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Archive for the ‘Meanderings’ Category

Let it flow (part 2)

Posted by Yacoob on December 1, 2015


This is a follow-up that’s long overdue. It’s almost 2 years now since I published part 1 – which was a look back on some of the more creative posts on this blog over its history. I’d intended to do the follow-up a few months later, but like so many things in life, it never materialised.

So here goes….

Remember me was a reaction. An outburst of frustration, prompted by my severely-inhibited opportunities to let my heart flow into poetic verse. Marriage – though it was all I’d wanted for so many years – had eaten up much of my time, and mental space, to the point where living with someone – combined with a new job – deprived me of the solitude and reflective stretches of time I’d become so accustomed to in my single days. This piece proved to me that I still had it in me, but all I needed was the chance to indulge again.

That sentiment was echoed a while later, with Fire – which felt like the start of a new period of poetic prosperity. Alas, it was not to be. But I still appreciated the desire that lingered within. The poet in me was not dead, and for that, I was truly grateful.

Speaking of creative struggles, State of the workplace encapsulated the first months of my new job – in what has been the most boring physical location I’ve ever worked in. Not only was the outside environment dull, but the work was also mind-numbingly boring – to the point of depression at times. I struggled a lot in those first 6 months, but eventually settled and ended up staying almost 5 years in that job.

On a more positive note, Remembrance came at the tail-end of Ramadaan 2008 – the first and only Ramadaan my wife and I had alone (before our first child arrived). It was a fitting crescendo to what was a beautifully-spiritual period in which we both strived together – engaging in a depth and quantity of worship that we’ve never been able to match in subsequent Ramadaans (given the attention our kids have needed).

My 28th birthday inspired the aptly-titled 28, which was a partial reflection on where I’d come from and where I was in life at that stage.

Mash was really unique, in that I wrote it over two very different periods. As the name suggests, it was a mixture of stuff on my mind at the time. Part 1, from January that year, captured my feelings of swimming in the ocean again – for the first time in maybe 15 years. Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead) was in force at the time, and that also played on my mind. So too was the thought of my first child, who was but a tiny bean at that stage – only a few months into pregnancy. Part 2 came a little after her birth, and is predictably dominated by early sentiments about fatherhood and my daughter’s future.

She was a real joy, and her opening 8 months inspired the wonderful She Flaps, which was followed up by For Toddles later that year. It saddens me that I’ve never written such words for my second daughter – but I hope that she’s felt just as much love through the way I’ve taken care of her over the course of her short life thus far.

The frustration of work and other time-deprivation suffocating my poetic soul came out in The succession of previous pursuits, when a career in writing was top of my wishlist. Sunrise in Paradise also reflect frustration – this time of missing out on nature’s beauty due to the daily grind and routine of work and life. Train of thought came about when I first started taking the railway to work – something that continued for a year and a half after that.

Reset was a pre-Ramadan reminder of just how special the coming month was, while after Ramadan, the yearning to perform Hajj was sparked and grew to a burning inferno that drove such strong duas and desires to make it to the Holy Land as soon as possible. Dreams re-awoken captured that, and when I finally made it to that blessed journey a year later, A most blessed rooftop was a perfect collection of thoughts and feelings from the 10 days spent in Madinah.

Winter Sun took me back to my former days of solitude, in my favourite season, while Summer Daze was nostalgic, reminding me of childhood Summers, and reflecting on the horrors of school (or as I called it, “educational imprisonment”) as my daughter was preparing to re-enter the system for her second year of pre-school.

And that, dear reader, is where it ends. I don’t know if I’ll ever be inspired again to write such pieces, but I hope that, as time passes, and life gives me more free time and mental space (largely based on the kids becoming less needy as they grow), inspiration will return – along with opportunities to express myself on the spot – when I need to. Because such matters don’t stay “on hold”. They need to flow immediately, or they never come back.

So with this review, I hope that these pieces will inspire you to express yourself in whatever way is best for you.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to give your feedback either in this post or in the individual pieces linked from here.

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Winter Sun

Posted by Yacoob on June 16, 2015

Winter sun
How I miss you now.

When days are filled
With work, work, and more work.

I first got to know you in very different times
Paradoxical in
that they were the dark days of my life
yet your warmth brightened my heart
and radiated through me –
giving me peaceful interludes
in an otherwise lonely and sad existence.

Moments spent basking in your light
Reading books on my balcony.
No work to do
Nowhere to go
Nothing urgent demanding my time or energy.

I’d sit there in solitude,
Observing the harmony of nature
Hearing the human activity
And playing no part in either.

In the years that fill
The gap between then and now
I’ve occasionally stopped to experience you again
Though only for fleeting moments.

For now life is much more full.
Filled to the brim
With all the burdens of grown-up life,
From work to wife,
Child to house,
Admin to maintenance
All encompassed in a life which –
Back then –
I dreamed of,
But now
Sometimes find overwhelming –
Though still manageable.

