slip-sliding away…..

Archive for the ‘Milestones’ Category

Halfway to Seventy

Posted by Yacoob on November 27, 2015


Today is my birthday.

I’m now thirty five. It’s a big number, but really, inconsequential to me at this time. Looking back, when I was small, my physical resistance to fruit and vegetables had me thinking that I’d be dead by 21. Parents, or others, probably tried to scare me into eating fruits with such consequences – citing a lack of vitamins and healthy stuff as the cause of my future rapid decline. But I didn’t care. Death was not a worry back then. And 21 seemed far, far away.

And now I sit bang in the middle of my 30s – five years after a critical formational period (my 20s), and five years before that magical age of maturity (40). And I don’t feel young, nor do I feel old. Truth be told, age really hasn’t made much difference to me at all for quite a while.

Psychologically, at least.

Physically, I’ve seen the results of a slowing metabolism – with little will to reverse or even fight the outward consequences.

In terms of maturity, I’ve felt incremental gains over the last few years. Wisdom has, I hope, come in bits and pieces, and I’m no longer as selfish, judgemental, and narrow-minded as I once was. But there are still plenty of character flaws, and much work to still be done as constant refinements to a self that will never be perfect….but still needs to strive to improve all the time.

As for where I am in life, I’ve never been one to set time-related targets…or indeed, targets at all. Call me unambitious, fearful of the future, or just plain lazy – but I don’t do benchmarks. I don’t do 5 or 10 year plans. And maybe that’s why I haven’t really achieved much in the worldly sense.

I sometimes come across the social media profiles of those I went to school with. Guys that have risen to the top of their fields – executives, managers, prominent positions – climbing that corporate ladder; finding success. Even though, back in junior school, I did better than most of them academically, all of that counts for nothing – because ambition, opportunity, and most of all hard work, gets people to ascend and achieve such accomplishments.

And good for them.

But I’ve never had career ambitions. I’ve never been motivated by wealth or material success, because – alhamdullilah – I come from a stable background, where poverty was never a threat (at least for the vast majority of my life). But I’ve also never been motivated by wanting to change the world, or be some other kind of large-scale transformative force. I’ve always been pretty self-focussed, though that has changed tremendously over the last decade – with marriage and then children completely re-orienting my natural tendency to think of myself first (though I still do…just less nowadays).

Do I feel like a failure? Like a mediocre, average person?

If I dwell on things, perhaps. But my wife shared some highly encouraging insights with me a few weeks back, as we talked about where we are in life, and where we’ve come from. And I realised that I should never compare myself to others, because we all have different paths. Some have excelled in the worldly sense, others spiritually, and still others seem to have hit the jackpot by finding great balance between both sides…yet they have all had their own struggles, and they still do have their own struggles. And neither I, nor anyone else looking from the outside, know the challenges they battle with every single day. We only see the outside – the appearance of success and contentment. But in their hearts, and in their minds, each of them – every human – has battles that rage.

And in the end, the only measure of success is where you stand in the eyes of your Lord. A measure which none of us can gauge – because it’s an attribute unseen to our earthly eyes.

I also need to step back and look at the bigger picture, too. How I see myself now, how I feel, and what I think I have and haven’t achieved – all of that is not isolated and confined to this moment in time. Ten years from now, where will I be? These little challenges now – will they contribute towards positive character development, and lessons learned? Or will they be marks of failing – regret – which would still be positive, because we learn more from the bad times and mistakes than we do from the good times.

It reminds me of the hadith:

“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim #2999)

So in all of this ramble thus far, perhaps I’ve come across as melancholy and disappointed at my station in life. But that’s not at all the case. I guess I just express myself in more negative terms than positives – because I’m not a naturally optimistic person.

But in all honesty, aside from the irritations of life and challenges I am not fighting hard enough, I really feel quite content with where I am. Alhamdullilah.

That said, I hope that the coming years will bring an accelerated pace of development and goodness, because by the time I hit 40 – if I make it that far – I hope I’ll be contributing much more to the world, and doing a lot better in all the areas that I aspire to.

