بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Life has changed. A lot. I find it bemusing how true this adage is: “The only thing constant in life is change.”
My life is so different now, from what it used to be. And I mean that in a good way.
It is all about finding yourself and reaching that place where you are comfortable in your own skin, and don’t care much (nay, at all) about what others think of you.
But it is also a lot about not regretting what you lost or let go along the way, or what passed you by.
Whether you call it ‘complacence’ or ‘closure’, it is definitely nice to be here.
The Friends of Yore, No More
I’ve hinted before about how the seemingly all-important social cliques of high school and college eventually break up and disappear with time, like anything else having only illusive and superficial importance e.g. the foam on the sea.
What I find more disconcerting than their existence itself, is the importance they command upon any youngster who is in the age range of 13 – 33.
I mean, can you imagine going through school and college without any friends, albeit close or fake? You’d be branded a ‘loser’ for life!
Yet, it’s very ironic and rather weird how these ‘cliquey’ friendships usually don’t stand the test of time in the long run.
Therefore, I call them “friendships of convenience and common purpose”. Because you end up sharing a lot of time and activities together for a certain pre-determined number of years, you end up calling the people who spend that time with you, your “friends”.
When that common purpose and set of activities is no longer there, and is replaced by another purpose in life and another set of activities, which involves being around other groups of people, the friendships that were born therein are put to the test.
And most of them fail it. Wryly said.
Examples: transitioning from high school to college, with or without relocation to a new city or country. Many students end up staying in touch through this stage, however, as they still have a lot in common with their old friends. Reunions and meet-ups are meticulously planned and successfully executed.
Then comes the stage in life when you transition from college to a fledgling career. A new workplace; new colleagues; new occupations; new challenges. New “friends”. You become a young busy bee toting a smart leather briefcase or handbag, a planner full of official engagements/meetings, and a tech gadget that never stops beeping and ringing.
Then comes the inevitable time when your female “friends” start to give their careers a break to get married and/or start their families.
However, many of them nowadays do this without giving their careers more than just a small, temporary break. Because life has changed, as I said. Stay-at-home parents are becoming a minority, as grandparents are increasingly becoming unpaid babysitters and nannies.
Like dominoes, one by one, your single friends start getting hitched, and the ambitious careerist group usually bifurcates, by age 28-31, into two distinct subsets: the full-time working professionals and the glowing new parents coddling babies.
As the thirties commence, many childhood friends still end up staying in contact even through these life changes, despite having no common activities in life any more (enter Facebook!). However, things are not the same anymore.
The married/parenting group is socially involved in grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments, prenatal birthing classes, themed children’s parties, play dates, park visits, picnics, and frantic early-morning school runs.
The other oscillates between hastily prepared PowerPoint presentations, workshops, seminars, conferences, project deadlines, over-scheduled work weeks, late-night restaurant dinners, party weekends and expensive, fleeting “escapist” vacations to exotic foreign locales.
By age 30-35, as youth beings to fade and a person becomes more set in their likes, dislikes, schedules, social habits, and lifestyle – all of which is a result of the choices they made earlier in life, – the “friends” whom they have nothing in common with any more except a past life that they enjoyed together, become just that: a name and face of the past. A past that becomes increasingly blurry and distant with time.
The ones that are left are the ones you genuinely cared about then, and still do now. The ones you want to keep in your life just because of who and what they are, even if you have nothing in common with them anymore as far as social activities go.
Very few “friends” remain in your life after this tightly-strung-filter test.
However, if you are truly fortunate (like me), you will cherish having these few friends still there in your life. What’s more, Allah will bring new friends into it for you, through means and gadgets that you hadn’t even imagined years ago, as a teenager!
The “Can You Do Me A Favor?“ Colleagues
Need I even elaborate upon this?
There was a time when I often heard my so-called talents and abilities being raved about by my colleagues.
I was young, so I loved the attention.
People I used to work with during my early twenties, usually decided for me which work I should do in order to best serve Allah’s Deen, since my chosen career has been Islamic da’wah since the age of 21 (in case you still didn’t know that). And I allowed them to dictate that, because I assumed that they knew better, as most of them were older and presumedly wiser than me.
I never allowed my professional work life to take it’s own natural course, fueled only by the firm belief that Allah would guide me, through circumstances, some of which I’d choose independently for myself and some others which He would ‘force upon’ me by His choice, to do something for the cause of Islam without being dictated by others.