Years have passed
And the poet in me has withered and died
These words being the first verses that have come forth
In many, many months.

I know not if they shall ever return after this,
But for now I shall savour
The feeling of
Once again –
Letting loose this heart;
As words flow from it,
Through my limbs,
Onto the page.

And it all stemmed from you,
Winter sun.
From a few stolen moments
Spent basking in your warmth
On an otherwise
Routine, reflectionless day
Where being busy is a constant,
And stopping to just do nothing –
Totally free of thoughts and words and plans and fears
and all that otherwise occupy
my every waking moment.

So in these days leading up
To the Blessed Month
I pray that
I will again experience moments with you
And re-align myself
To the inner peace,
And warm contentment
That you evoke.

This piece was written 2 years ago on the eve of Ramadan. The catalyst was a few moments outside in the warmth of a sunny Winter’s day – which reminded me of previous experiences similar to that – mostly during times of unemployment, when I was still single – where I had the free time to enjoy these moments without the pressures of working life and family responsibilities. Now, in 2015, parts of it still ring true – but sadly, I don’t get moments of inspiration like this anymore. If I did, you’d see a lot more poetic ramblings on this blog…

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Beyond Hajj: Reflections 3 years later

Posted by Yacoob on October 1, 2014

Sunset on Arafah - Hajj 2012 (Picture courtesy of Shaykh Muhammad Al-Shareef)

Sunset on Arafah – Hajj 2012 (Picture courtesy of Shaykh Muhammad Al-Shareef)

Three years ago, I experienced my first magical moments in Madinah. It was the opening destination on my first and only Hajj, and I was awe-struck and honoured to be in so blessed and peaceful a place…a little piece of Jannah.

As the days passed, Madinah’s glow wore off, and I moved on to Makkah, where, despite being initially underwhelmed, the place soon grew on me. In particular, one special night in the haram stood out – wherein I finally found what my heart was seeking – what I would need, internally, for the upcoming 5 days of Hajj.

Lethargy and laziness followed – my biggest regrets about Makkah – before moving onto Aziziah, which was to be our final stop before the days of Hajj began. There – free of the luxuries of Makkah – I managed to get back on track, preparing for the biggest five days of my life – with the Day of Arafah being the most critical of them all.

Hajj itself was a mixed bag, with incredible experiences on Mina, Arafah, and a misadventure on the way to Muzdalifah (and beyond); but some disappointment on the days of tashreeq that followed: once the intensity had departed after Eid, that spirit of striving was clearly gone – both in myself and in the others on the journey.

At the end of it all, what I was left with was:

  • A (hopefully) clean and pure heart, forgiven from my lifetime of sins and spiritual dirt.
  • Beautiful memories of 6 weeks on this different, separate planet (because it’s a different world, divorced from the realities of life at home).
  • Spiritual ambitions. Intentions for change. Desire for self-improvement. A mission…a lifelong mission to’live’ my Hajj for the rest of my life.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Crashing back to Earth

Like everything in life, Hajj had to come to an end. The beauty of the Holy Lands, the spiritual purity felt after Arafah, and the general goodness of dedicating a portion of your time to this mission – free of worldly work and responsibilities…all of it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much I wanted it to.

The differences between Planet Hajj and the rest of the world were brought firmly into focus as soon as we arrived at our next stop – waiting in transit at Cairo’s airport. Whereas Madinah and Makkah were (relatively) spiritually clean – free of sexually-driven advertising, indecent music, and other vices of the outside world, in Cairo’s airport, these things came flooding back into consciousness – sensorial assaults from the sick, degenerated, fitra-robbed environment that I knew all too well from life in South Africa and other Western-influenced societies.

Over the next week, as we spent time in Palestine and then Cairo again, the euphoria of Hajj continued to fade at a sadly rapid rate. When we got back to South Africa, the world felt even more different, and I braced myself for reintegration into the society I’d known and lived in my whole life.

Gone were the days of building an entire schedule around time in the masjid. Gone was the time to spend in self-reflection and writing. There would be no further long stretches of dua on a consistent basis. And I would no longer have the chance to undertake night-time excursions to the Kabah.

From that point on, the external environment would no longer drive my spiritual ambitions. On the contrary, conditions on the outside would now chip away at my spirituality; so I faced a harder fight to simply maintain focus – let alone build something greater than the state I was in after Arafah.

Hanging on

The first few weeks back home were relatively good. I tried very hard to maintain my levels of spirituality – despite being plunged back into the working world and the rigours of fatherhood (we had a 2 year old daughter). I used the still-fresh emotions of my journey to keep some level of momentum going, with taqwa, dhikr, dua and self-reflection as my companions.

