Wanderings and ponderings

One Muslim woman's reflections on her journey through the world

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Heaven Sent: How I met my cat

Late August of 2015, I had fallen into a state of deep sadness and loneliness in response to certain circumstances that had occurred recently. In an attempt to alleviate these emotions, I went for a walk in a nearby park when the thought of possibly getting a cat for some companionship popped into my head. I quickly shooed that idea away, citing reasons like too much responsibility and added expenses (food, vet fees, apartment fees, etc), despite the fact that I love cats.

Around 10 pm that same evening, I heard cat cries coming from nearby. My apartment complex has many stray cats and hearing a yowl or a cry here and there isn’t unusual. When I opened my door to see where the sound was coming from, however, I found a cat right in front of my door who then tried to come in! I don’t pet stray cats, so I wasn’t about to allow this one to come inside. I messaged my friend Em, who has and knows all about cats, asking her what to do. She told me to just leave it some water outside, which I did.

After leaving the water, it continued crying and would try to come in whenever I would open the door. It was then that I noticed it had a collar, which meant it must belong to someone and be lost.  EM an I messaged back and forth about what I should do: should I leave it out and hope it finds its home or take it in until we find it. She left it up to me; I decided I would take it in, temporarily. Em said she would come by shortly with basic cat things.

“Cat”, as I would call him for about a week, came in and hid under the sofa. About 30 min later, Em showed up with a bag of litter, cat food, a littler box and food bowls. We set Cat up with the food and its litter and petted it from underneath the sofa. He didn’t flinch, bite or scratch; he just let us pet him while he hid. He made himself at home, eating and using the litter as needed, etc. When it was time to go to sleep, I closed the door to my room; I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a strange cat in my place. But even as a new cat to a new place, he cried the whole night to be let in and resolved to staying right outside my bedroom. He

TIMG_20160313_105245o try and find his family, I posted posters around the complex, on Craigslist, FB and on the local lost and found pet database. No one claimed Cat. A few days into him staying with me and he began to be more comfortable. He rubbed his head on my feet, followed me around, rested his head on my feet. I had never known there were cats like this and so to me, he was an amazingly wonderful cat. But, I could not get attached to him. I had to find his family as I was sure they must be missing such a great cat.

He always wanted to go outside at night and, not knowing any better and believing he would go find his family, I let him go. He would always come back to me in the middle of the night (hearing a cat banging (yes, banging) on your door at 4:30 in the morning is one of the least pleasant ways to wake up). One day, I decided to go follow him to see if maybe he was going to his old family’s house. I had surmised that perhaps his old home was the apt exactly parallel to mine and that somehow he had gotten confused. When I had gone the day before, I saw cat food/dishes outside and tried knocking on the door but no one answered, but it was at least a clue.

After I let him out, he ran off and before I could see where he went, he was gone.  Still, I went to the parallel apartment and sure enough, found him there, crying at the door the way he had done at my door about a week prior. I knocked at their door but again, no one answered. I left one of the “lost cat” posters on their door, hoping they would respond. Sure enough, not too long after, I got a text from one of them saying that he (Mr. Kitty) was their mom’s cat and she had been very worried about him. They thanked me for finding him and said how happy they were that he was back.

And so that was that. My temporary stint as a cat mom was over: I had accomplished what I had set out to do and found his home. It was a bittersweet moment because I had actually enjoyed having him. I still had reminders of his short stay, including a whole big bag of treats I had just bought. Before I had time to be sad or do some cognitive dissonance about it, I heard crying outside my door and opened it to find Cat! Confused, I texted his family to ask what had happened. Their response was :”I don’t know, ask my sister” along with her number. In asking her, I learned of the plan to take him to a shelter because her baby was allergic and her mother was moving. I asked her if she would want me to take care of him temporarily until the mom moved and adjusted but I never heard back from her.

So now I had to decide what to do with Cat. Should I keep him? If I didn’t, where would I take him? Would I take him to a shelter as his other family had intended? If I did that, what would be his fate?

It wasn’t really a question of whether I liked having Cat but whether I was cut out for the job. What I did know was that I could very clearly see how Divinely transpired all of this was. Not only did he literally come to my door, but he also came to me when I was going through a tough time.  He provided not only some cuddly comfort, but also a distraction. Then there was the fact that had he not come into my care, he either would have remained an outdoor cat (doubtful with how persistent he was on getting inside) or found himself in a shelter (more likely).

Other things pointing to me keeping him: Em had been hinting at me becoming a “cat mom” for a while. I would send her pictures of a neighborhood stray and she told me to feed it and become its cat mom. When I posted to a lost and found pet group on FB, a NJ friend saw it, Kay, and told me to keep him if I didn’t find his family in a few days. (Coincidentally, she herself had had a stray come to her and after trying and failing to find its owners, her mom suggested they keep him. When I told her I really believed God had sent me this cat, she replied “I wouldn’t doubt that”).  Yet another friend, who loved cats and grown up with one, suggested I keep him if I had no aversion to cats. One more friend, H, had constantly been telling me to get a cat so that she could play with it whenever she came over.

Clearly, there were lots of external voices telling me to keep Cat…but what did I want? When I looked into my heart,  it was clear to me that I should keepIMG_20151223_224219 him; I loved having him in my life and couldn’t imagine taking him to a shelter, to be abandoned again (and who knows if this was only the first time). As I learned later, adult cats are less likely to be adopted so it’s likely he may have stayed there for quite some time. Plus, I really did feel it was best for me to keep him; we were already buddies and had gotten used to each other and I really did feel he was a gift from Above. Even though it wasn’t a human being, I now had something to come home to. And he also had a home, someone who would care for him and love him.

It was decided: I would keep him and made it official when I took him to the vet for his check-up and rabies shot. It was at that moment that it finally felt real.

