Going “Home”

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

The home is where the heart is. So you miss home. And you might feel very homesick when you are away from home.

What is it that makes a house a “home” for a person?

The aura in it? The people? The number, personalities, habits, faith, natures and lifestyle of it’s occupants? The activities that are carried out in it?

Or, how they feel when they are there?

I think the last one clinches it.

The House of Allah – My Second Home

I find it very endearing that Allah refers to Masjid Al Haram as “His house” in the Qur’an – “baitullah“:

    وَإِذْ جَعَلْنَا الْبَيْتَ مَثَابَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَأَمْناً وَاتَّخِذُواْ مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ

Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take you the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma’il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).” [2:125]

The holy sanctuary of Masjid Al Haram in Makkah, Arabia is peppered with beautiful remnants of the inspiring historic events related to Divinely-revealed monotheism (belief in one god) that have happened there over time. Such as the three jamraat, the hateem, the well of Zamzam, and the majestic structure of the Ka’bah itself.

Incidentally, the Arabic language uses same word to denote both a ‘house’ and a ‘home’ – bait, which is obvious from the above verse of the Qur’an, in which Allah mentions the word bait both with and without the prefix ال (al-).

In and around Makkah, there are historic places and structures that date back to the first Divinely revealed (Abrahamic) religion; that are related to events that took place thousands of years ago when Allah’s Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (عليهما السلام) and their close family members made tremendous sacrifices to uphold and establish tauheed (oneness of Allah).

In fact, Makkah didn’t even exist as a thriving city full of people, until Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام left his wife and infant son there, in the middle of nowhere. Read the full story here.

Allah has scattered throughout His house, and around it, the historic reminders of the efforts made by His close friend, Prophet Ibrahim, and his family: such as the house of Allah (Ka’bah) itself, which was built brick-by-brick by him and his son Isma’il.

Prophet Ibrahim’s footprints engraved in stone and metal near the ka’bah, which serve as the mark for a place of prayer (Maqam Ibrahim).

The hills of Safaa and Marwah between which his wife Hajrah ran 7 times in search of a source of water for her infant son Isma’il, when she was left alone with him in the barren desert at the command of Allah, and he started crying with thirst.

The inexhaustible Zamzam water-well that has been feeding millions of Muslims since thousands of years, which Allah sprouted miraculously from the ground for Isma’il and his mother.

And who can forget the special stone that descended from Jannah, Hajr Aswad (the “Black Stone”) that is nestled in one of the corners of Allah’s house?

Miracles happen in the house of Allah. Ask anyone who has been there and they’ll probably agree, especially if they practice Islam at superlative level.

Hearts, once there, are turned forever. Lives undergo radical change. Souls chained by devils for years are released from hell within moments.

Right there, nestled in the arid, barren hills of Hijaaz under the unrelenting heat of the tropical sun, is located the one and only special place on earth that Allah chose thousands of years ago to become the place for “His House”, and ordered his friend Ibrahim to build the house with his son.

Where the best man who ever walked the earth was eventually born and raised.

Where the symbols of tauheed have been standing firm since his demise.

And guess what? Going to Allah’s house is so easy. All you need is some money to buy a ticket, book an accommodation (an amount that can be saved easily over the course of a few years), then acquire a visa, and get a vaccination. That’s it.

So what are you waiting for? If you are an adult, independent Muslim who is reasonably well off and able-bodied, and especially if you customarily travel abroad once or twice a year (for either business or leisure), how come “going home to Allah” has not once come up in your travel plans, thus far in your life?

What’s stopping you?

Going Back Home

Time seemed to stand still when I visited ‘home’ earlier this month, this being my third visit to Allah’s house during my life (alhamdulillah).

 

And yet, the 9 long years that had elapsed since my last visit made my heart ache and my eyes flow with gushing tears as soon as I landed in Madinah, and at the moment I set my eyes for the first time (after such a long interlude) on the twin holy sanctuaries that Allah and His messenger  have each called their home, respectively.