In terms of work, I faced a potential crisis when – a few weeks after my return – news came that the company was at the very real risk of going under, and much of the workforce would have to be cut if they were to survive. I tried to put a positive spin on it for those who I could make some kind of impact on – urging them (and myself) to see the bigger picture, and always have hope that Allah would take care of them.

In the end, I ended up keeping my job – though I knew that it was time to start looking elsewhere. 6 months later, I was on my way to a new challenge – a job that brought intellectual stimulation and variety back to my working life – which had, in my previous job, been largely stagnant.

The years that followed found me getting more and more entrenched in my work – which was a demand of my new position, while conversely, my spirituality sank more and more (as realised in Ramadan 2013).

But there were still good points, with the first year or so being extremely fruitful in terms of my personal writing, and some good habits becoming more entrenched. Subsequent Hajj periods (the months of Dhul Qada and Dhul Hijjah) were also amazing, because following the Hajj via TV and social media always reminded me of my own experience, and helped rekindle the yearning to go back.

Those Hajj periods, in particular, helped to remind me that while the emotion and nostalgia was so strong, and the desire to go back was heightened, I needed to convert those feelings into practical actions. I needed to strive, once more, to ‘live’ my Hajj. To show my gratitude via action, for if I am grateful, insha-Allah I will be blessed with another chance.

Game over?

A little over a year ago, my life changed significantly once more, with the birth of our second child – another little girl who immediately captured my heart, attention, and time.

By then, I had already slipped far from the standard I’d hoped to live after Hajj – in terms of personal character and behavioural changes I’d wanted to implement. Old habits die hard, and in the absence of immense striving, my habits were resurrected, dusted themselves off, and made themselves comfortable in my life once more.

And if I thought I had hope of making a comeback to the standard I’d aspired to, the demands of fatherhood quickly shattered those illusions. Along with the new baby, there was also the older child to see to – with her adjustment to being a big sister (and no longer the centre of attention) being relatively difficult.

When things let up a bit, I fell into an old addiction of mine. Nothing haraam, of course, but something very time-consuming which – I first rationalised – I needed as a means of de-stressing from the burdens upon my shoulders. A new, potent enemy which I’ve been fighting – on and off – for the last year.

My problem is that I’m extreme in indulgence. I don’t know how to be moderate; balanced. It’s a quality that can be very beneficial if used in productive pursuits, but detrimental when applied to self-satisfying, otherwise-useless initiatives.

We also went through an extremely traumatic period earlier this year, which really drained us and for me – personally – strengthened me internally, but also knocked out my hope of an internal revival. That may seem a contradictory statement, and because I’m being deliberately vague here (since I won’t explain the details publically), it might not make sense.

Essentially, it strengthened my imaan – so there was spiritual growth; but at the same time, it took its toll mentally and psychologically – such that I felt like I was in too weak a state to build up again, to strive for the lofty ambitions I’d held after Hajj. Like I was now too far away from those days of Hajj – both in time and inner purity – to seriously think that it was possible to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

And on top of that, my life was dramatically different now as compared to those days after Hajj. There was the more hectic job, for one. But there were also the challenges and demands of two young kids now: a baby and a school-going child….instead of just one toddler (which was the case when we got back from Hajj).

Thinking of all of this, it seemed hopeless.

What’s next?

But was it, really? Does it mean I have given up all hope? That ‘living my Hajj’ is now just a distant, beautiful-sounding dream that was just a foolish ambition of my younger self?

I hope not. Because if that was the case, I would be throwing away much of what I gained from the journey.

I can’t just confine my Hajj to good memories and long-gone spiritual achievements.

So, what I needed to realize – and it took me a long time to figure it out, despite it being SO obvious – is that I can no longer see my life through the lens that I’d envisioned it three years ago. I can’t look at myself and my life in the same way, because my life has shifted. So I have to shift my gaze too.

Now, three years later and in very changed circumstances, I need to start my post-Hajj mission again. I need to start fresh:

  1. Analyse what I want, in my overall vision of my life (both worldly and beyond).
  2. Look at the demands and challenges I face now and in the coming years.
  3. Redraw that list of ambitions, pulling it into a realistic, measurable plan of how I will get from here to there.

And even if I don’t succeed in some or even all of those plans, the most important quality I need to apply is persistence. For so long, I’ve let myself be deceived by the idea that if I can’t achieve success in a plan, or if I can’t at least be consistent in a certain initiative, then it’s not worth even bothering with that initiative.

Perhaps that attitude is a reflection of my perfectionist tendencies. Or perhaps it’s from the whisperings of the devil – who doesn’t miss an opportunity to try to impede my spiritual growth and success.

Whatever the case, I need to change that mindset. I need to consciously realize that such thinking is false and actually counter-productive.

I need to just keep trying, because all that I’m responsible for is intention and action. The results are in Allah’s hands.

So now, as I sit here three years later, with this year’s Hajj due to begin tomorrow insha-Allah, I feel a renewed sense of purpose. A re-commitment to the mission I accepted, and was so excited about, all that time back.

