)

A few years ago, when I became an ‘adult’, I found that life as a grown up can be rather overwhelming. This realisation didn’t come about because I suddenly turned 18, or 21, or whatever age you think adulthood officially begins. Those milestones were already a few years behind me already.

I define adulthood as finally growing up and accepting the responsibilities an adult must face – stuff that’s beyond the realm of a child or adolescent (who, in many cases, is just wrapped up in their own concerns). For some, this stage of adulthood begins when they finish high school. For others, it happens some time during their tertiary education, or in the early years of their careers. For me, I didn’t have to face it in any of those stages, because life was made easy for me by my parents – who sheltered me and enabled me to live without much worry about most of those nasty stresses of ‘grownup life’.

So, what brought me into adulthood – in my mid-20s – was when I lived alone for the first time. The responsibilities of work had already been there, but now, there were other things to deal with all by myself – primarily, the running of a household.

Before then, I considered myself pretty laid back – not having many stresses in life. But when I moved into this stage, stress quickly set in, and I found myself being overwhelmed by all this stuff I had to do: things which I didn’t really want to do – but had to, otherwise I’d be living in utter chaos (which, to some degree, is what happened anyway).

At one point during this adventure in adulthood, I found a book which really spoke to me: the famous “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson. The book is comprised of short chapters – each being a tip on how to live a less stressful life.

And while some cynics may question the validity of taking guidance of some psychotherapist / motivational speaker – to me, we can learn something from everyone, because, as the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) reportedly said: “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Take it wherever you happen to find it.”

You can get advice from anyone. Some of it will be true or good advice, and some may be false or bad advice. The key is for you to filter what you take in – so that you take only the good, and discard that which is harmful or of no benefit.

In this category of posts – titled “Life Lessons” – I hope to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt from this book as well as other sources, including personal experience. With these posts, I hope to communicate advice that will help me, firstly, and you, the reader, to live a life of greater quality and less stress.

Whatever goodness comes from this, the credit goes to the Creator, Almighty Allah.

I invite you to take in the advice of this series in the spirit of progress and self-improvement, and if something works for you, please do share it with others.

Lesson 1: Pause to appreciate, before you begin your day
Before you leave home in the morning (preferably when you’re outside the house already), pause for a few moments, take a deep breath, and appreciate a few things. Some of these things could be the fact that you’ve lived to see another day; your surroundings; your home; your family; and everything you have – which so many others do not have. Most importantly, appreciate that Allah has given you another chance to do that which pleases Him – which will benefit you in this life and Eternity.

(Source: Personal reflection)