That is all. For now…

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When giants fall

Posted by Yacoob on October 11, 2015

Shaykh Abd al-Rasheed Brown

Shaykh Abd al-Rasheed Brown

He was 46 years old. A well-known, well-respected religious figure in our community. A man blessed with a love of the Quran – no doubt instilled into him by his father and the Quran-centric environment he had growing up. He was a hafidth, renowned qari, and teacher of Quran.

He had established an Islamic school – incorporating a hafidth academy, taught many, many courses both locally and internationally, and had more recently taken on a leadership role in an esteemed multi-national religious institute.

His name was Shaykh Abd al-Rasheed Brown, and a few days ago, he left us – departing to Allah’s mercy after suffering complications from a heart operation.

The janazah was packed to the brim, bearing testament to the impact this man had had on hundreds, if not thousands of individuals over the course of his life. Tributes poured in for him in the media, and his family, students, friends, and colleagues all mourned his loss – with special programmes set up to perform good deeds on his behalf, to insha-Allah benefit him in the barzakh.

Deep impact

I had first encountered him early in my own spiritual transformation. At the time, he was giving the post-taraweeh lectures at my masjid, and I had never before been so inspired and moved by an imam. Maybe it was because I was at the start of my spiritual journey. Or maybe it was because he was so different to the other imams I’d heard my whole life. Imams, primarily, from a certain cultural group whose focus and style had never really touched my heart in a meaningful way – though their messages had been good.

This man, however, stood out among them all. He was much younger – in his mid-30s at the time – and his words were infused with passion, knowledge, and vision.

When I got married, he happened to be the imam in the masjid near us. And what he did there was truly incredible. His work at that masjid – the level of activity – made it come alive, in a way I’ve never known any other masjid to be since. His school was based there, and the adult education arm of that was also run there – with frequent night classes. He would teach tafseer, mostly, but also taught a very lengthy but extremely inspiring and beneficial seerah class.

My wife and I loved his tafseer classes. He always stressed how timeless the Quran is. Times change, but people – the nature of man – remains the same. And so, though the context and environment may be different, the lessons and principles of the Quran are eternal and will always be the best of guidance for humanity.

In his classes, he often sprinkled in lessons from his own life. One particular theme which he put across was overcoming adversity. Hardship, he said, is a school that teaches us endurance. As for actual school, he didn’t do very well. He struggled a lot. That admission came as a huge shock to me – given the level of education he later achieved, and the intellectual demeanour he carried with him in general. As he told us once, your attitude  – not your aptitude – is the most important thing. You must strive to have the right attitude.

Another point was that he used to stutter badly. Again, a shock if you knew the eloquence with which he spoke later in life. But he fought to overcome that, and used positive, verbal reinforcement to help him build his self-confidence.

I also got the chance to attend other courses he taught – including tajweed, which is so critical an element of the deen, yet often overlooked when we grow up and think that we already know how to read Quran (even though we may have learnt incorrect pronunciation – a legacy of generations before who just kept teaching the same way they were taught).

Ramadans at this masjid were something really special. Aside from his nightly naseehahs, there would be weekend programmes, early morning tafseers, tahajjud programmes and more. I appreciated how the khattam of the Quran was always held off until the 29th night – unlike most other masjids, where they finish on the 27th and the attendance and intensity rapidly declines thereafter.

I would also look forward to Sunday nights, when – after Maghrib – he would give a short naseehah to the congregation gathered there. A look back at the week that had passed, and some words of advice for the week to come.

Moving forward

It was during one of those talks that he told us of his impending marriage. He’d been divorced at a young age, and had lived alone – actually, near us. He was a neighbour, so we would see him often and saw the normal, non-official side of him. As Muslims, we often only see our ulama at the masjid, or at official religious events. We rarely think of them as ordinary people – who go shopping, relax at home, and lead normal lives. So it was good to experience a different side of one such person.

Anyway, so his wife – who also had kids from a previous marriage (he had kids of his own from his first marriage too) – was a student in one of his classes. She had proposed to him after a charity walk, and he accepted.

