Saturday, September 20, 2014

In its heyday

While driving the other day a particular building caught my gaze once again, as it always does when I drive that route. It’s an old building, dilapidated and empty, but you can see right away that it must have been beautiful in its heyday. My instinct was to stop the car and explore this intriguing structure, but that would've been madness since I was alone, in quite a “dodgy” area of Johannesburg.

couldn't stop thinking about this building though as I continued driving. I could easily conjure up an image of something regal, a prestigious place; a place where the rich and fancy may have come together for socializing. Or it could have been a luxurious apartment building, the top floor windows looked as if it once boasted the finest penthouses. That was a time when the city would've been in its prime, now this building is a mere echo of what it probably once was, a skeleton, empty and ignored in the busy city street.

Although this building may seem completely useless though, which in all practicality it really is. For me it serves as a reminder; a vivid depiction of what our lives are destined to become. We are now in our prime, full of life and energy, but soon this will end, and we will be forgotten and ignored by many as our once beautiful bodies become dust in the grave.

I may be sounding rather morbid here, but this is reality. Just like a part of the city disintegrates and the buildings lose its value while better and more modern buildings in another part of the city gain prestige, so is it with us. The cycle of life continuous and none of us have a choice. We live, we die, other people are born, they live and they die, and that is just life.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to make the best of this very short life that I have. I do not want to be a loser one day, when I am old and unable to do anything good I don’t want to lament the fact that I could’ve and should’ve done more. The small things are precious. We cannot waste our time working for this world and forgetting that we need to be working towards the hereafter. Our deeds in this world can mean something, if we focus it on the Hereafter. If we do everything with Allah in mind and if our aim is to gain Allah’s pleasure in all that we do, then our lives will not be in vain and one day perhaps we will leave behind a legacy of our own, no matter how small or unpopular that may be.

I guess what strikes me the most is that you can be beautiful, fancy, attractive, glamorous and all those things, but one day all that will be lost and no one will remember it, it will be a mere echo, just like the old building. But you can be very unlike the old building if your character shines, because then, you would have touched lives, and the glamour and beauty of someone’s character will continue to shine and will always be useful as well as remembered.

May Almighty Allah guide us all and help us to always see the truth and reality of this passing life!

Image from here

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Inherent peace in simplicity

I've had such a beautiful morning Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah). It brought much needed peace and calm to my muddled up mind. For the past few days my mind has been filled with thoughts. I've wasted too much time thinking and over-thinking, to the point where I felt exhausted. And then this morning I got my reminder, the teachings of Islam filled my heart with peace and cleared my mind making me realize what I often tend to forget, that life doesn't have to be complicated at all.

I've always thought that the most beautiful thing about Islam is its simplicity. The basic simplicity that is so in-sync with human nature. Today I was reminded of this. One of the participants in our workshop mentioned that it’s beautiful to see a group of such diverse ladies being able to interact so easily. Her words were that; “we are all the same!” SubhanAllah (Glory Be to Allah), despite the different backgrounds, age gaps and cultural differences, we are indeed all the same! The thing that brings us together is our shared faith, as sisters in Islam it doesn't matter what your cultural background is, what your family status is, how much money you have or how little, all that matters is our common worship for Allah. It’s simple really, so very simple that I can’t help but feel deeply moved.

Besides this however, what struck a chord with me is the simplicity of the rules of Islam. Rules about marriage, divorce and even custody of children have all been made clear, and it isn't complicated, not at all. But the prerequisite for understanding this is that we have knowledge, correct knowledge about the rulings of Islam. Once we have this knowledge, we will gain understanding of how Allah Most Glorious wants to make our lives as easy as possible. The rules of Islam suit human needs, and the ultimate peace that we are supposed to gain from this religion is evident when we understand this.

The sister who we invited to talk today made a very valid point. She said that we have incorporated cultural baggage into Islam and through this things have become complicated. I agree with her wholeheartedly. Since my family comes from a mixed cultural background, culture so to speak, has never been a deciding factor in my life, instead I was taught to always turn to the teachings of the Glorious Quraan and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This was simple enough for me, but it created a problem, it meant that I never fitted in properly anywhere. Being surrounded by people who cling to cultural dogma meant that I was an outcast. Culture means so much to some people that it sometimes even surpasses religion and people begin to believe that their cultural practices make them better than others.

Unfortunately, what I’m talking about here has been experienced by many people who have reverted to Islam as well and it makes me angry, because in our need to hold on to old cultural practices we tend to blemish the teachings of Islam making it seem complicated, when in fact it is so very simple.