I ask that you, my dear reader, please make dua for me in this road ahead; as I make dua for you too.



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When death speaks to you

Posted by Yacoob on September 22, 2014

Sometimes, we live moments that feel unreal. Emotional. Out of normal reality. This evening was like that.

To put this into context: by the time I got to high school, I felt like I’d seen more than my fair share of death. In junior school, I lost 3 grandparents, a young uncle, and – hardest for me (while I was 8 years old) – a beloved baby cousin. The day before my 18th birthday, another uncle passed, and my auntie (his wife) went a few years later. Them aside, I haven’t really faced many deaths in my family – or to those close to me – in my adult life. Especially since my life changed.

This afternoon, I got the message that my wife’s cousin was in a very bad state. Touch and go. We were to go to the hospital that evening. He’d struggled with cancer for much of this year, and chemo hadn’t helped. A week ago, he had a bone marrow operation – a very risky op, which was a long shot. It didn’t turn out well. He’d withered away to almost nothing over these last few months. His immune system was non-existant, hence he was in isolation. His 2 small kids – a 5 year old boy and a 2 year old girl – had to see him through glass, with tubes in his nose. His wife was still amazingly strong, through this. We saw her and the kids a week ago, at a children’s birthday party.

We got to the hospital half an hour before Maghrib tonight, and the room outside his room was very full. People were spilled out into the space outside the building. Everyone was somber. Some read Quran. Many were crying. About 15 minutes before Maghrib, I went back in with my older daughter (I was keeping her company outside, since she didn’t want to be contained inside). The mood was devastating. Everyone was crying. Shattered. He had passed on.

It was incredibly sad. Most of my wife’s family was there, and everyone had just broken down. I’d never, in my adult life, been around death. Been so close to it. And here it was – right with me.

The most devastation I remember is a vague memory: when i was 8 and my grandmother died. My eldest aunty was hysterical and inconsolable. I think they had to give her a tranquiliser or sedative to calm her down.

Now, at the age of 33 (almost 34), I was in a room – right next door to a young man, 6 months older than me – who had just died. Just like me, he had 2 young kids. Though I didn’t really speak to him much, he was always around at the family functìons. He was my age. He was in my situation in terms of marriage and kids. And he was taken from this dunya.

‘Shattered’ is the word that describes the scene best. They all were shattered. It was incredibly sad for me too, though not as strongly as everyone else since I had only seen him on rare occassions over the last 7 years, and not known him a lifetime.

My eldest daughter (who is 5 years old) didn’t know what was happening, and despite my telling her, I don’t think she understood. She was still wanting to be a little wild and uncontained. My youngest daughter was surprisingly calm – for her 13.5 months – when she’s usually so active.

The cousin who passed – his sisters – were broken. His father was devastated, but – by the mercy of Allah – he managed to regain composure and strength a while later. I didn’t see his mother. I can’t imagine how awful it was for her. His younger brother didn’t want to leave his side, so I didn’t see him either.

His grandmother – now in her 80s – was crushed. She’s faced so much tragedy in recent years – an array of family crises – and now this. Allah must really give a special level of sabr and strength to the elderly when they can see their family members go through such trauma, and yet they still go on.

I didn’t know him well. But, like many times before when I experienced a funeral, I felt the closeness to him. I felt the desperation. The feeling of his time being up. That now, the angels were taking his soul up. And soon they will send it back to earth, and it will enter his grave. His companions will cover him with dirt. He will hear the footsteps as they depart. His grave will constrict, squeezing his body. Munkar and Nakir will make their entrance. He will be questioned. And his answers will come not from intellect, studying, or wisdom. It will come purely from the way he lived.

And I feel for him. I feel so close to that experience – the sheer desperation, most of all. He has no more chances to prepare for these monumental events. His Qiyamah has begun.

And I made dua for him. Deep, sincere dua which connected me to his situation right this moment. Because I will be in that position one day. And when I think of it, and know that – at this very moment – he’s going through it; it connects me to death. It connects me to reality.

I remember what awaits. I truly, truly, truly know that all the frivolous pursuits of this life – the time spent ‘destressing’, the pleasures of food and entertainment, the lack of adequate effort in spiritual striving….I truly feel and know that those things are worthless. Because when I’m in his position, it will all count for nothing. It will count against me, if I went too far in them without balancing them out with enough good deeds.

And I never know when I will be him. When I will be in his position. Lying there, lifeless. Unable to speak, breathe, communicate with my grieving loved ones. Yet my soul being alive. Seeing them all. Worrying about how they will go on without me – my final worldly concerns as I’m about to embark on my journey to Eternity.

‘Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures’….

If only I could take these feelings, internalise them so deeply, and make them last for as long as I will live beyond this moment. I so want this experience to permanently change me. I so NEED it to change me. But I faced the same 3 years ago, in Madinah on my first and only visit to Jannatul Baqi. And I was so confident and hopeful then – that that experience would solidify this reminder forever…and yet it faded so quickly.