We were so happy for him. In one particular conversation with him, I’d felt the pain he had experienced from being divorced. He had 2 teenage kids, who would sometimes come stay with him at home, yet his life was lived alone – which could not have been easy at all.

His has re-married just a few years after our marriage, and he and his wife lived in our complex – a few blocks away. Children soon arrived for them – a son first, who his wife would bring to classes on weeknights; followed by a baby girl not long after.

Now, I imagine all the dreams he had for them. The ambitions. How he would have wanted them, too, to be people of the Quran. To be hafidth. To live the deen. To grow up to be of exemplary character – leaders in their community – and always helping and benefiting others, as he himself had done. And now, they have to grow up without a father. Without that tremendous, guiding force which is so critical in youth especially. But they are in good company. As he had pointed out in the seerah class, the best of all creation was also orphaned. And it was Allah Who took care of and raised him (obviously through other people…but essentially, he lost those nearest to him in his youth).

A few years later, he left his position as imam of the masjid. He moved his school elsewhere, and moved to a new home. We hardly saw him again after that, but heard about his activities: he had moved onto a more spiritual path, taking up leadership at the local chapter of Shaykh Ninowy’s Madinah Institute.


Though our time with him came to an end quite a while ago, the impact he made on us was significant. He was our imam for the important early years of our marriage, and we took valuable counsel from him on private matters that we – the un-learned and inexperienced – needed guidance on.

We learnt so much from him. He played a crucial role in our lives in a phase where we were both still changing, growing, learning. Becoming better people. Leaving behind our days of ignorance and striving to walk the path of Islam.

Though 46 seems a young age to leave this world, the reality is that his time was always decreed. It’s just that Allah alone knew….and none of us knew.

People have a purpose in life, and in his years of being a teacher, imam, leader – he achieved so, so much. Much more than most of us will, and thus we can never say that his passing was untimely – or his life was ‘cut short’.

He inspired so many of us. Touched so many hearts. Taught so many minds. Influenced so many lives.

And he leaves, in this world, a tremendous legacy. A legacy which, I hope, will be continued by all those who were blessed to have encountered him and learnt from him.

May Allah make that legacy continue, spread, and multiply – so that the knowledge he left behind with others, and the goodness that remains in this dunya of him – becomes the greatest sadaqah jariah for him.

And may Allah grant his family and loved ones the most beautiful of sabr, and the steadfastness to continue in this world in the best possible way, and make him proud by the way they live their lives.

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London Calling

Posted by Yacoob on April 13, 2015

London underground

Mind the gap

I’ve been fortunate to have visited London many times in my life. In the space of 16 years, I probably went about 8 times. The last of those times was 2007, and this Easter, we had a family holiday there – which was an awesome and valuable experience that I’ve been reflecting on recently.

Things change

The major difference, for me, was the change of dynamics. In most of the previous times, I went as the youngest of my family. Now, for the very first time, I went as a husband and father – meaning that the experience wasn’t just about me having a holiday. It was also different because, with my parents getting older – my father in particular – it was strange for me to have to take more responsibility for logistical matters, and be more careful and alert about making sure that things weren’t lost or misplaced.

This time, too, was the first visit in the age of smartphones – where quick Internet access is at your fingertips (LTE in many places – which is still relatively rare in South Africa). You no longer need to plan your routes and do research on paper long before. TripAdvisor, Google Maps, and an awesome London Underground app make it easy to find out about places, and find them, very quickly. For example, you would never know that, just 2 blocks off Oxford Street, there’s a little masjid nestled amid the restaurants and shops.


But many aspects of the place felt familiar to me, because I’d experienced them so many times before: the gloomy weather; the constricted way that the houses were tiny, identical, and cramped into the streets – like the inhabitants of this city having their lives literally boxed into these miserable little physical spaces. The feeling that there seem to be more foreigners than Brits. That everyone was really polite – even complete strangers who would accidentally bump you on the street.

