An Experience of Love

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We live in a world in a constant chase after love. Since a tender young age, we buy the idea that love is something to be sought and earned. We look for an ideal partner to “complete” us, rather than complement us. We are fed with romantic stories, songs, movies, and sexualized content in our day-to-day lives. Yet, despite our obsession with love, we are getting more depressed. Why is this? What is wrong with society today?

Years ago, I read a thought-provoking story about an anthropologist who visited the Hopi tribe. This culture sings a lot about rain. The anthropologist asked the chief why, who explained that rain is scarce in their land. He asked if this is the reason why we sing so much about love in the West.

I realized that society’s constant chatter about love is not proof of a loving society, but a symptom. As a hungry person notices every restaurant, so we, starved for love, notice everything related to romance. I wanted to get to the heart of this human problem, by asking myself why I and so many other feel lonely and unloved. Like many people, I also “chased” after love, and found myself caught up in a wheel of heartbreak and disappointment. I felt lonely even amongst people, and was someone needy, who lived off of other people’s love and constant reassurance.

When I embraced Islam, my heart began to undergo a silent process of healing. I experienced a phase of family difficulties and a depression, and hit rock-bottom. I sought solace in the Qur’an, and transformed my dependent personality traits into a dependence on God, as He and His perfect Word were all I had. And slowly, God turned my weakness into my strength, and I began to discover the meaning of love.

The Qur’an contains the answers to every human problem, including the one I was facing. All too often, however, God’s pithy words are overlooked due to their sheer simplicity. Sometimes, the best advice is the simplest kind, no matter how much we complicate things. These such words of counsel that I overlooked time and time again, happened to be the answers I was looking for. They include patience, and gratitude… concepts underscored greatly in the Qur’an.

فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلَا تَكْفُرُونِ

So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me. (Qur’an 2:152)

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, God is with the patient. (Qur’an 2:153)

For a while, I felt “annoyed” by all the verses about gratitude, patience, and reflection upon the simple things in life. They spoke the most to me, because I knew they were a light to my darkness. I had a phase of hurt pride and anger. Alhamdulellah, though, the Qur’an began to peel away the onion layers of my ego… to prepare me for my miracle.

With my pride lowered, I decided to take God’s advice. I accepted His challenge to enumerate His blessings upon me, and to reflect upon the sky, the earth, and nature. The Qur’an invited me to really stretch, by including gratitude for what I perceived as “the bad.” While writing my meticulous list, I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t even finish listing my morning blessings, which already filled a page. I couldn’t go beyond, without prostrating to God in total humiliation. My miracle occurred during this voluntary sujoud, during which I gained profound insights.

The problem with our society is not that we are less giving of love, but that we are less receptive to it.

All the blessings that you and I enjoy are each a called a “sign” in the Qur’an. A sign of what? I don’t presume to know the answer, but I can tell you my observation: they are each a sign of love. I began to see the world in terms of this love, and felt as though I got a pair of “spiritual” lenses. Everything we have is a message of love from God. We all have millions of “unread” messages from Him, multiplied by our number of days of life. Have you checked your spiritual inbox today?

I know, I sometimes forget, too. And yet, God loves us all the same. He keeps waking us up every morning. He keeps feeding us and giving water to drink. He keeps loving us. Whether we are believers or not, whether we are grateful or not, we are never untouched by the rays of God’s grace.

The next day, I undertook a somewhat different challenge in my new life of gratitude. I wanted to try being grateful for just people. I practiced by thinking to myself, “Alhamdulellah!” each time I saw another human being, with a comfortable sense of leisure. I know that in God’s perfectly crafted plan, no person we see in our daily lives is there by accident. My results were that I felt a sort of bond, even love, for people I saw for the first time, simply by acknowledging their presence and thanking God. (Do people not feel lonely because they don’t acknowledge one another, but instead hide behind their smartphones?) At the end of the day, I no longer felt lonely, but an equal and a part of something large. As human beings, we are all Connected.

We don’t need to look for love; it has been with us all this time.

May God bless you, heal your heart, and open it to a wonderful and happy life full of love, ameen.

My Islamic Journey

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This is a story of my experiences, rewards, and challenges as a new European convert to Islam.