I make dua that this experience stays permanently imprinted in my heart, soul and mind. That the feelings I feel right now will make a lasting change – even when the intensity and memory fades.

And I make dua that for him, his months of suffering have purified him; and that he embarks on his journey in a state as clean and beautiful as the day he was born. And that this tremendous, devastating loss serves as a motivational force – a catalyst – for his family, loved ones, and all whose lives he touched…a means by which they will all come even closer to Allah. A means by which they…WE…can all remember the reality, the impermanence, of this life.

To Allah we belong, and to Allah is our return.

May we all make that return in the best possible state.

Baqi grave

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Let it flow (part 1)

Posted by Yacoob on January 9, 2014


With poetic inspiration returning to me at the end of last year, I thought it would be a good time to look back at some of the more creative posts on this blog over its history.

Since there’s nearly 7 years to cover, I’ve split the selection over more than one post – hoping to not pack too much in each time. This one covers almost 2 years: from 2006 to mid-2008:

Though the blog started back in June 2006, it took me more than 4 months to actually publish my first poem (A bird’s eye view) – an ode to my favourite hangout spot, which I’d often go to, to escape the rigours of everyday life. World-view was a rant against the consumerist, information-flooding tone of society, and that was followed by One year on – which reflects much of my perspective towards the youth – and their future – at the university I was working at during that period.

Reliance is – by far – my favourite piece ever, because it perfectly encapsulates the multi-year struggle I went through in my quest for love and marriage. I hope the message is timeless, and hope that it can continue to inspire all those single people that are still trying to find their other halves. The sequel, Dedication, came 5 months later – when I was on the verge of marriage – hence ending the most emotionally-difficult period of my life. Childhood also came in that period – a reflection on how innocence was corrupted, yet hope remains for the next generation.

Rise was inspired by my time watching sunrises from outside my home – a beautiful, peaceful habit that unfortunately has become a thing of the past. Rooftops was a pleasant surprise, coming to me in a few minutes I had to wait in the car for someone; while You suck! was in the same vein as World-view  –  in that it was a rant, though this time against the news industry.

The inspiration doesn’t come much anymore, but with this post, I just wanted to highlight what’s come to me in the past. Hopefully, by reading these pieces, it’ll inspire you to express yourself in whatever way is best for you (while also perhaps reminding me of the ability that was once so central in my life).

Feel free to give your feedback either in this post or in the individual pieces linked from here.

<Image source>

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Summer Daze

Posted by Yacoob on December 31, 2013


The last day of the year, in the heart of a South African summer.
I’m at work now (sadly), but this time of year brings back fleeting memories of childhood summers gone by:

Hours and hours in the back yard playing soccer and cricket;
Still more hours and hours on the tennis courts,
pushing ourselves to the limits in best-of-5-set matches –
always with the end reward being an ice cold cooldrink
plus chocolate treats to accompany.

Sunny Durban days are the enduring memory of my past life;
Those school holidays where responsibilities were non-existent,
and pleasures were all we lived for:
Movies, video games, staying up late,
Not a care in the world
until the looming dread of the new school year crept back into our thoughts.

Stationery and uniforms,
Haircuts and shining those shoes for the first day back…

Oh, the horrors of educational imprisonment –
early morning rising to get to school on time,
assemblies and new timetables,
finding out whose class we’d be in –
wishing to be with our friends,
who shared the struggle with us –
making the torturous daylight hours more bearable.

Science lessons and Maths tests
(the latter of which still haunts my dreams),
academic pressures and extra-curricular bothers…

School was never a ‘home away from home’ for me,
yet those years –
while stifling my freedom within the system –
gave rise to the foundations of adult life,
and provided the best memories.

And now
as my own child approaches her first year of ‘back to school’,
I feel the dread for her;
I know the anxiety she’ll face over the years,
Yet somehow, some way
I’ll need to put a bright face on it all;
so that she can be more positive than I,
and enjoy her coming occupation in ways I never did.

For just as she’ll face the seemingly never-ending grind of school life –
year after year –
so too will these years be her platform for her future,
and her treasure chest of precious childhood memories.

School doesn’t last forever,
nor does childhood;
But while we’re young,
we live through both –
a microcosm of life,
good and bad – all mixed together.

So, my child,
appreciate both sides,
take it all in,
and then move on to the adulthood that awaits beyond these endless summers of youth.

<Image source>

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Second time around

Posted by Yacoob on November 14, 2013


Where this blog stands right now

If you’ve followed this blog for the last few years, you’ll notice that my focus – since late 2011 – has almost completely been on Hajj-related topics. This was a change from the blog’s first 5 years, wherein the content was a lot more varied. Obviously, the change in direction is a sign of the impact that Hajj had on me – hence most of my writing has focssed on documenting the journey (via the Hajj Chronicles series).