I cannot express adequately in words what one feels when one is there. The unity in diversity of the Muslim ummah for one. So many ethnic colors, languages, cuisines, and cultures all converging in one place for the sake of one God, upholding and performing the prescribed rituals of worship of their shared, one religion.

You feel at home. You never feel like an outsider there, or even a guest (even though you are a guest of Allah). In Allah’s house, you feel perfectly ‘at home’, at ease, at peace.

No one treats you like an alien or an outsider because of the way you dress, speak, look, act, or because of the country of your origin/birth.

You are one with everyone else, and the single uniting factor that joins every pilgrim who visits Makkah and Madinah, transcending their diversity and mutual differences of race and culture, is their belief in Allah, His Messenger, and in Islam.

During every salah that you pray there, you stand next to a different person. Sometimes it is an Egyptian, sometimes a Malaysian, sometimes a Turk. Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis can’t help but smile when they pass by someone else in the streets or public areas and hear them speaking their language.

Is it possible to be home away from home? Truly.

Because this time, after I returned, I sobbed and cried. I didn’t feel at home in Karachi at all for a day or two, which is very, very strange for me, as I am a born native of this city.It was as if my body was back here, but my heart and soul were left behind in Makkah and Madinah.

The echos of the call to prayer of the haramain reverberated in my mind for days after my return. I would close my eyes and imagine the black, awe-striking structure of the Ka’bah looming up in front of me, as it did when I would be performing tawaaf around it.

The Arabic that I had heard people speaking throughout my stay there, kept floating into my ears. Even the memories of the fresh pancakes and labneh (strained yogurt) that I would have for breakfast wouldn’t leave me alone! :)

 

My soul refused to let go of ‘home’ this time. And I realized that this time, my trip for umrah was different than my last two, and not just because all my three children were with me. It was mainly because I had changed significantly, spiritually, in the interlude.

Not only had I crossed the age of 33 (which I believe is the ripe age of maturity at which a young adult says goodbye to the naivete of youth forever), but I had also endured hardships in the years between: hardships that had taught me invaluable lessons that no book, course, or institution could ever impart.

I felt as if, when I went for my first umrah during Ramadan in December 2002, and then for hajj in January 2006, I went the way a moderately thirsty person walks over to a water fountain to get a drink of water. But this time, as I left for umrah, I felt as if I was running towards Allah the way a person who is at the brink of death due to thirst runs towards a source of water in a desert.

Yes, I was that desperate to seek Him!

Which is what brings me to my key point:

What you will bring back with you from your trip to perform umrah or hajj, will largely depend upon you: what your intentions were before embarking upon it, and how sincere your desire was to seek Allah’s forgiveness for all your sins, and to ask Him for the guidance to tread steadfastly upon the straight path of His Deen for life, after returning from your journey.

Many Muslims who go for haj and umrah come back spiritually unchanged, untouched, un-revitalized. Upon their return (which they really look forward to), they recall and list to others only the physical adversities of their travels and the hardships they faced whilst performing the rituals of umrah and hajj, instead of mentioning the beautiful spiritual and emotional experiences that their soul went through while embroiled in worship there.

Many mention the problems they faced due to the immense crowding and the illnesses/ailments/fatigue that they came back with. The journey is little more than a physical tryst for them, instead of a spiritual/emotional one that moves, humbles and changes the heart. And the reason for that is their intentions before going.

Since I hail from the region, I know that many Pakistanis perform umrah just to ask for a specific worldly gain, mostly related to health, marriage, wealth/career, or children.

So be it, there is nothing wrong with asking Allah for His bounties, is there? Perhaps Allah withholds some worldly blessings from people in order to make them visit His house, because He knows that they wouldn’t perform umrah or hajj if He gave those blessings to them without their asking. :) Such is His mercy and wisdom.

Nevertheless, we all should also perform umrah to seek forgiveness for all our past sins, and to ask for the steadfast guidance to act upon Islam for the remaining part of our existence/life. This is actually more important than asking for worldly blessings, though the latter count too.