And that is how my cat, Sunny (short for Sundae, even though I almost never call him that), came into my life. He has taught me a lot about myself and about love, but that is for another post.









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The truth comes out: The real reason I am still single

“What was meant for you will never pass you by, and what was meant to pass you by will never reach you.” (author?)

One of my Ramadan blessings this year came in the form of a book, a book that a friend had heard about on NPR (or thought she did) and felt I would enjoy and benefit from. She sent it to me, not even sure it was the right book, but in the end it turned out to be the right book for me; it was truly a Godsend. Having a social circle in which over 90% of my friends are married (or single but much younger) led my thoughts to dark places to try and figure out “Why am I still single?”. When others asked, it reinforced the idea that I have been doing (or not doing) something to not be married. Provided on the front cover was the answer I needed to see and hear.

“It’s Not You: 27 (wrong) reasons you’re single” spoke volumes to me. Although the only things I had in common with the author, Sara Eckel, was being a professional female raised in the US who had spent most of her adult life single, it was enough. She spoke of the same struggles I had experienced: living single and alone in a couple’s world, searching for a life partner and coming up short, and more importantly, the comments and advice that well-meaning people would shell out in response to finding out her age and marital status.

“You’re how old and not married? Why, there MUST be a reason, and find a reason we must. Because once we find that reason, we can come up with the solution.”

Although I know (hope) it must come from a good place, asking “why aren’t I/you married yet?” whether it is the single person themselves or another person posing the question does more harm than good. As Ms. Eckel mentions, searching for the “why” just leads to a lot of self-doubt and self-deprecation. It insinuates that the person in question is in someway defective or at fault or doing something to hinder themselves from finding their life partner, when in fact that is not the case at all.

Ms. Eckel met her current husband at work – not online, not at some “mixer”, not after finishing a marathon – at the age of 39. She realized then that all those things she had tried to do to find love were not directly correlated to finding it – it was all by reach-1541567chance. If Sara Eckel were Muslim and was writing this from an Islamic perspective, her book would have stated “people are single and married for the same reason, because that is how the Creator decreed it”. As a Muslim, I believe in free will, that we are living our own life. I also believe that anything that we do and any result we get is by the Will of the Creator (Qadr Allah). Without going into it too much, because this post isn’t about predestination vs free will (a very complex topic), it is in a sense the allowance of the Creator for things to happen.

Here’s an example of this given by Yasmin Mogahed in her “Transformed” class: When Moses was facing the Red Sea, God told him to strike the sea with his staff. The Creator of the sea could have made the sea split on its own, without asking Moses to do anything. After all, since when does striking water with a wooden stick make it split in half?? But, because His Lord and Master asked him to, he obeyed and by his Lord’s Will and Power, the sea split.

Transfer this to single people searching for a life partner. Look here, look there and try your best. In the end, if and when it’s meant to be, the One who created you and that person will bring you two together. Until then, it will not happen.

That is truly the only reason it hasn’t happened yet. It’s not because you’re too picky (although surely you could have just married anyone…if you JUST wanted to be married), too selfish, not looking hard enough, etc etc. How many married people do you know were super picky and still ended up married? I could name a few at least. How many married people did everything under the sun to find their spouse? I can’t say many of my married friends did – most of the time it was a by chance encounter.

The book gave me hope, which is more than I can say for some of my (again, well-meaning I’m sure) Muslim brothers and sisters who have questioned my or another person’s singleness or tried to give me some explanation or “helpful” advice. How freeing and wonderful it feels to say and believe “It’s not me!!”, to know that the best and only reason I am still single is “Because I am”.

To my fellow singletons out there: it’ll happen when it’s meant to happen, not when you “learn to speak his/her language” or complete yet another “10 days to a better you!” workshop. (Those are all great things to do, by the way, for your own betterment and for being a better spouse, but not for being a better spouse magnet). Until it happens, by God’s will, asking or wondering “why” is just a waste of mental energy and headspace. Believing that there’s something you can do or stop doing to make it happen isn’t going to make you feel better nor your spouse appear sooner.

In the end, it’s all about trusting in and relying on the One who created you and someone for you (called “tawakkul” in Arabic; I wrote a blog post on that a few years ago). We do our part, not because that will yield the result but because our Lord and Master told us to, while knowing and believing it is in our Creator’s hands.

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The Other L-word (con’t)

The time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. – Douglas Coupland

When I feel truly alone, with a sense of being lost, even empty inside, it is then I realize I have unknowingly moved away from God.  So I move back. – David L Weatherford

Last year, when I visited NJ in the fall, I stayed for a few weeks and felt the loneliness of my singleness to the extreme. It was my first visit since my brother got married, so I had a few third and fifth wheel moments. I went on a lovely retreat with friends, all of whom were married. At a dinner (again, where I was the only unmarried girl) one friend asked if everyone would get remarried if, God forbid, their husbands died. Two said yes because “They wouldn’t want to be alone”. I ran to the bathroom, crying.

(Side note: I love (yes, I said it) my married friends…and being around ALL married people, constantly, is hard. Marriage is like an exclusive club that you can only get into with an invitation. I can only speak about marriage in theory to which many marrieds will respond with “Oh, but you don’t know” (verbally or non-verbally). And then there’s the reminder of not being married, of not being in this exclusive club when everyone talks about husband/marriage stuff. And yes, I know that marriage isn’t the solution to loneliness. I never believed it and I still do not. I know a bad marriage can be even lonelier than a good marriage. I know that even in a good marriage, there are moments where either spouse feels lonely.

Also, any marrieds out there who wish to reply with “I would LOVE some alone time”, I urge you to not. Wanting and having alone time is different than being alone all. the.time. Also, you can be alone if you want, you know (not saying it would be right to do but it’s certainly possible).)