I suppose that is the thing with being young and inexperienced: you do what older people tell you to do, and take it as the guidance of Allah. Anyhow, I assumed that da’wah could only be professionally done as an autonomous activity for a pre-fixed, specific time of the day or week, by visiting another location serving as a center for an organized effort to promote Allah’s Deen, away from one’s home.
For most of the religious sisters whom I met once my high school and college days were over, and while I was working at an organization for doing Islamic da’wah, doing something — anything — for the cause of Islam involved being away from their families for a specified amount of time in a day or week to teach or promote Allah’s Deen.
Consequently, for them, one of the prime modes of da’wah was to teach classes to absolute strangers, be they little children, young adults or older people.
Consequently, when they returned home to their families, they found a comparatively “worldly” atmostphere that was devoid of the effect of their da’wah. Ironically, this aura in their homes made them crave the faith-filled, spiritually richer environment in the da’wah centers where they worked, even more, with the result that they ended up spending more and more time away from their homes (and from their spouses and children) at the da’wah centers that gave them such a spiritual boost.
Over the years, people on the outside looking in (such as me, since I separated myself from them eventually, a decision that I will explain more below), saw extremely dedicated religious women working very professionally at Islamic centers away from their homes and families, promoting the Deen of Allah to strangers, while their own husbands and children spent almost all of their time in more worldly affairs, hobbies and interests.
Among all these well-intentioned people who professionally worked full-time or part-time as dedicated “da’ees“, I witnessed a common belief (or myth, if I might call it that): that if you stay at home, you become cut off from the people who do the work of Allah, and become prone to the entrapments of Shaitaan.
I fully believed in this philosophy myself until I got married and had babies of my own, because I presumed that all these sisters knew better than me, being older and wiser; being mostly married with children, being more experienced in practical life, and definitely more Allah-fearing than me.
I also agreed with it because I did not have the Shari’ responsibilities related to marriage at that time, and I was totally “free” to work for them.
Consequently – socially, I was their favorite!
As I said, they loved the multitude of my skills that I offered them to use for their da’wah work: public speaking, teaching, content development, translation, and computer skills (ironically, they never recognized or detected the ‘writer’ inside me, not even once! Ha!).
I was always being contacted by phone, sms or email to do this or that, for this or that department. I was a very busy bee. In fact, a few times I actually fell ill due to burnout related to my da’wah work.
My self-imposed lack of personal choice and will in choosing what I wanted to do for Allah’s Deen made me an even bigger favorite of theirs, because it meant they had a free, will-less person to work for their department or section, if they could just get their hands on me while my immediate superior (‘in-charge’) wasn’t looking.
I consequently got pulled in multiple directions at one time: like a baseless leaf or tree branch floating on a river, going where ever the stronger waves took it.
You’d be surprised at the the way I was referred to by the “heads of departments” when they talked to each other about me, referring to me as ‘mera bunda‘ (“my subordinate” in Urdu) as they decided which one of them got to keep me for their services and for how long.
I chuckle when I remember those days. I was such a mouse.
The whole point is, when I got married and became a mother, and started bonding more with Allah through exclusive personal reflection upon His Book, the Quran, in the solitude of my home (with two little babies), I decided categorically that I would no longer allow others to dictate my choices about how I should spend my time or ‘talents’ doing da’wah, since the time-based needs of my family came first — in the eyes of Allah.
I firmly believe that if a mother is alive and healthy, her children are her biggest, most important priority until they pass age 7 (and even beyond that age), and this responsibility has been placed squarely upon her shoulders by none other than her Creator – Allah. Nothing she does, not even any work for Allah’s Deen, is more important than her child’s care-taking and moral tarbiyah during this phase. Period!
Plus, the first formative years of marriage are rather critical in the development of the mutual love, trust and understanding between a husband and wife;- a development that needs to go slow and take it’s own sweet time.
A wife willfully going off to teach a Quran class to strangers against her husband’s complete and heartfelt permission/approval, while her baby or toddler is handled by an uneducated and untrained maid, or placed in front of the television by a grandparent, was just not the choice that I was going to make for my family.
My vision involved raising a family upon the Deen, who studied Islam, acted upon it, and propagated it, together – as a team.