In all this time – and prior to it – my audience has changed, yet I hope the narrow focus hasn’t alienated readers that are looking for other content. And now that the chronicles are complete, insha-Allah this blog will once again go in many directions – some of which will probably remain Hajj-related.

New adventures

In Ramadan this year, I mentioned that my wife and I were expecting our second child. Alhamdullilah – our baby daughter is now 3 months old. I won’t share the birth story (like I did for our first child), but I would like to share some thoughts on these few months.

To be totally honest, our new daughter wasn’t the prettiest sight when she first came out. She was covered in disgusting birth liquid, and was obviously unhappy at being yanked out of the only world she’d ever known (the womb). Her first pictures from the delivery room aren’t ideal viewing, but, thankfully, that all changed once she was cleaned up and with us J.

We got to spend much more time with the baby this time (unlike the previous birth), so I held her for most of the half hour the medical team was sewing up my wife. I probably talked more to the baby than I talk to most grown ups I meet. And in those first (one-way) conversations, I hopefully set a precedent of talking her through the most important aspects of this world. I hope to always be there to guide her as she grow and learns – especially in the critical first 7 or so years of her life.

The days in hospital were somewhat stressful – not because of the baby (though she had her own issues at times), but because we had to manage our other daughter. She’s 4 years old, and I think seeing her mother weak in hospital was a really emotional experience for her. Alhamdullilah – we had all her grandparents to help look after her, but for the most part, she was my primary responsibility. She’s always been very clingy with her mother, and while there were a few days of separation, I needed to be the stable force in her life.

As for the baby’s name, we had one in mind since the beginning – though we weren’t totally set on it. But we had a late request and even other options that came to mind at the time, so it was confusing. Of course, the best route to take in such situations is to consult with Allah, so I made istikhara salaah, and the outcome was the same name we initially wanted. Like our first daughter’s name, it’s a strong name – one whereby the baby has an immensely lofty namesake who we hope will be her role model through life.

The work begins

Once we got home, the real challenges started. It’s an Indian tradition for the new mother to stay with her own mother in the first 40 days of the baby’s life. While we partly followed that last time around, this time, my wife didn’t want to at all. She wanted the stability of our own home – especially for our older daughter. That’s not to say that her mother wasn’t involved. On the contrary, she was extremely helpful in those early weeks, even staying over for one of the nights.

It was still Ramadan at this time – the blessed final ten nights; yet we didn’t have much time for spirituality. Between seeing to this tiny infant that needed so much time and energy, and our older daughter – who was having endless tantrums and really being difficult, it was a trying time to say the least.

We knew it would be hard for our older daughter to adjust to NOT being the centre of attention anymore. She’s always been very spoilt, so it must have been really tough to now be deprived of her parents’ attention. This was exacerbated by the attention the baby was getting from visitors, who up until then, would give her all the attention.


Alhamdullilah – after a few weeks, she eventually settled down. The hardship she faced was perhaps her first major character-building experience. It helped her to adjust – from being someone who was always so clingy with her mother, into a far more independent child that can cope better on her own or with others (though she still is clingy at times). The other blessing is that it was a period in which she and I spent a lot more time together, hence we bonded in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise done when her mother was the focus of her world.

As for the baby, we had an early health scare with her, but alhamdullilah, it turned out to be a minor issue that healed within a few weeks. She still has digestive issues though (i.e. reflux), but it’s not such a big deal compared to what sickness she could have had. That recurring lesson from Hajj came up again: to be thankful for what happened, because it could have been worse.

These last few weeks in particular have found me falling more and more in love with her. She’s an incredibly happy child -finding any excuse to show that sweet smile of hers. She’s growing nicely – alhamdullilah – starting to discover her own hands, and laughing more and more.

Her older sister has also taken to her, and is actually quite smothering at times (think of “Elmyra” from Tiny Toons).

On a personal level, the pace of life hasn’t gotten more hectic; but it’s just become more demanding. But even in that, alhamdullilah, there’s ease. People commonly tease new parents about the lack of sleep, but it hasn’t really been a big issue for me: our new baby is relatively settled in her sleep – getting up just once in the night (other than the nights where she’s uncomfortable and troubles a lot).

All in all, it’s been an interesting transition filled with many challenges but a lot of benefit. And as we go move on, I look forward to the many milestones that she’ll reach insha-Allah, and I hope that the baby’s first 2 years – before terrible twos – will be as amazing and joy-filled as her older sister’s were.

As for the older one, she’s still a handful, and can be immensely stubborn at times (with the latest big problem being a recurring refusal to eat)…but we hope to navigate those stormy waters too, and in the end, come out with a well-developed, balanced child that’ll teach us as much as we hope to teach her.

As always, your duas would be most welcome :) .