On my most recent trip to NJ, I was able to hang out and vacation with another single gal, which was a nice. I got to hang out and catch up with some old friends and connect ore with some newer ones, Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks are for Allah.

During this trip, I was also able to visit MD where I got to laugh and joke about singleness with a few girls at ICNA.  While driving down to my old ‘hood, all the wonderful memories of friends I had made and places I used to frequent came flooding back. I saw a glimpse of my apartment and visited friends. I felt an extra layer of sadness when I was leaving. I had already left NJ and said my goodbyes there and when I left MD, I felt like I was saying goodbye again. Leaving MD the first time was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

When I came back to TX, the loneliness came back, too. I had had to say farewell to friends in both MD and NJ that I had spent years getting acquainted and reacquainted, respectively, and go back to life in TX, alone again. I began to question my decision to stay in TX. Yes, I could have chosen to move back to NJ (or MD), to either live with my parents or in my own place (each with its own consequences). I would probably have a flexible enough schedule that I could see friends frequently, friends who told me they missed me and wished I would come back. But what if I did move back? Would things be the same as when I was there before? Would I become part of the background and just another tree in the forest? (Not that I need to stand out or anything…). How would I grow? We need to be outside of our comfort zone to grow; being in TX is definitely uncomfortable (Alhamdulillah/Thanks and praise are for Allah).

Despite these thoughts, I had looked forward to coming back to Dallas. I wanted to be in my own place with the comfort of my own home, to have some solitude.  I looked forward going back to attending classes at the mosque. After a visit from a friend, I had reunions with alumni from my school. Despite being surrounded by all those people, I felt extremely lonely. It was hard for me to hold back the tears. Some people noticed I looked sad and asked if I was ok, but I didn’t say anything; I didn’t really want to talk about it or to anyone. I wasn’t even sure what it was I was feeling or why. I thought maybe some of it had to do with my friend’s sadness because of her divorce, even though I knew it was the best thing for her.

Then, I understood: everyone had someone or something to which they belonged. If it wasn’t a spouse, it was a sibling or an institution or a job – something! I was just…there. People even asked me if I worked for _____ company or ____ school. Nope. “What do you do then?” ….

Making it worse was having a hard time finding someone to carpool to the graduation with; everyone already had people they were going with (family, friends, etc).

At the graduation itself, I could see where everyone belonged: they were either staff, family of graduates, general supporters who were there as part of another group. And then there was me.

Loneliness Monster was back, infecting me and filling my head with thoughts of  “you don’t belong here” (*shakes fist*). I tried to shake it off, to remember the principles I had learned in “Transformed, but it was really hard.  I reminded myself of everything I had to be grateful for, and yet all I could do was compare myself to everyone else. “They all have someONE or someTHING keeping them here and I am here, all alone, by myself.” (womp womp)

There are some people (some of whom are friends) who are TERRIFIED of being alone and have never experienced it. They lived with their parents until they were married. They don’t do anything, besides errands,  by themselves. If they can’t find anyone to do something with, they will not do it (and not only because of safety reasons). It bothers me when I hear this because I have had to do so many things by myself. I could have chosen not to do them but then I would have missed out on doing a lot of things, simply because I couldn’t find anyone to do it with. It also bothers me because it’s these very people who have never HAD to do anything by themselves, who have always had a buddy or a spouse be there for them to do things with (May Allah put blessings in their lives with their friends and spouses). I’ve honestly felt (feel) that Allah pushed me to be alone and do things alone. Every time I searched for vacation buddies, I couldn’t find anyone, so I went alone. Anytime someone searched for a vacation buddy, they found me or others. As I’ve said before, I don’t despise living alone or solitude. I believe and know there has to be a reason why Allah wants/ed me to be alone so much.

Then, I remembered the story of Yunus (Jonah), peace be upon him, who was SUPER duper alone. If one likens loneliness with being in darkness, he was engulfed in triple darkness: the darkness of the whale’s belly, the darkness of the ocean and the darkness of the night…and not just for one day! His only way of surviving, of not going insane (which happens to inmates in solitary confinement) was worshipping and connecting to His Lord and Master. Wrapped in all that darkness, He had the Light of His Creator. As it says in the Qur’an, Allah is the light of the Heavens and the Earth (24:35)

And there was Yusuf (Joseph, peace be upon him), who was alone in the darkness of the well and alone in prison (after his prison mates left), with no friend or family, no one except for his Lord.

Last Ramadan, I didn’t want to eat iftar (breaking of the fast) alone on most days, even though I ended up doing so (I wouldn’t have minded it so much if it wasn’t for the already sunset-in-winter-964459-mlingering loneliness). Just before this Ramadan began, I mentally prepared to have and even want to have iftar  alone. In order to fight the Loneliness Monster, I felt that I needed to  really focus on being ok with being alone, every day, all the time. I felt I should work on being alone with and connecting with my Lord and Creator. I was going to focus on that connection and not care whether or not I would have iftar alone or not; in fact I would practice being glad for it. I would be free from distractions of socializing, of  eating too much or poorly and instead be more focused on worship, to really connect with my Lord and Master and get to know Him as much as I can.

Already one week into Ramadan, I have been mostly OK with having almost every iftar alone. The only time I felt “blah” was when people told me about how many iftars they got invited to. When I finally had an iftar to go to, while it felt nice to be in company, I couldn’t help but feel the precious time of Ramadan being wasted. I wouldn’t mind talking about anything and everything most other days, but Ramadan is a time of reflection and worship, of connecting and reconnecting with one’s Creator.

Perhaps that really is why I almost always find myself alone. Perhaps it is not that Allah wants to deprive me of connections with people but to bless me with the best connection  – connection with Him, to bring me closer to Him. Allah knows I need it.