It was encouraging to see so many Muslims in the city – many dressed modern, but not afraid of ‘looking’ Muslim (wearing hijab or a beard – though beards seem to be a fashion at the moment for non-Muslims). We saw an unusual number of orthodox Jews as well (instantly recognisable by their clothing and sideburns), out in the parks, spending family time together. It was nice to see, because I haven’t noticed much of that back home much: i.e. people of another religion, in traditional religious garb, out and about like that in large numbers. The political issues between Muslims and Jews are so heated and divisive, yet these simple experiences showed the ‘other side’ in a completely different light – as normal, family people – like us – just living life.

Materialism and commercialism is still rampant, with advertising at every corner – though in many instances, paper-based posters have been upgraded to huge digital displays (something that wouldn’t work in South Africa, given our country’s electricity supply perils). I took special notice of the style of language in those ads as well as the newspapers – such as the Metro, which is free on the Tube.

Oxford Street was still busy as ever, and major chain stores like H&M, HMV, Marks & Spencer, Harrods and Tesco still seem to dominate the commercial landscape of the city.

It’s not about me

For me, the tourist attractions weren’t that interesting. Yes, I’d seen them before – but even so, I think the main reason I didn’t feel awe was that my focus was on my kids. For us as parents, we had to take care of them all the time – carting them on and off trains and busses (which becomes routine very quickly), running around after the toddler (she’s a few months short of 2 years old), and trying creative ways to make things seem exciting for them.

I wasn’t trying to enjoy this trip as a tourist, and didn’t go there for shopping either. I wanted this to be a period of happiness for my kids – letting them have fun, creating happy memories, and experiencing the excitement of a foreign land. And for me, I took more pleasure in seeing them happy – rather than any excitement I should have felt by visiting these world famous places.

The older one (5 and a half years old) will probably remember all of this, while the younger one won’t – but we have hundreds of pictures and videos for them to view when they’re older. It was enough, for me, that they enjoyed themselves. The toddler, especially, had a ball, with her happiness and cuteness lifting everyone’s spirits and making experiences joyful. (There was a lot of stress too, of course – but for me the good outweighs the difficulty.)

What I realised, a number of times, was that the best things in life really are free. The kids enjoyed simple pleasures, like playing in the parks, more than the (insanely) expensive outings like the London Eye and Thames River boat ride. (An exception, though, was Legoland in Windsor – which was a pain to get to, but worth it for the awesome time the kids had.)

Perspective, and positive change

The most valuable part of the trip, for me, was the change in environment. With life and work staying routine for years and years, it’s so easy to get into a mental rut – stagnation and dullness which isn’t even broken by short trips away for weekends. I’ve felt that way for a long time, having not been out of the country since Hajj 4 years ago.

So, being in a very different place, with such an wide array of cultures and people, and a fast-paced life that’s not very similar to Slaapstad (a nickname for Cape Town) – it helped to refresh my mind from the lull I was in. I took it as an opportunity to break one of my most time-consuming addictions, and feel – well, hope – that as I move forward, I can take positives from this trip and make beneficial changes that will help hold me over until the next time, God-willing, I’m afforded an opportunity to visit some far-off destination.

It’s always different when you come back home and see the places that are ‘normal’. Things feel different, yet familiar, and it takes a little while for your mind to adjust to the reality that the time away was just a break from the norm. If I needed an extra push in that direction, I got it the very next day, when stage 2 loadshedding was implemented.

Welcome home ;)

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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 »

Your Eid gift: The Hajj Chronicles e-book

Posted by Yacoob on August 8, 2013

Eid cupcakes

On behalf of myself and my family, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones Eid Mubarak – wherever you are in the world, and whichever day you celebrate(d) on. May this day be one of beautiful celebration, togetherness, and happiness – all within the boundaries of halaal, of course :). And may the spiritual gains from this Ramadan be ingrained into you so that you can take them forward into the coming months and at least maintain your spiritual levels, if not improve upon them as this blessed month fades into history.

The primary objective of fasting in Ramadan is to attain taqwa – sometimes translated as consciousness of Allah. The next big event in our Islamic calendar is Hajj, wherein the best provision for the journey is the very same taqwa.