I did not want my family to become like those of some of the professionally dedicated religious sisters with whom I had worked: openly bifurcated in their religious inclination and commitment, with the mother away from home all day teaching Quran classes to strangers, perfecting their tajweed and explaining to her students the intricate details of fiqh, while her husband and children devoted all of their time to worldly pursuits, and didn’t even pray all of their 5 daily prayers, much less observe the other obligations and prohibitions of Islam.
No, that would not be me and my family in the next 10-15 years! Insha’Allah, — so Allah help me!
And so, I informed the people for whom I had hitherto worked that I could not give them my time for some years. This happened before I had my third baby, and even before I started homeschooling my older two children.
Do you know what happened next? Just guess!
I stopped receiving their phone calls and emails. I eventually got dropped off the lists of invitees for their dinners and official events. Over the next few years, I stopped existing for them completely.
They still run around all day as busy bees, though, masha’Allah, doing a lot of “before the scenes” work in a full-time, professional way for Allah’s Deen, away from their homes, at their da’wah centers. Their children have grown up and/or flown the nest by now, masha’Allah.
10 years ago, when I was about to get married and at the peak of my da’wah career (if I might call it that), I thought that the emotional bonds that I had with these sisters with whom I had spent the previous 3-4 years of my life studying and working for Allah’s Deen, were purely and sincerely selfless for the sake of Allah.
However, for most of these friendships, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
They show no interest in keeping in touch with me just for the sake of Allah; but rather, only if I am willing to do some work at their particular organizational branch, institute, or department; any work related to religious studies or charity. If I am not willing or able to work with or for them, I do not hear from them at all.
So, even in my field of religious da’wah, there are very few “friends” who have kept in touch with me to this day, and with whom I still keep in touch, just because of our love for each other, or because being in each other’s company gives us a spiritual boost of Islamic faith.
Basically, we meet each other only to spend time together, the way Prophet Muhammad ﷺ spent casual time with his companions for seemingly no apparent reason.
I can literally count them on my fingers, they are so few in number. Wryly said.
And I thank Allah for having them in my life, even if I meet them only once every few years.
Keeping All Social Relationships in Perspective
At this point, I’d just like to say that I understand how the realities of life take their toll on our social relationships, and that it is perfectly acceptable for some friendships to die a naturalized death.
There are no hard feelings in my heart for those people with whom my social relationships and/or friendships ended as a natural consequence of drifting apart due to the non-existence of common interests or activities.
Perhaps friends fill a void in our childhoods and our single lives as youngsters; a void that later gets filled with our families (i.e. our spouses and children). Many people remain fond of their childhood friends even if they are no longer in touch with them, and wish them well where ever they are.
Secondly, please do not take this post as a criticism of religious organizations, their employees, or their work. Allah knows how much society needs and benefits from the noble work they are doing, and it is my dua that Allah blesses their work, grants it fruition in this world, and rewards it manifold in the Hereafter — where ever they might be.
I have only highlighted one aspect related to them that I think needs to be called to everyone’s attention: when the employees of such organizations, particularly women, become so “professional” in their work, that they get distracted from their primary familial obligations.
There are some things about which a Muslim woman who is married will be questioned before Allah. In particular, if she neglects the moral tarbiyah of her minor children and/or works for da’wah according to a schedule that, unbeknownst to her, secretly displeases or annoys her husband – these two things are matters that cannot be brushed off or taken lightly.
If a married woman uses her spare/free time to do any kind of work that promotes the Deen of Allah, so that her primary obligations are not undermined or neglected, it is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
In such a scenario, the management-level workers of the religious organization for which she works, should not burden her or any other employee more than they can bear. This is very important!
I have painfully experienced the awkwardness of being cornered into doing more work than I could handle, back when I was young and submissively acquiescent. I was often overburdened until I burned out.
For example, the academic department asked me to type the exam papers because no one else knew how to type Urdu and Arabic text on a software on the computer (duh, if I could teach myself, anyone could). The media department required me to make presentations and do Internet image searches. The email-handling section requested me to read and summarize piles and piles of daily online correspondence in English. The communications section asked me to proofread and transliterate text in some textbooks. And there were many other tasks, including teaching sporadic courses, taking a regular study circle, and preparing the English content for the official website and a CD. لَا حَولَ وَ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّا بِاللَّهِ
I am just listing these here in order to give you an idea of what kind of work life I had 10 years ago, before everything changed, by Allah’s will.