…put your trust in Allah, and enough is Allah as a disposer of affairs … (4:81)

…And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent. (65:3)


The Other L word

“Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”  – Paul Tillich

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” – Mother Teresa

I live in a far away land known as Texas, alone…by choice. When I tell people this, they find it astonishing that someone would choose to live by themselves, away from family, friends and everything they know. I’ve heard “Oh, I could never do that, I’d miss my mom/friends/family too much.” and “I would hate to live alone, it would make me so sad.” There are also those who would be afraid to live alone for safety reasons (understandable). And, well, life doesn’t go how we plan for it (usually), so we just have to make the best of it

A brief history:

At the age of 28, I moved to a magical world known as MD; it was my first time leaving my family and living away from the only home I had ever known. It was scary, yes, but courage doesn’t come from not being afraid, but rather doing what you feel you have to do in spite of fear.

Those 3+ years were some of the most memorable years of my life. What was really great about living in MD was that I was I was a driveable distance from my home state of NJ. I could visit friends for a weekend, or longer, then go back to MD and resume the life I had there. I had my independence, my own space and my own social circle in the DMV area AND could drive up to see family, attend events and hang out with friends in NJ when I wanted.

Sure, there were times of loneliness ( mostly on (secular) holidays when everyone had plans with families and I had the whole day to just be with me (as I did most days), but for the most part, if I remember correctly, I felt pretty good about my social support network.

As a mostly introverted person, I am comfortable with being by myself. As one friend puts it “I enjoy my own company”.  I don’t think I could live alone if I didn’t. I, however, fall into the “more social” variety of introverts. I love talking with people. Not just any talking with any people…I love deep conversations about all sorts of issues (environmental, social, etc.) with friends or anyone who can really get into these topics. Even if we disagree (respectfully), I love finding new depths and new perspectives on these issues. While I am fine with solitude, being alone for too long leaves me depraved of the connection I crave.

I had a hard time with this here in TX. It has been almost two years since moving and the first year was especially difficult. In spite of the fact that I was surrounded by 30+ women who had come to TX for the same reason and had an apartment mate, there were (many) days when I felt extremely lonely. Alone and lonely are not synonymous; one can be in a group of people and feel lonely or be alone and not.

I felt disconnected from classmates and I didn’t get to see or make many friends outside of school because of being busy with school. Unlike when I was in MD, I couldn’t get in my car and drive to NJ in a few hours. My housie (as we call each other) and I had our moments of deep conversations, but she hated being home and I liked being home, so we didn’t really get to see each other much.

After graduation, the loneliness hit even harder. Many classmates went back to their home states and even those who stayed in TX went back to life as usual; I was left on my own. There were days when I didn’t see a soul and I would think “If I were to die, no one would know. I wonder how long it would take for people to figure out I’m gone.” (morbid much?) Ramadan came and I felt sad at the prospect of having iftars alone. Two friends (non-classmates) generously offered to break fast with them. During Ramadan, I slowly started to get acquainted with people. After Ramadan, I made closer connections with people (non-classmates) who I got to see relatively frequently. Two of them got full time jobs, another had car issues and started sticking to a 9-5 work-at-home schedule, another one got separated from her husband…you get the idea.

I felt isolated, alone and sad. While listening to a TEDtalk about emotional hygiene, I finally diagnosed the issue I was having: Chronic loneliness.

Loneliness is like an infection; once it is inside you, it is hard to get it out. It spreads and gets worse over time, and if you are not diligent in treating it, it will linger and fester. When it stays for a long time, its symptoms get worse and more debilitating; it becomes chronic.  After googling it, I came up with a few articles, all of which had some pretty sad truths about the topic.

Chronic loneliness, I discovered, leads to fear of rejection (I would not contact people for fear they would say “no”), which leads to not reaching out, which leads to isolation and more loneliness (yay vicious cycles). People who live alone and feel lonely have more health problems and higher mortality rates.

Finally naming the problem was both a relief and a downer. At last, I realized why I hesitated to ask people to hang out or come over – hearing “no” would make me feel even worse than how I felt if I didn’t ask.

Recently, a friend  to whom I spoke (and cried) about my about my feeling of loneliness was surprised to hear it (although she had sensed my feeling of “not fitting in socially”), given how many social circles I belonged to or how many people I knew. As the article above says, loneliness can exist even in the most social of butterflies.

Simply knowing people stave off loneliness, at least not for me. As a personality test very accurately described me, I love DEEP, authentic connections. Having acquaintances is great for watching movies or having a meal with. But a true friend, someone with whom I can share my ideas, thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears is sunset-in-winter-964459-mpriceless to me (and vice versa. It has to be mutual, but that’s for another post).  I am fortunate to have a friend like that in NJ and one here in TX. Both are working mothers who are stretched so thin as it is that I feel guilty asking them to spend any of their “spare” time on me. They do it more than willingly, lovingly and generously, and I can’t help but feel like I shouldn’t ask so much of people who have so little to give. That is the Loneliness Monster. That’s its infectious behavior – it grips you when you’re isolated, invades your thoughts and convinces you that you’re all alone and to isolate yourself even more.  For so long, all I could think of us was how alone I was and any reminder of this brought me to tears. One day, a lady asked me about marriage and family (because what kind of 30-something Muslim girl lives alone, away from family, by choice?), telling me that it’s important to have people you can rely and depend on. I cried non-stop for the several hours.

Finally, something snapped in me and I found the ability and strength to stop moping and feeling sorry for myself and decided to attend the plethora of classes that were offered weekly. I made a point to be grateful for and take advantage of the opportunities that so many people wish, pray and would give so much for. I hung out with people some days, and enjoyed my solitude other days. I took “Transformed”, Yasmin Mogahed’s class on spiritual development, and started to put into practice the lessons I had learned about not being emotionally dependent on people, about having a heart filled with Love of the Creator. I visited family and friends in CA and, even though I was usually the only single person at any given time, I was really content. I felt so carefree and grateful for everything, even my singleness. It seemed like I had  been cured and that Loneliness Monster was (seemingly) banished.