So for those going on this blessed journey, Ramadan serves as a means of building up taqwa – which you’ll need to maintain and build even further as you near the biggest 5 days of your life – i.e. Hajj.

With this in mind, and as promised during Ramadan, I’ve compiled the entire Hajj Chronicles series (the 24 already online, plus the 6 to still come) into an e-book. You can download it here:

Hajj Chronicles e-book: PDF (3.7MB) | MS Word (3.4MB) (Right-click and choose ‘Save as’)

The e-book is provided absolutely free, for the purposes of promoting the Hajj and educating others about it. I encourage you to share it with those who are interested in the journey of Hajj.

Of course, the content is obviously copyrighted – so don’t steal my work ;). If you want to use parts of it for commercial purposes, please contact me to discuss it. Otherwise, you may use parts of it for your own personal or academic purposes, but reference it properly, and link back to this blog.

I hope you enjoy the book and benefit from it. And if you have any feedback or queries, feel free to email me.



<Image source>

Posted in Hajj Chronicles, Milestones, Ramadaan | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The closing of 2011

Posted by Yacoob on December 23, 2011

And so we come to the end of another calendar year, which will predictably be accompanied by year-end reviews, personal reflections, and ‘best of’ lists. For me, it’s been a momentous year – with Hajj the biggest highlight of course (as you may have noticed from the content of posts for the past few months).

But there were also other significant happenings. For example, it was the year my physical attachment to the city of my birth finally came to an end. It was also the five year anniversary of my entry into the world of blogs – significant because of how important this platform has become to me as an outlet for self-expression. And Ramadan, of course, was one of the most special yet – not just because of the beauty of the month, but also because it served, partially, as a preparation for the most important journey of my life – Hajj.

Hajj itself was incredible – starting in the most amazing city of Madinah, then Makkah, and the actual days of Hajj, then the beautiful yet embattled land of Palestine afterwards (all of which are being chronicled). If you’ve been disappointed by the lack of variety on this blog in the last few months, you can blame it all on Hajj – because it’s a journey that’s so consumed me, not only during the period I was away, but even up to now. In addition to the series started on this blog, I’ve also begun the version for a multi-faith audience (which you can find here) – and I have big plans for that insha-Allah, and if you have a chance, please have a look – and direct your non-Muslim friends or family to it, if they’re interested in what the Hajj is.

Coming back home after seven weeks, I’ve gone through different phases of inspiration and deflation – highs and lows, but always yearning to retain the specialness of that experience; but knowing that I can’t hold onto it like I want to – for feelings fade, as will memories…but that’s why writing about it is so important to me; as a capturer of the experience that I hope to re-read for years to come, until – insha-Allah – I can go back and make some new memories.

The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous at work, with a sudden disaster that’s knocked half the company’s employees out of a job. Thankfully for me, I was one of the survivors – but I still recognise the instability of the situation, and know that I’ll need to get out of my comfort zone and start looking at other opportunities – in case the worst happens next year.

It really hit me this week, when all the members of my team said their goodbyes – leaving me the only one left, other than my team leader. Four years I’ve been at this company, and things have always been good. And then, in the space of a few days, everything shattered. Jobs were lost, families affected, some fortunate enough to keep a job were humbled by demotion due to downsizing – and the happy-go-lucky atmosphere that so often prevailed in that building turned to one of somberness and idleness, as many either didn’t have work to do, or didn’t have motivation to do the work they were still being paid to do.

It’s a lesson for everyone that we can never put our reliance on a company, boss, or other created being. God alone is the Provider, and He alone provides for us – with jobs and companies only the visible means we perceive.

And when a calamity like that hits, it serves as a wake-up call – a reminder of human fragility, and a means of drawing us closer to Him.

As I worked my last day of the year today and then left, I remembered the times of old – the other ‘last days’ of my life: the last days of the school year; the days of the final exam in a varsity year; the other last working days of the year in this current job.