Reflections on the Trip

There was selfies galore throughout both haramain, much to my surprise. Hailing from a city where cell phone theft is as rampant as the power breakdowns, where we avoid using smartphones in public, I was refreshingly surprised to see that most pilgrims had their own gadgets/devices that they actively used to take photos and videos in/of the haram, and that nobody in Arabia is generally interested in stealing another’s phone or tablet.

I had always intended/wanted that whenever my children step out of Pakistan for the first time, it should be to visit Allah’s house, and I am ever so grateful to Allah that He made performing umrah with three children under the age of 10 so much easier than my expectations.

It was our (my) best “vacation” yet! :)

Alhamdulillah, I had asked Allah for special ease and comfort before embarking on this journey, and Allah answered my dua’s to the extent that I would often say to my husband, “Umm, is it me, or was our umrah and travel on this trip much easier than we expected?”

Luxury and ease for pilgrims have made their way into the twin holy lands. Traveling to the haramain, staying at luxurious hotels, shopping for our needs, and eating scrumptious varieties of healthy, fresh foods every day, couldn’t be any easier for a pilgrim than it is today.

I seriously do wonder just how much more harshly us Muslims of this particular era, who were born within the last 100 years (i.e. after the industrial/internet/technological revolutions), will be questioned by Allah about performing hajj and umrah, than the Muslims who lived during the 1300 or so years before us,– simply because we have been blessed with so much more ease of traveling to Allah’s House than they?

We Muslims today can easily book and pay for airline flights/tickets, visas, and hotel accommodations online, even months in advance. We embark on humungous, air-conditioned Boeing airplanes, from and to air-conditioned airports, being served food by others during our flights, and are able to easily reach Makkah or Madinah in less than a day.

Sure beats riding a camel or a horse in the heat of the day, and setting up camp at night, for months on end, in order to perform one hajj or umrah,– doesn’t it?

We stay at carpeted, luxurious accommodations within half a mile of the twin holy sanctuaries, with cool marble tiling and thick carpets under our feet, and shade-giving, cool-air spewing, beautifully embellished roofs over our heads, as we pray/sit/recite Qur’an inside either Masjid al Haram or Masjid Nabawi.

Our taxi-cars, GMC’s and buses whiz us off at high speeds across smooth highways and wide roads, with (once again) carpeted and air-conditioned interiors that help us doze off comfortably during our journeys.

As soon as we come out from either of the two holy masjid’s, we can step into luxurious malls and restaurants that serves us a variety of cheap food in, once again, a cool and air-conditioned environment that dries up whatever perspiration came over our bodies in our short, 100 meter walk from the doors of the haram to the mall entrance.

Allah really did answer our father Prophet Ibrahim’s dua for us (below), that he made thousands of years ago in the barren desert, didn’t He?

رَبِّ اجْعَلْ هَـَذَا بَلَدًا آمِنًا وَارْزُقْ أَهْلَهُ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ مَنْ آمَنَ مِنْهُم بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ

My Lord, make this a secure city and feed its people with fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” [2:126]

Of course, pilgrims don’t always eat at restaurants. That’s when the sprawling Bin Dawood conveniently steps in!

Pun not intended. Because Bin Dawood is literally steps away from the entrances of both the haramain. :)

Ah! Don’t get me started on just how awesome Bin Dawood supermarket is! :) And Kingdom Dates too….and the variety of chocolates that have made their way into the holy twin cities, including as the delectable, gooey insides of traditional ma’amouls and other date confectioneries.

A chocolate and date-lover’s paradise, indeed! :)

Pilgrims emerge from their hotels after devouring lavish early-morning breakfast buffets, into fragrant, oud-infused outdoor souks (markets) that are constantly in a cool shade thanks to the many tall hotel buildings and malls around both the haramain, where everything the guests of Allah could possibly need and want during their travels is sold on the streets at dirt-cheap prices, by vendors who are eager to bring down their prices even more for the sake of meeting their demands.