And then I visited NJ again…


Dream the improbable dream

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” – Audrey Hepburn

Throughout my 30+ years on this Earth, I’ve come across many negative messages, not just in regards to marriage but also in other aspects of life. Some (or many) times, when we tell some people our hopes, dreams or aspirations, they deflate them with a “Oh that’s not likely to happen” kind of message. People mean well, I know they do, but as the saying goes “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Let’s use a hypothetical example of a person who is applying for a position at a well-known company. This person has little to no experience, job-wise, but has done well in school and “knows his stuff”. When he tells his friends, family and acquaintances, he may hear a variation of the following messages: “Dude, you know how hard it is to get in?” “Man, Good luck with that…it’s nearly impossible to get a job there.” “My cousin, who had TONS of experience at high level positions couldn’t even get a job there.” I wish you the best of luck!” “Hope for the best, expect the worst.”

Whether or not this person gets the job isn’t really the point as much as it people’s perceptions that there is NO WAY (or mostly) he could get it.

But what about the stories from the Qur’an. One of my favorites if that of Prophet Zachariah who wanted a child for YEARS and kept asking his Lord for one. He finally is promised one…when he and his wife are old and his wife is infertile. Even as a prophet of God, who believes in the Creator’s ability to do ANYTHNG is flabbergasted, asks “how?” and asks for a sign. The response: “Just like that.” The Creator of all that is can make anything happen; an infertile woman having a child is easy.

There are many stories like this in the Qur’an, of miracles (the impossible) happening. And how many of us have heard of tales in our own lives, of terminal cancers going into remission, of children being found alive in rubble?

What then of things that are completely and totally POSSIBLE, but may not be PROBABLE?

I’ve seen and heard people try to squash people’s hopes or even prevent them from trying something, just because they see that person’s desires as “hard to reach” or “impractical”. Yes, there are things that are not going to JUST happen, like getting in shape while not exercising or a cake baking while the oven is off. But if one actually strives towards a goal that isn’t necessarily impossible, but that people think “Probably won’t happen”, then I think it’s best to offer an encouraging word or be silent and let them dream.

Unsolicited advice: If you find yourself faced with naysayers telling you what may or may not happen, say “If the Almighty can create all of this, and given me opportunities that many would have thought impossible, and provided us with so many miracles, then surely it is nothing for me to have what I/we seek”. And also, it is probably (heh 🙂 best to choose not to share your hopes and dreams with negative people who will just leave you feeling “blah”. Instead, pray for your dreams to come true and only share them with those worthy – those who will believe in the possibility of their realization and may even help and pray for it.

As the Lord of all worlds says “Allah is capable of all things/has the power to do anything.” If one is to truly say “I believe”, then one must embody that belief in heart and mind.


The struggle is real…and so is the reward

ومن يَّتهيَّبْ صُعُودَ الجبالِ
يَعِشْ أبدَ الدَّهرِ بين الحُفَرِ

“The one who fears scaling the mountains, will always remain in the ditch.” – Arabic expression

On my latest visit to CA, on my first day there, my older brother, A, was working from home so I scratched my original plan of going to SF and stayed home. But, as working from home constitutes actually working (and I hadn’t gotten any work myself), I took A’s suggested of biking the trail by his house, the one he told me leads to the Bay and a really nice view.

I wasn’t sure about taking my SIL’s bike because it still had the kid seat on it and that was a big bother. Really. But, I managed to get on it and made my way to the trail.

The first leg of the journey was enough, but as I got closer to the bay, the win was blowing harder and against me (which I realized meant I was getting closer to the bay). Biking uphill or against high wind is super tough for me and I was tempted to turn back. But, I also wanted to reach the end, a chance I didn’t know whether I would have again. I was at an impasse.

Because neither going against the gust nor turning back were favorable options, I decided to stop trying to bike against the wing and walk the bike to the bay instead. When I got there and asked a few bikers how much further the trail went, a young lady answered that it was 2 miles but if I went up the hills I could bypass and shortcut back, and that the view there is amazing.

That’s where I decided to go next and it proved to be even harder than biking against the wind; now I had wind, plus hills, plus the weight of the bike. The hills were so steep that even going downhill was tough (I did as one passerby suggested and walked on the grass instead of the rocky trail). I was still walking the bike, not even attempting to ride it for fear of not being able to stop (going downhill) or failing to go up. I wanted to get to the highest hill and it was such a struggle for all the aforementioned reasons. At this point the desire to turn back was getting stronger, but so was the desire to keep going, despite how hard it was. The thought of turning back felt worse than the climb – to have all that work be for nothing, to just end there without making it to the end – was not a pleasant thought. That’s when I decided to just leave the bike and climb the rest of the way on my own.

And throughout all of this, I kept thinking about this as a metaphor for life. As Muslims, we know that life is full of tests and that we will have to struggle through them, that at times we will feel like it’s just too much and we’ll want to quit. But we persevere. We persevere because we believe in the end we will have the reward of Jannah (Paradise), and in light of that reward, we will see those struggles as not only “worth it” but as nothing.

In Surat al Balad (Part #90 from the Qur’an), in verse 10, the Creator uses the word “نجدين”, which means two (steep) hills to speak of the path of righteousness and that of misguidance, both of which have been shown to us and which are up to us to choose.

When I left the bike behind, I thought about how, in life, we may have someone or something in our life that was supposed to help make the journey easier, and maybe did for a little bit, but then may actually be slowing or bringing us down, making our journey more difficult than it needs to be. This may because of our own lack of strength, but we still need to decide what to do. We can either choose to let them go and go on alone, take them with us and struggle/take longer to get where we want to be or turn back.