And while I can go into this holiday relaxed, I know that it may be the last time I can do that for a while – because come this time next year, if I’m alive to see it, circumstances may be very different – and I might not be able to relax.

In any case, whatever must come will come; and from my end, all I need to do is my best – putting complete reliance in Allah, trusting that He’ll bring the best out of whatever my future holds, and being content with the outcomes – even if they look bleak at first.

It may seem like a depressing year end for me, but it isn’t. Personally, I’m in the best state that I’ve been in for all the year ends in my life; and I hope to keep the drive up and go on to greater things – in line with the personal ambitions which have now been defined for the rest of my life.

It feels good to know my purpose in life. Not just the general one that we as Muslims believe in (i.e. to worship Allah) – but a specific one, uniquely fitted to who I am, what I have, and what I can – insha-Allah – achieve in my remaining days on Earth.

So to close off this post (though not necessarily my last of 2011), I ask you – dear reader: what were your highlights of 2011? And, going forward, what significant things do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

Image source

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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 »

An Eid like no other

Posted by Yacoob on August 30, 2011

For many around the world, Eid has already come. But here in South Africa, we’re waiting until tomorrow – Wednesday 31st August. I’d like to take this opportunity to with everyone and their families a blessed Eid mubarak.

May your day be filled with joy and happiness, and (halaal) celebration. For males and females, please dress appropriately (because modesty can look good, you know); and interact in the proper manner with the opposite sex. There will probably be plenty to show off, and plenty to gawk at – but lower your gaze, and don’t be a temptation for others either. You’ve just come through a month of intensive piety and good deeds. Don’t ruin it all in one day. Don’t please shaytaan. Please Allah – by doing things the right way.

For myself and all of you, I hope that this will be an Eid with a difference: one where we really and truly try to remember Allah’s presence. That ‘taqwa’ we were supposed to acquire through fasting – let us take that with us through to this Eid day. And, very importantly, let’s take it through to the rest of the year as well.

Last Ramadan, I wrote a 3 post series (concluding with this one) about taking the goodness of Ramadan forward to the rest of the year. The key points were to take realistic spiritual goals forward to the rest of the year – to be consistent, even if those actions were small.

This year, I’d like to re-iterate those points. Each individual knows their own spiritual state, and their own life’s circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all specific advice about what to aim for and what to expect.

Look into your own self, speak to your Lord, and ask Him to help you, bless you, guide you, and protect you in the days, weeks, and months that follow. For if we just make the sincere effort, and bear patience throughout our individual journeys, then surely Allah will grant us success in both worldly and spiritual matters.

So let’s make this an Eid with a difference. The best Eid we’ve ever had. Not because the food was particularly good, or the company was awesome – but because we made a commitment to Allah, and a commitment to ourselves, that we were going to strive to be better in the coming year.

Posted in Milestones, Ramadaan | 1 Comment »

Five years later…

Posted by Yacoob on June 9, 2011

This month marks the anniversary of my foray into the world of blogging. 5 years ago, this blog began – with a simple picture post of shots I’d taken from a rooftop that I was fond of going to at the time. Inspired by the blogs I’d followed (particularly Saaleha’s), I decided to start my own. But I didn’t have words to publish…or rather, the courage to publish my words. So it began with collections of pictures I’d taken with my then-cool camera phone.

I was really into photography at the time, and this grew as I got a digital camera later that year. Soon, the pictures on this blog were better quality, and I thrived on putting together collections of images that were bonded by a common theme. I was particularly fond of the sky (like this post) and I really loved a winter series, which I regard as my first – and only – ‘photo essay’.

Of course, I didn’t always use my own pictures. When it came to having fun with images, the Internet was a huge playground, so it was very cool to compile posts like this and this.

Around Ramadaan that year, my first proper written post materialized. And ever since, Ramadaan has proven to be the most intense period of inspiration – when the serenity and sacredness of this special time jumps out of my head and onto the page.

And then came Shafinaaz – who inspired me to let my creative side out. With her encouragement, I became confident enough to publish some of my poems on this blog. The first was an ode to solitude, inspired by my beloved rooftop that was – at the time – my refuge from the world of busy-ness and pressure.