Posted in Meanderings, Milestones | 4 Comments »

Ramadan ramblings

Posted by Yacoob on July 17, 2013

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

Posted in Meanderings, Ramadaan | 2 Comments »

A most blessed rooftop

Posted by Yacoob on October 12, 2011

I like rooftops because they are freedom.

As I write this, I’m seated on one.
No ordinary one, mind you;
but one in a city of immense peace;
on top of a building so blessed that only one other is greater than it.

Generally, people aren’t aware of rooftops.
They live their lives down below,
never thinking of how serene and peaceful the world above is.

It’s the same in this place:
hundreds of thousands have come to this city,
to this building,
yet only a fraction have ventured up to this rooftop.

Down below, the crowds are swelling –
with new faces each and every day,
from places far and wide,
each with a culture,
a nationality,
a family,
a unique life story.

We meet each other –
all speaking different languages,
sometimes not able to communicate at all,
other than in sign language –
yet our greeting is the same;
a universal greeting of peace –
taught to us by the Messenger of peace,
who established this,
our community,
in this very place
some fourteen centuries ago.

He would be proud
to see his nation gathered here today –
such variety in colour, speech, and manner –
but all committed to the way of life he brought.

All here to visit him,
and honour his resting place –
the ground where he,
along with the giants of his generation,
strove to build a society
based on justice,
and universal principles of goodness –
recognised by every single soul –
whether they know it or not.

They walked this very earth –
by day and night,
in wartime and during peace,
hardship and times of ease;
knowing that their time here was only temporary –
a short period of tests –
the results of which would determine
their home in the eternal realm.

And some were assured of their success even before their earthly life ended;
yet still they struggled,
still they strove,
still they feared
that they weren’t living up to the life expected of them.

Yet that generation
was the best of people raised up for mankind.

They enjoined what was good,
and forbade what was evil;
and most importantly,
they believed in God.

And our generation today
doesn’t live up to that example –
instead succumbing
to the cultural pollution
of nations that do not truly believe in their Creator.
For if they did,
their lives would reflect more justice,
and eagerness to fulfil the responsibilities placed upon them
as stewards of this Earth.

Yet in this blessed place,
this generation –
those who have come to visit –
witnesses the way life should be.

We feel the tranquillity of the way of life we call our own.

We experience it first hand –
in ways we could never experience back home.

We feel spiritually rejuvenated
by this environment –
re-establishing our connection to our Creator,
the Owner of Peace,
the Master of all things –
both worldly and beyond human comprehension.

Grown men break down in tears –
begging their Lord for forgiveness,
and supplicating for all that they need in their lives,
and all that they desire in their existence.

Desperate pleas,
made with such sincerity –
both in private,
and where others can see them –
but without inhibition,
for in those moments,
nobody else matters:
it’s just them and their Lord –
without anyone or anything to break that bond.

And so
this City of Peace
serves as a purifier for the souls that visit it;
helping to wash away years,
and lifetimes of mistakes –
and giving hope that maybe,
just maybe,
when our journeys take us back home,
we’ll be able to recapture some of the magic we felt here,
and live lives of peace, justice, and submission
to the One we owe everything to.

*This piece was inspired by my time in Madinah, on the rooftop of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) mosque, a few weeks prior to Hajj 2011.

Posted in Hajj-related, Meanderings | 1 Comment »

The incredible journey

Posted by Yacoob on September 5, 2011

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this piece –which crystallised the dream that so strongly made its way into my heart and mind at the time. For those who are familiar with the process of going for Hajj, you’ll know that many across the world – including here in South Africa – need to go through a process of accreditation with the country’s Hajj authorities, since there are limited Hajj visas available to many countries.

So, this being my main mission at that time, I’d check our local authority’s website for the date when I’d be able to register for the coming year. South Africa only gets an initial quota of 2500 people that can go – a tiny number based on the fact that we’re a minority group in South Africa’s larger population.

So to get into the 2011 list seemed far from guaranteed. And to cut the chances further, there were already people that were unsuccessful the previous year who were pushed over to the 2011 list.

I knew that – in the realm of human efforts – the earlier I registered, the better my chances of success. So imagine my surprise when I happened to visit the registration site just a couple of days after registration for the new year had opened. You can call it ‘luck’ or good timing – but I believe it was Divine intervention. Allah is the One that decides who goes and who doesn’t go – and this was my first sign that it was to happen for me.

My wife and I were extremely blessed to be in that first batch of 2500 that were accredited. Getting accreditation early meant that we could prepare well in advance – in all senses. But some weren’t so fortunate. Many had been waiting and waiting for the additional quota, and were in limbo with regard to planning, leave, shopping, etc. Now, just a few weeks before people start leaving, the country’s additional quota came through (yesterday). The extra quota is a disappointing 500 extra – which is far less than was expected. That makes this the smallest South African quota in recent years; and it makes me even more appreciative of the blessing of getting to go.