I finally did get to the top… MashaAllah (Whatever God wills) what a view. I wish I could have stayed there for longer and just basked in it, but I needed to get back. I did take pictures to enjoy and share later (of course).


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The L word

There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved. – George Sand

I strive to be a single and happy person, and for the most part I feel like I accomplish this. There are moments when it feels kind of crappy to be single (e.g. when others are talking about the good times they have with their spouses, when I want to hang out with someone but it has to be coordinated with the spouse, when I have no one to hang out with because everyone is with their spouse or family), but for the most part I try to form my own happiness, to fill my life with goodness instead of waiting for someone to do it for me.

I’ve watched friend after friend get married – attended their weddings, watched their families and friends beam with smiles and make speeches wishing them the best in their new life together. They are stewing in love; love from their family, their spouse, their friends.

I’ve also watched people stay in unhappy marriages where they, at minimum, tolerate their spouse. I’ve seen people go through separation and met people who have gone through divorce. Some live alone, some with their first families and some with their young children. They have to formulate their own love, figure out who loves them and who they love.

Because we are taught through romantic movies and society that we need to be in a romantic relationship not only to be happy, but to BE loved, it’s understandable that many people, single or divorced, struggle with feeling loved, despite having friends and/or family who love them. But, even married people struggle to feel loved.

And yet so many of us equate romantic love as love with a capital L; that being married or having “someone special” in one’s life is a clear indication that they are lovable and loved. But, in truth, there are several kinds of love and not having romantic love doesn’t equal being unloved or unlovable. In fact, neither marital status nor number of friendships nor one’s relationship to family is a determinant of lovability.

If we measure our lovability by how other people tell and show us they love us, we will always come up short. This is because, as much as we or they may want to, no one can love us all the time, the exact way we want. Some will fail us miserably and some will come close, but, because they are human and humans are imperfect, will come short in one way or another. In the end, the true way to measure our lovability, to love and be loved with a capital L, is by loving and being loved by the Creator, the One who made us and knows us perfectly.

Muslims know about how to obtain the Creator’s love by how it is mentioned in the Quran, the word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We spend so much time trying to attain love from those around us, trying to find ways to get them to love us the way we want, when right in front of us is a way to be loved in the best way, because who knows how to love us better than the One who created us?

Because the greatest love of all is love of and by the Creator, I feel it is from there that love for ourselves, the ability to love and be loved by others comes. It is not wrong to want love from others. After all, we are human and were created with a desire for connection through romantic and platonic relationships. But those relationships are only an extension of the Love with must have for and desire from the Creator. It is through that Love that we can experience healthy and wholesome relationships. Still, we measure our capacity for loving and being loved by those who are as imperfect, fallible and limited in this capacity as we are instead of the Source. It’s like appreciating the rays of the sun without acknowledging that the light it coming from the sun itself.

This for me, as with many things in life, is a struggle – to seek the true Love, to accept that it may be conveyed by my Creator in ways I may not interpret (immediately) as Love, to be satisfied with it and not being dependent on worldly love.  May we all love and be loved by the One who gives us all we have. Ame(en).


Why aren’t you married (yet)?

It’s been a while since I’ve had this question asked of me. But in the past few months it was asked of me twice (three times if you count a varied version of the question). It’s amazing because as accomplished as I am (Glory, Thanks and Praise be to God), that’s still the thing that stands out for people.

There are many reasons why I hate this question, but for my sanity and yours, I’ll list only three: 1) It insinuates that there are explainable reasons for my singledom 2) that I am aware of these reasons and know how to or am capable of changing them and 3) that I would want to discuss the POSSIBLE answers (if there are any) with someone I just met or who barely knows me (because that’s usually who asks).

How am I supposed to answer such a question? Have these questioners walked with me through life to understand then depth of that question? Do they want a deep meaningful answer or a quick and dirty answer? How does one answer such a question quickly (I don’t even know how to answer it slowly)? Do they want to sit down with me and understand what has happened in my life up until now or do they simply want a scrape of icing from a slice of the cake that is my complicated life?

It’s like a married-but-childless couple being asked “why don’t you have any kids (yet)?”. It may seem harmless to those who ask, but to those asked it is actually an extremely personal question that may contain a lot of pain, ones they don’t want to share with the whole world. These kinds of questions carry so many presumptions and prejudices, assuming the issue can be answered or changed purely and simply.

In a way it can be. I mean, my singlehood could have been relinquished if I had agreed to marry someone – anyone – if my sole purpose in getting married was to just be married. But since getting married, for me, isn’t an end or a goal, but rather a means to a goal, I did in fact choose to be single rather than marry Fulaan (Arabic world used to mean “someone/anyone”).

But Society*, it seems, isn’t happy with that. The idea that I, or any woman or man could be accomplished in a field or multiple fields, confident and living their lives fully and happily on their own, and/or trying to change the world and make it a better place is completely irrelevant and/or impossible…if he/she is not married. Single Svetlana could hold 100 degrees, cure cancer, invent a car that ran on cuteness and it wouldn’t matter – if she’s not married, people will wonder why (what’s wrong with her?) or hope she finds someone soon (because it’s too bad she’s single). Unmarried Ulysses could walk into his high school reunion with a laundry list of accomplishments and, if he were to do it solo, it might not make a dent on people’s assessment of his success. For Society, finding one’s significant other and starting a family is the most significant accomplishment one could achieve in life.

Why is that? A possible answer came to me during a recent conversation I had with my friend H. She made a link between “being married” and “deserving”, inferring that one ends up in a marriage/with a spouse they deserve. H mentioned that people believe someone who is married was wanted, and deemed attractive, desirable, good and special to someone; that out of all other people they were chosen, and therefore they must be worth something. And I don’t think her opinion is unique. I’ve heard people say things like “Hope you find a guy who deserves you”. Besides the fact that I don’t believe we are fit to judge who deserves/ed anything, this was hurtful to hear, not because I personally measure my value based on my marital status, because it reaffirmed the feeling I have to fight whenever I’m surrounded by married people (friends and family) and am the only and/or oldest single person around.