My journey in Islam began more than two years ago, in June 2014, when I professed the shahadah (testimony) in a local Swiss mosque I had been visiting. Alhamdulellah, it was among the happiest days of my life. I felt completely new, as though my life began that very day! I adopted the name Maryam, out of my attachment to the Prophet Jesus (عليه السلم) and his mother.

A Sister then took me into a classroom straightaway to teach me every rule regarding prayer and ablutions in a matter of minutes. I felt slightly overwhelmed, but still very eager to practice and learn more. I had quite a voracious appetite for Islamic knowledge, and in three weeks, the Sisters taught me the minimum essentials of the religion. I was in high spirits, motivated, and peaceful in my practice of Islam. Yet, despite all these positive changes, something was starting to trouble me about this particular mosque.

The interior of the building may have been beautiful and homely, but the people in it sometimes made my daily visits less than comfortable. While I did socialize and make many new acquaintances, I simultaneously maintained a certain distance from where I could simply observe. One of my first problems was that the community often acted as a religious police, eyeing anyone for mistakes and verifying the “correctness” of their beliefs. I began feeling anxious each time I went upstairs to pray, and I feared remarks for, say, breathing incorrectly. Disconcerted, I came to view this place not as a mosque, but as a checkpoint.

Another issue I had with them is the anger I sensed between the lines of the imam’s weekly lectures. Not a week went by without hate speeches and slander, and the community easily pronounced anyone a kaafir (“disbeliever”). For them, this is a religious obligation, but for me, this is the kind of attitude that divides. It goes without saying that I was deeply troubled. Furthermore, I disliked their level of mistrust in the rest of the Muslim world. They don’t consider any Muslim as having “the correct belief” until and unless they study the teachings of their own carefully selected scholars. They gave me the impression of an isolated community, full of fearful sheep who obey their imam unconditionally.

With sorrow, I wondered why there was not much more for me to read there after having completed the course they had given me. I wondered why the Qur’an was much less studied than Al-Mukhtasar by Sh. Abdullah Al-Harari, or why they didn’t have a complete biography of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in French. They hardly studied the Qur’an or hadith (Prophetic sayings), out of fear they will get them wrong (even if they knew Arabic). Everyday, the focus was almost entirely on “the correct belief,” and lecture topics were limited and repetitive.

My conclusion from all these observations was that this is a community that demands loyalty not to Islam, but to itself. I decided not to join their “club,” and I kept contact with a distance.

When the time came for me to return to Poland to finish medical school, I felt apprehensive about meeting my family again. I risked estrangement. Indeed, I had an extremely difficult time, and though I wasn’t kicked out of the family, our relationship was not a good one. My hardest experience was when they, and others close to them, believed me to be mentally ill. I was forced into many hours of psychiatric evaluation, which finally proved that I was not mad. I had a large course load and final exams to contend with, and so my stress cup was bordering full. In spite of these hardships, I managed to find the light in the darkness I was living in.

The flame of Islam is ever burning in my heart. During my darkest hours, when it seemed like I had nothing but a floor to lay my face on, I realized that God is all I have and ever need, and I can always count on Him. I endeavored to bring myself closer to Him by attaching myself to the Qur’an for dear life, learning tajweed (proper pronunciation of the Qur’an), and engraving several ayat (verses) into my heart. I never abandoned my ‘ibadat (acts of worship), which kept me going when I often felt like my “battery” was very low. Islam taught me the meaning of patience and forgiveness. It gave me serenity, a quiet inner strength, and hope.

With hardship comes ease, and there is always something to be happy about. Alhamdulellah, I happened to live near an Islamic center, where I met a more tolerant community. I adopted trustworthy references, Ust. Yasmin Mogahed and Ust. Nouman Ali Khan. I had true friends, near and far, who would always offer me their love and support. I clearly understood that God loves me and would never leave me alone. Even when my religion and I were eventually kicked out of my apartment, God gave me a new, much better, and happier situation.

With God’s help, I lived through my hardships in Poland, earned my M.D. degree, and left my non-allies. I met a wonderful, caring, and God-loving man whom I married, and started a new and happier life. We moved to Switzerland, because it offered better perspectives for me as a young doctor. Our beautiful and lovely little princess Aisha was born, who is a constant source of joy for us.