Islam is a religion for ALL MANKIND. This means that the rulings of Islam and the practices surpass all or any culture. Everything should come second after the practice of Islam and this is why as the sister mentioned, a group of extremely diverse Muslim sisters can come together in unity and peace, and get along really well. This is what results whenever Islam is put at the forefront, before everything else.

Besides all this, Islam emphasizes that people should live in simplicity as well. I can tell you from my own experience that deciding to let go of extravagant things and live a more simple life causes such immense peace in your life. Getting rid of the unnecessary material things in life brings calm into your home and your life. The clutter of material possessions that we pride ourselves on collecting results in our hearts and minds becoming cluttered and our peace is taken away. Try getting rid of material things and you will understand what I mean. The less you have in life, the more peaceful you will become. This is the beauty of Islam, the true simplicity. Look back at the legacy of Islam and you will find that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived in simplicity, he (pbuh) wore simple clothes, lived in a simple home, ate simple food… and this is the Most Beloved person to Allah Almighty, the Highest in Ranks. 

The more simplicity we have in our lives, the happier we will be. I get frustrated trying to get this through to people. We need to be simple, live simply, dress simply, eat simply, then we will be in coherence with Islam, and we will find the peace that is inherent to this beautiful religion. And if we have trouble doing this, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of what and who we really are.

 Think about it, can the servants of Allah really lay claim to anything else besides simplicity? 

May Allah Almighty guide me first and give guidance to us all. In sha Allah, Ameen! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

The changes within me

I just finished reading a book that I studied in College many years ago. Back then I loved the book and named it as one of my favourites, understandably then, I was eager to re-read this book after all this time, excited to once again re-experience the love I had once developed for this work.  I read the book, and then I found myself wondering why I had loved it so much in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a beautifully written book, I can still connect to its messages, messages of destructive colonial power, of bonds of family and love being shaken, of choices and betrayal. These messages are still profound, but the awe I remember experiencing so long ago has somehow been lost.

Perhaps it’s the continuous discussions of the very same topics that has allowed the initial passion to wane, perhaps it’s the fact that I have been exposed to so many more things over these years. More importantly though, I think it’s because I have changed so much, without even realizing the extent of my inner changes and what I have become.

I look back at myself as an eager student, ready and willing to soak up the knowledge that a University has to offer you, excitedly perusing course booklets for options of what to study. Learning seemed like an adventure, an eye opener to so much that there is out there. And now, I can’t help but feel cynical and the very institution I once saw as a gateway to knowledge has in a way come to represent a sort of stifling for me.

How do I explain this in an understandable manner? It just somehow feels like there’s so much out there, way too much for us to be directed to think in a certain way. The books we have been assigned to read, the knowledge we have been taught, and information we have been given, is only a small fraction of what is out there, and who has chosen what we should read, learn and study? How has it been determined what’s important and what’s not? On what basis do some theories, thoughts or books become the foundation of learning? I have come to question the things I once thought was the cornerstone of knowledge. I have been forced to open my eyes and search my own mind to make choices that are important, not because someone else says they are. My conclusion is that Thought shouldn’t be limited to what is popular, sometimes the “worst-seller” makes the best read.  Sometimes the theories they don’t teach you are the ones that are the most useful and applicable. Sometimes the way of thinking that is regarded as “backward”, “irrelevant” or even “obsolete” are the ones that hold the answers you seek.

I also find myself facing a dilemma, which has become more real each day. For me, reading or learning about the wrongs in the world is not enough. It seems like inactivity or even cowardice, to read or even write about all the wrongs, and yet there is no action. Speaking isn’t good enough, discussions, conferences, debates, what does all this really achieve? People are still suffering, we don’t have to go far to see the suffering. So much is said and done in the name of freedom, and yet freedom remains elusive to so many.

Wars are continuing to rage on, in so many parts of the world. Children are still growing up parentless, women are still being left to fend for themselves. The injustice in the world still persists. Reading about it may make us wiser, but I’m wondering what is the point of wisdom without any action?

After reading the book I mentioned, I couldn’t help but feel like people have been speaking and writing about the injustice in the world for years and years, and still so many eyes remain closed, still so many people insist in mimicking their very oppressors, still so many people give up themselves and their cultures to become something that they are not.

Perhaps the change needs to begin with each of us individually. Perhaps injustice and oppression will only be fought when we change the way we think, and then turn that into real action. Perhaps we need to go out there and help the poor in a more productive manner, or teach children and adults who do not have the luxury of knowledge, it doesn’t matter what we do; even a small action will make a difference. I’m not sure what my course of action will be, but I am quite certain that I am tired of reading about the same things over and over, and not doing much about it.

Image from here