It’s the feeling that NO MATTER WHAT I do in life, no matter how much I accomplish ON MY OWN, my worth, value and success are being judged based on the fact that I am neither a wife nor a mother. It’s almost as if not “accomplishing” (as if it’s REALLY in one’s hands) either goal is, in Society’s eyes, synonymous with failing life itself. What am I doing living on my own at my age? Where’s my husband? And if I don’t have a husband (and why don’t I?), why am I not living with my parents until I do? It wouldn’t matter if I resolved the crisis in the Middle East or the world’s environmental problems, the first question that would probably pop into people’s heads is “Why isn’t she married?” For Society, as outwardly successful and great as someone might seem, if they are single, speculation and skepticism rises about how wonderful they truly are (and I think we’re all guilty of thinking this somehow about someone).

There’s too much loaded in that question to respond in one sitting, let alone one blog post. And there’s more to me and my life than my not-being-married-yet, despite the fact that “single” is one of the words in the title of this blog. 😛

*I used Society with a capital S to refer to people as a collective whole, which of course can be dangerous because not everyone holds the same opinion as what seems to be the majority. But since it’s my blog, I used what I’ve noticed or observed in my own life.


The Dua Notebook

I hate the movie “The Notebook”. I mean hate with a capital H.A.T.E. Why shall be elaborated in another post, inshaAllah (God willing). But, until that exciting time, let’s focus on a notebook worth reading and writing: A dua notebook.

“Dua” is translated by Muslims to supplication in English. It’s basically praying to God for something, but because we have the 5 daily prayers that are not the same as “asking God for something”, we term it supplication to differentiate (at least that’s what I think is the case).

Anyway, when Muslims say “Make dua for me” they’re basically saying “pray for me; ask God to grant me something or alleviate a hardship for me”.

Recently my friend Ayesha posted this video:


Which I thought was a great idea. Sometimes someone asks me to make dua for them and sometimes I forget. Sometimes I even forget some things for myself. Dua can me made anytime, but there are certain times where it is guaranteed answer, so I like to be sure to get in on these times and remember all the important duas I want to make (for others and myself).

So, I set out to find a good notebook for this use. One that open like a book, but small enough that I could carry it around in my purse and hold in the palm of my hand, but big enough to fit duas for a while. I found an old Fivestar notebook that I had used to miscellaneous note-taking and to my pleasant surprise, it was the notebook I had used when I went on Hajj (the pilgrimage). It not only had journal type entries from Hajj, but also all the duas that I had written down to make for myself and those that had requested my dua. I read through some of it and was really thankful I had written these prayers down. I was not able to look back, retrospectively, at what I had prayed for and what had happened since then.  One of the things I prayed for was the ability to go to MD to study Herbal medicine if it was good for me. And lo and behold, over 5 years after I had written and prayed for that, I was a graduate from that school!

So, needless to say, I am going to, God willing, add to that notebook and keep up the practice of keeping a dua notebook. Any prayers my friends, family or I need will, God willing, go in there. And years later, I can read back and see which ones were answered (and how) and which ones are yet to be. For it is said that:

 “There is no Muslim who does not offer any du’a in which there is no sin or severing of family ties but Allah will give him one of three things in return: either He will answer his du’a sooner, or he will store it up for him in the Hereafter, or He will divert an equivalent evil away from him because of it.” They said: “We will say a lot of du’a.” The Prophet saws said: “Allah is more generous.” [Musnad Ahmad] (Thanks Yusra for the source!)


Thank you, and I don’t celebrate Christmas

no ChristmasIt’s that time of year again!  The time of year where everything becomes festively decorated, people go gift-buying for their loved ones, and people talk about how they are preparing for the holidays.  As a Muslim, I do not celebrate Christmas nor any holiday that comes this time of year.  Surrounded by those who do, sometimes people will ask “You don’t celebrate Christmas, right?” (something I truly appreciate).  Then, there’s the instances I run into where someone will wish me a Merry Christmas and I am not sure how to respond. Sometimes I won’t say anything, other times I’ll say thank you. And sometimes, depending on who it is, I’ll add “and I don’t celebrate Christmas”.

I understand that sometimes the Christmas greeting is a knee jerk reaction, like when I say “you too” in response to friends telling me to “drive safely” after I’ve dropped them off. And sometimes, I have realized, people just feel like sharing their holiday cheer with everyone and wishing EVERYONE a merry Christmas, whether they celebrate it or not.

“Well, what’s wrong with being wished some happiness?”

Some people get offended at someone “rejecting” this greeting of cheer.  Isn’t it better that they send a greeting of good cheer than withhold it? Sure it is. AND when that greeting is attached to a religious event that I don’t partake in, I wonder whatever happened to being sensitive to other people’s beliefs?

Now before you label me and/or my fellow Muslims a Grinch or a Scrooge, let’s rewind and try to understand why I even bring this up. The basic tenet of Islam is to believe in one God, with no partners, no sons, daughters, parents, cousins…nothing! Just ONE GOD.  To associate any partners with God is the biggest sin of all (shirk), for which there is guaranteed “no forgiveness” (unless the person repents).

Christmas, which has a lot of Pagan practices and rituals that I neither understand fully nor want to get into, is a celebration of the birth of God’s son/human incarnation of God.  Thus, celebrating it would be going against the PRIMARY belief that every Muslim must hold in order to maintain the status of “Muslim”.

“But don’t Muslims believe in Jesus? Can’t you just accept it as a day to celebrate him?”