Those were years of intense privacy and personal solitude. My alone-ness and the turmoil, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sadness…everything – all gave rise to many, many periods of reflection – which often manifested in poems that just perfectly captured the thoughts and emotions that played in my heart at the time. Poetry became, for me, a creative outlet that was immensely satisfying. It was so natural an activity – an unplanned, totally inspired outpouring of all that was inside me at the time – into words, lines, verses – that seemed like they wrote themselves.

I’m still amazed, to this day, at how incredible those experiences were. It gave me a glimpse of what an artist’s world is like; and one particular quote stuck with me because it embodied my process of how those poems came out. It was Michael Jackson who said that sometimes, he felt guilty putting his name on a song he wrote. Because to him, some of his songs would be pure inspiration – like it wasn’t from him. The words, music, everything would all come to him in his head – and all he would have to do was put it on paper – capture what was in his head and transform it into a medium which other people could hear it.

When I would write poems, it felt like they were coming from somewhere else. Everything would just flow. I would hardly stop to think – because thinking meant rational / logical interference in something that was, almost completely, pure inspiration. My hand that was writing was just an instrument – I was the means by which these words were coming out into the physical world. I didn’t have much control over what came, how it was phrased and structured…I just wrote. And I detested going back to edit – because to me, the way it came out in its raw form was the way it was meant to be.

Some of my favourites were “One year on” – which nicely captured the thoughts of my experience working at the university I was employed at in those years. And my favourite – to this day – is “Reliance” – which captured the entire essence of the struggle I went through for what seemed like ages. (The ‘struggle’ being the quest for marriage.)

My written posts also included non-poetic writings, like this way-too-long post that I’m surprised anyone actually bothered to read through, and comments on stuff that I felt reflected the continuing decline of our modern society, as well as stuff written by others which I felt were too important not to post – like this poem, in the wake of the 2009 Gaza invasion, and an article about those irritating email forwards that people blindly pass on without verifying first.

Anyway. This blog has seen me through major stages of life. From the point of beginning – in 2006 when my biggest aspiration was marriage; through to last in 2007, when that dream finally came true. And the early days of marriage – both its joys and hardships – followed by disillusionment at losing the time and mental space to write as much as I used to. There was a long period of struggling to find my place in life – given the changed reality of marriage; and i fought to try to keep the flame of inspiration alive; with occasional poems and picture posts. But in the end, I knew that I’d never reach the levels I did before – not consistently, at least.

Life moved on, and this blog became more neglected as my responsibilities grew. I was sad about that, but I accepted that it was how things were. And then came fatherhood, which solidified the fact that I’d never again have the amount of free time I used to. But coming to accept that this is was my stage of life – and appreciating where I am and the rare moments I have to reflect and write about  it – hopefully results in sparse-but-worthwhile posts. That’s what Shafinaaz told me, and I hope that’s what’s been happening over the last few years.

But fatherhood has really helped me find my place now; and I think it’s also helped boost this blog. Firstly, it gave me inspiration for poems that I hope my baby will read one day (first this, then this). And also, it gives me the chance to (legitimately) be a kid again – which is awesomely expressed via the Playtime Council series J.

Forgive my sentimentality – but this blog has been a big part of my life. It was, and still is, an outlet to express my inner feelings, thoughts, ideas, visualizations….whatever is important to me. As a creative outlet, it continues to serve me well and helps satiate a part of me that otherwise would be stagnant and wither away and die, I fear.

It gives me room to express in the way I express best – writing.

It was (partly) a means through which I met my wife; and remains a part of our marriage (even though she’s usually too busy to go online to check it).

I wanted to use this occasion to reflect on these five years; since I know that – if I didn’t make time to do this – chances are I wouldn’t stop to think about it. I thank the Almighty for allowing me this platform for these five years; and I hope the blog will continue to be important to me. And most of all, I hope that whatever I do post on this blog is of benefit – both to myself and others. If anything I’ve written, or any picture I’ve posted, or just anything here has contributed positively towards someone’s life – then I think it’s been worthwhile to keep this blog running.