When I could not do a task or project that I didn’t have the time, energy or skills for, my refusal was met with a response along the lines of, “Well, if you turn down this opportunity to do a good deed, Allah will choose someone else to do His work for Him.” Often, this was not said in a very nice tone.
The result was that I often did work for more than one department at a time. This was because of my irritating, innate penchant for perfection – that if I do something, it must be perfect! This often went against my own interests, because if my work was done professionally, the person who’d asked me to do it wanted me to do more – and more – and more.
Result: I was often physically down, yet feeling guilty inside that I was not doing more! Ironic.
So what was the result of my willful departure from working for an Islamic organization to concentrate fully on my marriage and parenting duties?
Did Allah leave me to my supposed vain desires for idle homemaking borne out of laziness? Did I lose steadfastness upon His path? Did I go back to the glittering world (الدنيا) with it’s plethora of distracting and useless occupations?
Allah knows best.
I just know that when I became rather socially isolated to focus on the primary maternal and marital duties that Allah Himself had placed upon my shoulders, He brought to me, within the walls of the little home where I spend most of my time, the freely available resources and means that could utilize the so-called ‘talents’ that He had created in me.
Allah, in His immense benevolence, allowed my (now) ‘freelance’ work for His Deen: the content that I create بِاِذنِهِ - my written messages and penned-down thoughts – to go out into the world at a mass level and benefit those of His slaves that He wills to benefit, by His Grace.
So I always tell myself, that even if one person out there somewhere in the world, becomes closer to Allah, receives a bit of guidance towards haqq, and/or increases in faith because of reading something that I wrote, insha’Allah it will be accepted and rewarded by Allah as effective da’wah work on my behalf.
At least during this ‘reclusive’ phase of my life in which I am needed more at home by my family, than by others outside.
Friendships I Don’t Miss
I push the shopping cart laden with my weekly groceries out of the elevator at the mall with a huff, turn the corner and plop down with a sigh on one of the wicker chairs.
It feels weird to not have my little chirping munchkins around me, I muse. They are with their father at home, about to join me soon.
I order my usual: Elaichi Chai.
As I whip out my cellular device to check my email, I hear excited squeals nearby. Turning to look, I spot a group of 4 thirty-something women seated on a nearby table, all dressed to kill. Hovering around them like bees are their toddlers along with their respective maids.
I recognize 2 of them: one was a year ahead of me in high school, who became a popular singer and amateur actress during the 1990′s Pakistani showbiz scene. Another was my neighbor during childhood, also a friend of my friend’s older sister (yeah, figure that one out!). Each one of them had one or two children, being intermittently fed by them or their maids with the food on the table.
Their get-together lasted almost the entire time that I was seated there having my tea alone. I inadvertently heard intermittent mimes and mimicking followed by guffaws and laughter from their circle. I tried hard not to eavesdrop, but something told me that a niqabi seen sitting alone there covering her ears with her hands would look like a sociopath. So I ended up hearing almost all of their boisterous conversation.
Ironically, that was the time my mind starting planning this blog post, because I started musing about why I was where I was today, and they were where they were. I started thinking about the lack of such lively girly get-together’s in my own life.
I mean, a couple of them obviously had more or less the same past background as me,- they shared the same high school, or the same neighborhood where I had lived. They also had small children. They were also at the local mall, like I was.
But why was I alone now? Why was I not still a part of such female get-togethers, where the ticket to a good laugh was, at times, someone else’s (usually an absentee’s) honor?
There was a time in my life (a time I do not like to recall often, out of shame and regret), when I was the “Queen Bee” of such a girls’ group; when I, too, enjoyed picking apart someone’s honor for a few laughs with my buddies, mimicking and miming and making fun of someone just to enjoy a good laugh with the girls.
What had changed?
The answer: I. Me. I had changed.
And this change had come to my life from within. مَاشَاءَ اللهُ لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّابِالله
لَاحَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّا بِالله
Which corroborates what I said at the start of this post: the only thing constant in life is change.
And it is up to each of us to keep a check on whether this change in our lives is a positive one, by Allah’s will, or a negative one.
And the friends we choose to keep in our lives make a big difference to the changes that happen in it.