Again, this goes back to the history of Christmas, the practices and ideologies behind it and the basic belief of Islam. I do not celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who is even more revered in Islam than the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him). If I did want to celebrate either of their birthdays, I would do so by doing something they often did, like fast or help the poor or feed the hungry.

“Christmas is just an American (and Western) holiday. You don’t have to be Christian to celebrate it”

Yes, Christmas has veered off into a secular holiday; many of the people I know who celebrate it do not ascribe to the Christian religion. While this may irk some Christians (especially those who want to keep the “Christ in Christmas”), this is how it is.  And indeed, most Christmas movies reiterate the existence of the fictitious character known as Santa Claus (and how no one seems to believe in him anymore) instead of celebrating and reminding people of the miracle birth of Jesus.

For Muslims, the rule of thumb when living in any society is that we may follow its customs and cultures AS LONG AS they do not go against or contradict any Islamic practice or belief.  For those of us living in America, that takes out Halloween, Easter, SAINT Valentine’s Day (we don’t believe in Saints, either) and of course, Christmas.

“So, even if someone doesn’t celebrate it,  what’s wrong with just WISHING them a Merry Christmas?”

Imagine if there was an American holiday known as “Pork eating day” that was celebrated with as big of a hullabaloo as Christmas.  Would people wish people of the Hindu, Jewish and/or Muslim faith – or even vegans, vegetarians and others who do not eat pork –  a ” happy Pork Eating Day”? And eating pork, while a sin for Muslims, is nowhere near the magnitude of shirk. I know it’s an odd example, but it’s a point I’m trying to make that, while I appreciate and accept the good cheer that comes behind the greeting (really, I do), I don’t accept the actual greeting itself.

Christmas is a BIG deal here in the US and growing up as a Muslim American, I have experienced being one of the “odd ones out” of people who do not participate in the festivities. But, because we have a long way to go in being PC and having tolerance and acceptance of other people’s cultures and beliefs, beyond being told to have a Merry Christmas, in public school, I  learned (and sang) ALL the Christmas songs in music class, watched Christmas movies on the short school days just before vacation,  made Christmas hats and stockings in sewing class and was given Christmas cards and gifts by teachers. I even remember making a mini-Christmas tree out of Readers’ Digest magazines once (it was actually pretty cool).  So, even in public school (a place deemed secular and religion-free), I was surrounded by Christmas.

But what is it about Christmas? Last year, I asked my Facebook audience why most people do not wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.  My intention was to get people thinking about the reason why most people spread Christmas cheer, but not really Hanukkah cheer, or Kwanzaa cheer. Most likely, I thought, it’s because most people don’t celebrate the latter two holidays and venture to guess that the majority of their fellow Americans don’t either. So, then why not apply this concept to Christmas  – only wishing it to those who do celebrate it?

I know some people may not know that Muslims do not celebrate Christmas (hence my trying to politely inform them), but those who DO know…why the resistance? I’ve found that some of those who did know, upon my reinforcing my personal beliefs, were extremely offended, as if I rejected their greeting of peace and love.  For me, it’s less about rejection and more about acknowledging that not all Americans have the same traditions as each other. I believe the more we acknowledge and understand differences between the different people living around us, the better we can appreciate them and get along with each other.  After all, don’t racism and prejudice stem from intolerance to people’s differences and the belief that all of “them” should be like “us”?

Muslim like me?

The two Muslim holidays, “Eid Al-Fitr” and “Eid Al-Adha” come and go and I almost never get wished by random strangers a “Happy Eid!”, nor do I wish a happy Eid to random strangers (but I will wish it to random Muslims).  There are the co-workers or friends who know when Ramadan rolls around and wish me a Blessed Ramadan (which I absolutely love and appreciate), but many don’t know about the two Eids or their significance.  It doesn’t bother me that non-Muslims don’t do anything for Eid because I wouldn’t want them to be celebrated as “just another American holiday”. The meaning behind it would get lost and the true reason for celebrating them would disappear. They’re special to me as a Muslim because there are rituals and beliefs that surround them, that we partake of together and teach our children to love and understand.  I can’t (and won’t) do that with Christmas.  I’ve never celebrated either Eid outside of the U.S. (or maybe one once when I was a child), so I don’t know how Muslims interact with non-Muslims during this time. Does everyone get greeted with “Eid Mubarak?” Do they have “Secret Eidee” at work places that all have to participate in, regardless of whether they celebrate it or not?  I do not know. But, wherever we live, I feel like when we need to be aware of other people’s beliefs and not assume that everyone is like us (or should be).

For many Muslims who have converted into Islam, and whose family celebrates Christmas, this time of year is even more challenging.  While they have accepted the beliefs and practices of Islam, which include not celebrating Christmas, their families of origin have not. My friend Elisabeth explained to me how it’s an especially trying and tense time as she faces the dilemma of delaying her trip to see her family, who have all gathered for the holidays, until after December 25th, or going earlier and being around everyone celebrating a holiday they she can’t and doesn’t.  There’s a struggle of whether or how to gather with family without seeming like they’re celebrating, of being in the midst of holiday practices (beyond giving gifts or singing carols) that go against Islam, such as drinking alcohol, mixing with the opposite gender, etc.  So, she and her family must choose whether they will avoid these situations by not spending this day with her family of origin and seemingly ostracizing themselves from their own blood.  Or they will gather with their family and try their best to avoid participating as much as possible. May Allah (God) make it easy for them. Ame(e)n.

Best Christmas EVER

In 2001, my family and I went for Ummrah (a mini-pilgrimage) during winter break. I remember being in Mecca and seeing only the lights of the stores and the mosques outside.  On December 25th, nothing happened. It was a day like any other. There were no songs about Rudolph or how Santa was coming to town or how anyone was coming home for Christmas (and only in my dreams).  I reveled in this…to experience Christmas exactly how it is for me every year – a day like any other.