So what are you waiting for?

If you are a Muslim who hasn’t yet gone for umrah or hajj, you really don’t know what you’re missing!

Posted in Home and Family, Inspiration, Parenting, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Parents, Can We Stop Judging Each Other?

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Misunderstood. Put on the spot. Challenged. Quizzed in public.

That is how I find myself feeling more and more often as an homeschooling unschooling parent, now that my children are older and meeting more people in social settings.

People are usually all praise for their demeanor and behavior, until the bomb drops.

What? They don’t go to school?!

By now, I have the sequence of questions that follows this opening one, along with the accompanying aghast and scandalized facial expressions, practiced and etched in my memory down to a tee.

It is always the same sequence of questions and exclamations, give or take a few exceptions. It seems that by choosing to unschool my children, I am not just consciously challenging other parents’ choice to send their children to school, but also choosing to be judged and labelled as a certified “crazy” parent in our ‘tolerant’ and ‘broadminded’ Pakistani society (sarcasm intended).

So be it. Every rose has it’s thorns.

question-marksBy the end of these unwanted, unwelcome “interviews” of sorts (which feel more like an interrogation or inquiry by police officers, for a crime that I am supposedly committing, according to their perception), I am left quietened by the questioners’ passive-aggressive remarks and half-accusatory stares of disbelief at what they have judged and passed off to be a totally ‘crazy’ decision as a parent.

What are you doing with your children!?

The older the female interrogator (I do not usually talk long enough to men for them to quiz me about my children, thankfully), the more quickly the accusations come my way, and the more quickly I become quiet.

I think I have mentioned before that I dislike engaging in arguments, defensive discussions, and debates with anyone – but especially so with opinionated, older Pakistani “aunties” (i.e. any lady whose oldest child is above 20 years old).

Truth be told, I consciously try to make myself ignore what they think of my parenting choices at this stage, in order to go on trying to raise my children with a healthy dose of positive enthusiasm that remains unmarred by the skepticism of critics.

However, my mental battle with their imposed negativity sometimes goes on for more than a few hours, before which I can declare complete victory, bi’idhnillah, and continue unschooling without a million “What if’s?” clouding my better judgment.

They will curse you after growing up for what you did to them!

It’s not like I was ever like the mainstream majority anyway. Ever.

Not when I was a child in school. Not when I was an unmarried girl (e.g. I chose not to go to a beauty salon for my bridal makeup – can any girl be weirder than that?). Not when I was a young married woman with small babies, and certainly not now, when I am the mother of growing children, two of whom will be at the threshold of teenage in a few short years, insha’Allah.

They can turn back their attention to saucy, superficial Pakistani dramas, curry recipes, and Masala morning TV shows.

To each their own.

Being Different – The Road Less Traveled

This feeling – that I am different from others, to the point of being outright ‘weird’ – is nothing new for me.

From as far back in life as I can recall, I was always different from the mainstream, both in thought as well as action.

I still remember walking up to my Science teacher in 8th grade (Science was my favorite subject, which I usually excelled in grade-wise), to hand her back my marked/checked midterm examination that carried the score of 48/50 – the highest marks in class – and tell her, my lip quivering, that I had answered one question, carrying 7 marks, entirely wrong.

Flabbergasted more at the fact that I had actually pointed out my undeserved extra marks, than at how she had corrected what was an obviously wrong answer (it entailed describing a test tube experiment), I watched as she regretfully crossed out the 48 to make it 41, which ended up lowering my marks not just in Science, but also my overall position/rank in the class results that term.

I remember going back to my seat and crying my eyes out, as the other girls in class attempted to comfort me. The whole classroom was one giant face of pity.

So why did I do it?

No one had coerced me. It was completely my decision. And not an easy one.