In the end, blogs serve a number of purposes. And while bloggers use this outlet for their expressions, ideas, and even just rantings – I would hope that every single blogger recognizes that the Internet gives us a platform to benefit others – and it’s important that we always use our blogs to try to do just that, and not just keep blogs as purely personal ventures that serve no one other than ourselves.

In conclusion, I would like to think everyone that’s been a part of this journey – whether they still visit here or not:



Muhammad Karim






BB Aisha






and all of those I may have missed on this list.

Posted in Milestones | 7 Comments »

Welcome to the world

Posted by Yacoob on August 21, 2009

We didn’t think it would happen so soon. The signs of labour had been absent up to the day before, and it didn’t seem that events would unfold naturally. So, although surprising, that Wednesday evening’s contractions seemed to be just the beginning of what might be a long, drawn-out process. I speak here of the night our daughter was born – two weeks ago, on an amazing night.

Because of complications, we thought the birth would be a planned procedure – booked for the following night. Little did we know that our little bundle of joy (and wind ;) ) was on her way. And she would not wait for the scheduled date.

Rushing to the hospital felt weird, but not too dramatic. Labour can take many hours, and sometimes even a few days – so I thought we were in for a long wait. We planned what we wanted to do in the labour room. We’d packed our bags, prepared everything we needed, and took everything with. On arrival, after the initial consult, it seemed we’d be there the whole night: the stage of labour my wife was in was one that usually takes at least a further 6 hours until she’d get to the major events.

But a visit from the doctor told us otherwise. The baby was not in position for natural birth, and trying to go that route could be dangerous – so we had to take the route that seems so common today: caesarean section. The speed at which everything happened from that point seemed unreal: the doctor’s consultation, news that we had to go with the caesar, and minutes later, we were in theatre.

I still can’t describe the way I felt. It was like a different reality. The kind you experience when you have those moments of clarity: like when you feel the reality of death (another person’s death), or when you experience the true fragility of human life via an accident or a life-threatening crime.

I can’t imagine the pain my wife had to go through, and I dared not look at what was going on – opting instead to try to be as supportive as I could; and hopefully lessening the anxiety.

Before the birth, when we toured the hospital to see the rooms and learn how things were done, I was terrified for my wife. I mean, if you think the dentist is bad, birth is just so much scarier. Maybe it’s just me magnifying the feeling – because I cannot stand pain; and I’d never be able to go through what a woman has to go through when she gives birth. When I had to get a minor boil removed in my teenage years, I wanted to be put to sleep because I didn’t want to feel the pain. I can’t imagine how I’d handle any type of surgery if I ever had to have an operation.

Anyway, as the doctors did their thing, I tried – with my wife – harder than I’ve ever tried, to be of comfort to someone, and take their mind off the experience they were facing. And when our little girl popped out, disgusting as all the fluids and gunk was, it was a huge relief, and a moment of joy that I hope we’ll always remember.

The entity that was just a tiny bean 8 months before (on the ultrasound), was now out in the world, and in the arms of my wife and I. It was awesome to finally meet her; and beautiful to see her little fingers and face. Alhamdullilah, we thank Allah for granting us a healthy baby and not testing us with physical deformations or retardations.

A few months back, I wrote about the anticipation of fatherhood. I wondered whether the spirit of sacrifice would come naturally to me. Now, these first 2 weeks have proven that – so far – it did come. I’ve never been so busy for a prolonged period, running around getting so many things done and not thinking much of myself. I’ve never experienced the consistent lack of sleep on this level – yet still been able to cope in the day (most of the time), and hopefully help enough when I was needed at night.

And I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy.

We’ve got a long road ahead now, and raising a child is probably going to be the most challenging thing my wife and I have ever faced. But we’re grateful to have this opportunity, and we hope that – despite all our faults and shortcomings – our little one will grow up to be a woman of amazing character and righteousness, and a source of goodness not only for us, but for this world as well.

Posted in Meanderings, Milestones | 11 Comments »


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