During the course of the last year, we’ve gone through some challenges – but nothing too major. For me, one big issue was the loss of motivation – or rather – loss of intensity in motivation; and I spent long periods not doing what I thought I would in terms of preparation. But, of course, I still did take in a lot of information and advice – via books, speaking to people, websites, lectures (including good ones here) , and Hajj classes (which, it seems, is uniquely Capetonian in that we have 6 months of Hajj classes and not just a one day seminar).

And I knew that the preparation for this journey – and the journey itself – needed to be a long term thing. What I learn now – the good habits and actions I pick up and bad ones I drop – need to be set in stone; set into the foundation of my life.

Because as much as we all aspire to change and be better, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult. And every year, Ramadan comes around, and we have hope of making permanent life changes after it leaves. But sadly, for many of us, the same pattern repeats annually – where the ‘buzz’ wears off, and we go back to our old selves and forget the striving we intended.

But this Ramadan was different. This post-Ramadan is different. Because I’m not going back to my ‘normal’ life. I’m supposed to be building – building up that spirituality, patience, taqwa, and all good things – to take with me on this incredible journey of a lifetime.

And I need that all for the actual trip; but more importantly, I need it for after the trip. Because, as people say, the hard part is not the actual pilgrimage. The hard part is living that Hajj when  you get back home. Living the rest of your life in a state of heightened spirituality and consciousness, with better values, better habits, and a better you.

To go on Hajj, and to have it accepted and be totally cleansed of all your sins (including those against other people – who you would have sought forgiveness from before leaving) – is something tremendously liberating. I have this idea of carrying this burden of sins right now – a lifetime of wrongdoing and flawed thinking and habits to the very root of my existence – which all built up from the time I was a child, through my teenage years, early adult life, and to this day.

And if Hajj is to take all of this off my back – wash it away and give me a clean slate – then when I come back, I need to do my best to never let things of that nature build up again. Because I may never go back for Hajj. I may never go back there at all – even for Umrah. So it really is a once in a lifetime shot. One chance to drop everything bad and start again.

That’s not to say that I expect change to be instantaneous – because that’s not very realistic. I expect change to come over time – little by little (which is the critical concept of gradualism that is such a big part of the Islamic ethos of change).

But what I do hope will be instant is that sincere intention to change permanently. That point where I’d say to myself: ‘This is it. From this point on, I intend to leave everything bad behind, and strive for everything good. And whether I succeed or not, this intention is absolutely, one million percent solid and unshakeable. And I’ll try, with Allah’s help, for the rest of my life, to work towards fulfilling it – no matter what happens in future.’

The process of how that change happens – I don’t know. But the core is the intention, and that’s my focus. Will I be ready to do that? To make that intention and be serious about it? Committed to it?

‘Positive change’ is a very nice term – it sounds good, and it feels good to think that you’re pursuing it. But when things get tough, and when you’re faced with intense challenges to that goal, that’s when your real test comes.

So that’s what I need my core focus to be. Preparing myself to be ready to make that intention, firstly, and then being committed to it thereafter.

I’m scared as I write this – because this heart of mine is so attached to things I know I’d have to leave behind, for the most part. But if there’s any experience that can strengthen me to the point where I’m ready to go forward with it, then this is it.

So now, with just under 4 weeks until departure insha-Allah, I know all the logistical and physical preparations that need to happen; and I even know some of the spiritual preparation I need to still do. But underlying everything, there’s only one thing that truly needs to be ready – the heart. And my heart isn’t ready; and I don’t know if it ever will be. But I go forward knowing that it’s the main roleplayer in whether I succeed or fail in this.

So, more than anything else, that’s what needs to be my focus. And I hope and pray that, by the time I reach that peak of the 5 days, this heart will be where it needs to be.

To all who read this blog: I want to thank you for the role you’ve played in my life – whether you commented or not, and whether you’ve been reading long or not. This blog has been an important part of my identity and life for the five years I’ve been at it, and I appreciate the chance to share what I’ve shared with other people.

And now, as I prepare to leave for this journey, I ask that – if I’ve offended or hurt any of you in any way – please forgive me. I’ll try to remember you all in my duas, and ask that you do the same for me, and for all who are going; and for those who didn’t get the chance to go this year.

And if you yourself are planning to go at some point in the not too distant future, please start preparing NOW. We prepare so much for our big exams and tests in our academic and professional lives – but this is truly the most important experience we have as Muslims in this world. So it deserves the best of preparation – and that begins long before you go. Long, long before.

And even if you think it’s impossible at this time – due to finances or whatever – know that Allah chooses who goes; and it’s not impossible for Him to choose the most unlikely of candidates.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And the three pillars of success in anything – I’ve come to learn – are first making the sincere intention, then asking Allah for success, and then making your efforts (while always bearing patience and continuously asking Allah for success).

Posted in Hajj-related, Meanderings, Milestones | 6 Comments »


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