I had done it due to the same reason because of which I have always felt very different from others: the moment I realized, with a sick feeling in my stomach, that I had answered that question completely wrong, but that the Science teacher, who was used to me getting good grades in her subject, had inadvertently marked it right, I just knew that I had to tell her.

I wouldn’t have been able to live with the guilt of dishonesty; of knowing that I got a rank that I did not deserve; of knowing that I kept quiet and did not do the right thing.

My ‘morals’ have actually always made me take many difficult steps in life, such as in the incident above, which happened when I was only 12.

My penchant for taking the higher road has also brought me considerable pain and hurt, truth be told, and mostly from other people; especially those who don’t appreciate or uphold 100% honesty in their own lives.

As I said, I am outright ‘weird’.

It is Never Easy to Consistently Homeschool Unschool

We decided to homeschool our children based on a sincere desire to provide them with the best Islamic upbringing, combined with the home-based application of those modern-day learning methodologies that encourage and facilitate natural knowledge-seeking based on fueling the God-given, innate flame of exuberant curiosity, unrestricted creativity, and the incessant drive to know more and to seek answers, which burns with ferocity inside all small children, before the early schooling system pats it down and fizzles it out forever.

I openly admit that this homeschooling decision was initiated by me, and is, by and large being sustained up till now as my choice (more than my husband’s).

When I mentioned above that my morals have always coerced me to take the high road, do the right thing, give the best due of any responsibility, and to tell the truth even if it causes me loss, etc., well, it was the same sense of morality that made me opt for homeschooling, rather reluctantly at first.

When my oldest was in school from the age of 2.5 to age 5, I came face-to-face with the grave realities and shortcomings of the contemporary schooling system firsthand, and there was an increasing number of things that I started to have major issues with, as a parent.

However, even though the thought of homeschooling made it’s way into my mind again and again, I kept repelling it, thinking that I didn’t have the guts to take the plunge.

However, a point came when I could just not take it any more. That is, my inner struggle with what I thought was best for my (Muslim) child(ren), as opposed to what was done as the norm by parents all over the world, would just not let my mind rest.

Correlating the present-day incidents that my oldest child went through during her short time at school, with my vivid memory-flashbacks of incidents that occurred at school during my own childhood, I just knew, as I did istikharah after istikharah — turning to Allah in an absolutely torn state of mind about what to do to raise my children ideally during the short time that I had with them before they became adults –, that homeschooling was something that I absolutely owed to my children.

This realization tied in well especially with my beliefs and thoughts about how a Muslim mother should parent her little children, which had formed in the light of the comprehensive study of the Qur’an that I underwent at Al-Huda (as a Diploma course), at the age of 21-22.

Would you believe, today, that I tried my best to resist the idea of homeschooling my children, before I actually took the plunge? For months, I ignored the recurring thoughts that Allah placed in my mind about how this was in their best interest as Muslims. I repelled those thoughts with, “But I cant do it! It is just too difficult! I am not patient enough. It won’t succeed. Everyone sends their children to school, how can I not?” etc.

But my penchant for taking the high road ruled. The nagging feeling of doing the right thing kept returning. The pinching guilt, that I was settling for second-best for them; that I was delegating my primary responsibility as a Muslim parent, of teaching/training/nurturing/facilitating the early education of my blood offspring (who are priceless gifts and trusts from Allah) during their early years of life to absolute strangers, just wouldn’t go away, even though I tried to repel/ignore it.

So anyway, I took the plunge by Allah’s will, knowing that there was no looking back, backtracking, or retracting after such a huge decision. Sort of like when I started hijab. Heh.

And I already knew that it would definitely not be easy. Nothing that is based on morality, truth and sincerity ever is. I anticipated many hurdles in my unschooling journey, but they were mostly related to my children’s “socialization with peers”.

How naive of me. :) Little did I know what lay stealthily in wait.

Being Questioned About My Parenting Choices

Almost 5 years down the road from that point in time, I definitely did not expect to find myself the target of awkward interrogative sessions and indirect, passive-aggressive accusations from other mothers.