We brought closure to the story with the mosque. We went there out of religious obligation only, while not being a part of it. By then my Islamic knowledge had increased, and I was able to see the novelties and subtle forms of idolatry the community was practicing. I felt very perturbed, and my spouse, a wise and perceptive man, also sensed something altogether wrong with that place. We voiced our views on their strange practices (celebrating new Islamic “holidays,” hosting loud and rambunctious festivities at the mosque, and wearing “protective” amulets), out of love and concern for them. We met honest friends who translated to us what the imam was really saying in his discourses (violence towards disbelievers), and who informed us that this community is part of a new sect by the name of Al-Ahbash. We dissociated from the mosque, and live in peace.

Disappointing as this may have been, my experience brought me much benefit. In this article, I have described what a sect is like from the inside, as a warning for others. As a general rule, European mosques should be approached with caution. Another lesson I learned is that it is necessary to begin at the wrong end in order to arrive at the Truth. My understanding of what is wrong and unIslamic can give a better idea of the true, pristine Islam revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

What is certain is that Islam is not a message of fear. It is a message of love.

 Imam Ash-Shafi was asked, “How can we know the People of Truth during times of fitnah (trial, affliction, distress)?” He answered, “Follow the arrows of the enemy, as they will guide you to them.”

What were some of your experiences and lessons learned as a convert? Please share in a comment.

What the Hijab Means To Me

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This is the story of how I came to wear the hijab, and discovered what it really is about.

Before reverting to Islam, I used to dress according to the Western idea of women’s beauty and fashion. I dressed simply, yet in an elegant way. I enjoyed my style until I was told by some males that I was “hot,” which I did not really view as a compliment. Until some colleagues, who I thought were just colleagues, looked at me with desire and spoke luridly. And until one dared to touch me, and consequently earned my slap. I generally felt like I was not seen as the woman that I am, but something pleasant to look at.

One summer a few years ago, I began asking myself questions. Are Western standards of women’s beauty right, or are they really misogynistic? Are women really being treated with the honor and respect that they deserve, or is society using them as objects for the viewing (and physical) pleasure of men?

Honestly, I believe that women deserve much better than what they are getting. I daresay that Western society is indeed misogynistic and highly sexualized. Women don’t deserve to be put on the front cover of men’s magazines, or to be used in advertisements to market products. They don’t deserve desirous looks by men other than their husbands, or to be told how they have to look in order to be beautiful. They don’t deserve to be rated in terms how “hot” or “sexy” they are, and they certainly don’t deserve to be used and abused by men.

Women seem to be turning into pleasant things to look at, rather than being celebrated for who they are. In other words, Western society is treating women as objects.

Upon reflection, I decided to take a stand and show society what a woman’s beauty and worth really mean. They’re in her heart, her qualities, her faith, and her moral character. I began to cover myself more, and I gave up the cute little dresses and vintage hairstyles. Then one day, I embraced Islam into my heart and life, and put on my very first hijab.

No incidents of the sort mentioned earlier occurred again, and to this day, I feel comfortable, happy, and at peace with myself.

As the Reader can see, the Islamic veil is much more than a religious symbol. It represents respect. Respect for oneself, other people, and for God, Who ordained modesty out of Love and protection for women.

“My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.” He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.”

Source: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes

Sisters, what was it like for you to put on your first hijab? Non-Muslim sisters, how do you now view the hijab? Feel free to express your thoughts below.

The Blessings of Conflict

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“We spend so much time asking God to cure us of our hardships. But we never stop to consider that our hardships are curing us.”
~ Yasmin Mogahed

On the surface, conflict may seem like poison. It may be catastrophic for some of us. But know that any kind of difficulty in our lives is necessary. It is not a sign that something is wrong with us. Rather, it is a sign that something is wrong in our lives. Conflict is not the poison itself, but a moment when the poison is brought to the surface for us to notice and remove.

Conflict is a blessing from God, to show us that there is something wrong. Sometimes, God sends rain to wash away the dirt of our lives and clear our path, to cause seeds of new beginnings to grow. These difficult moments are really blessings that allows us to reflect, heal, and grow. It draws us closer to God through the prayers it inspires in our hearts, in the rivers of our tears, and in the moments alone with Him in the dead of night.

Imagine a life without any conflicts, where we wouldn’t know where to improve. Where we would not have any opportunities to bring out the qualities of love, forgiveness, and patience within us. Can we fully appreciate the light of a candle in broad daylight? No, only in darkness. Similarly, the light within us can be best appreciated during our dark times.

In order to grow, we need conflict in our lives. It should not be taken as a “proof” that we are “bad” or a reason to assign blame to ourselves, and neither should we tempt ourselves to think other people are “bad” or at fault, either. These are disempowering ways of thinking that won’t get anyone anywhere. Instead, conflict should be taken as opportunities for growth by removing any present negativity in our lives – be it a place, an activity, a person, or perhaps something more internal, like harmful thought patterns or false core beliefs.

“When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.”
~ Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

How have you positively dealt with conflictual situations in your life? Please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts!

To the Overly Caring

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Sometimes, we lose ourselves by being too altruistic. By living for other people, while forgetting ourselves. By always meeting their needs, while ignoring our own. By making their problems our problems, and their pain our pain.

The result is that we lose our own identity. This is a slow and deeply sad death. We don’t know who we are or where we stand. We walk through life feeling invisible, as though we have no face, no place in this world. Our lives are not our own, and all meaning and purpose are lost. It’s a very difficult and painful way to live.

If the Reader feels the above, please remember that you do matter. You do have a place in this world. There is a God who loves you very dearly, widely, and profoundly, no matter who you are or what you did. With His help, you can reclaim your life and find meaning.

As someone who personally went through this, I have some general advice to offer:

  • Look for the root of the issue, and ask yourself why you chronically abandon yourself and your needs for other people. Often, if not always, the root cause is low self-love. If you identify the cause as such, make increasing your self-love a top priority.
  • At all times, I strongly advise you to be very kind to yourself. By doing so, you are helping a human beingImagine for a moment that you have encountered yourself, and you are asking you for help. Would you refuse? Give yourself the same love and compassion as you would give your best friend.
  • Invest your time in getting to know yourself and your values. Know where you stand. Cultivate self-awareness and notice your thoughts and feelings as they come, with curiosity. Be attentive to your needs, and take responsibility for getting them met yourself. Don’t make the same mistakes I made by trying to have others meet them for me. It is not in people’s design to fill voids; only God can do that.

Healing takes time. There is no “quick fix” to this. My blog isn’t about “quick fixes,” but about giving support and advice during a process of inner healing and spiritual fulfillment. And that takes commitment and patience.

“And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.” (Surah An-Nisa, verse 29)

You are very welcome to share any thoughts, suggestions, or experiences in the comments section just underneath.

God’s Love And Ours

 

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We all have trouble understanding unconditional love, and even greater difficulty receiving it. There could be many reasons for this, one being that this love is otherworldly. It may also be that many of us walk with a wall around our bruised hearts, thereby keeping love at bay. Another reason is that we tend to view God as an extrapolation of our parents, or any early figure.

As we were raised, our early significant figures influenced us more than we realize. Their concept of love became our own. The way they saw us, was the way we came to see ourselves. Unconsciously, we tend to feel that God must love and see us the same way. The same imperfect, conditional way. When we come from abusive and dysfunctional families, it becomes even more difficult to let unconditional love into our hearts.

As long as we think God loves us like a human being does, we are worshiping a false god. When we worship God on the outside, but do not accept His unconditional love, we are living a Godless life. His Love is real and all we need. It is pure, everlasting, and unfailing. To deprive our hearts of this love is the worst thing we could do to ourselves. We may be sinners. We may not deserve Paradise. But God is offering His mercy, love, and guidance for free. Not because of what we have done or who we are, but because He is Ar-Rahman, the All-Merciful. There is no arrogance in accepting this love, rather, it is an act of humility. In receiving God’s love, we are admitting that we are sinners in dire need of Him and His mercy. Nothing else can take us to Paradise.

The Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “No one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone.” They asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His Grace and Mercy” (Sahih Bukhari, Book 8, Volume 76, Number 470)

What do you think stands between us and God’s love? Have you experienced His love in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts, insights, or advice in the comments section below!