My older children seem to be doing quite alright in the social arena; in fact, I think that my 9 year old daughter is actually more confident in social gatherings than I was at her age (and I was a school-goer), especially when she is interacting with adults.

My older two children, aged 9 and 7 right now, actually prefer the company and conversations of adults, over that of children their age. And I am happy with that. That is actually what I want, because children their age are playing games and watching entertainment programs on screens that my children know nothing whatsoever about!

However, what I am finding increasingly disconcerting is how and why sisters (that is, other adult women) think it is perfectly alright to subject me to a barrage of questions about my choice to not put my children in school, whenever they meet me?

I know that our choice is a very different one, one that they know absolutely nothing about; perhaps even a weird one (wasn’t I always weird?! Heh!) and that is why they ask me these questions.

But why do they consider it alright to do that?

Why would any parent, myself included, think it okay to put another parent on the spot about the choices they are making regarding their children? And that, too, in random social situations where talking in detail about deep concepts such as children’s education is not possible or easy, such as during chance run-in’s at the mall, or at a noisy wedding.

All parents make individual, personalized choices regarding their children, whether by allowing them to do something, or by disallowing them from doing something. Each parent makes that choice.

Are we parents open to judge others’ choices? Are we? I ask this question because I see it happening all the time.

And sometimes I am tempted to return the favor. ;)

The only apparent exception is perhaps that of younger parents (of today) judging the parenting decisions, styles and choices of the older generation (the parents of yesteryear – who had children 30/40 years ago). Judging their choices doesn’t occur, for some reason, perhaps due to a commendable respect of elders.

Anyhow, while we are riding the “judging other parents’ choices” bandwagon, there is one particular issue that I have been confused about since the past 14 years. Perhaps I should talk about it now, since other mothers consider it perfectly alright to talk about my parenting style. Eh?

This is actually something that I have seen in quite a few religiously inclined families, which I simply do not understand to this day.

It is about the practicing Muslim mother wearing hijab and abaya (out of choice), carrying a toddler daughter to and from her Qur’an class and full-time job at the local Islamic institute/da’wah center on a weekly or even daily basis.

12 years later, the same mother, donned in the same attire (perhaps with an additional niqab), is still seen going to and fro from her Qur’an classes and/or da’wah center, accompanied by that same daughter, but this time, this daughter is wearing short shirts with skinny jeans and/or tights that outline in vivid detail every curve in the her lower body.

I mean, who is buying this daughter these clothes?

And does the daughter know how to brush her teeth?

Does she know how to do her school homework on time?

Does she know how to clip her nails?

I am asking all these seemingly unrelated questions for a reason.

You see, even though I have seen so many such examples, believe me, I am at a total loss at being able to understand or fathom just how a mother, who observes strict hijab herself since before her daughter’s birth (and obviously because she believes that it is obligatory), can force her daughter – since before she hit the age of 7, – to get up before dawn to go to school, do her daily homework, and to brush her teeth every morning, but – for some reason totally unbeknownst to me – she did not “force” that same daughter (i.e. train her, as she is obliged to) to wear the obligatory hijab at the right age i.e. between ages 7 – 10.

Yes, you heard that right. If Muslim parents can and do begin to train their children to perform the 5 obligatory prayers, observe obligatory fasts in Ramadan, and to do all other socially obligatory things during the age of 7-10, as a character-building training for their child, then the training of girls in how to observe modesty in their clothing should also be begun during the same age range.

I mean, it is as clear as the sky – at least to me.

That if hijab is obligatory, it is not like our daughters have the option to not do it once they hit puberty, just like they do not have the option of skipping any of the five daily prayers or other obligations (such as final exams at school –>  which are purely academic ‘obligations’ forced on to children by society, not by Allah, yet all parents force their children to stick to them, as if their lives depended on it).

And just like we train our children to do ALL the other ‘obligations’ – social, cultural, or academic (viz. “Go and say salam to uncle”/”Go brush your teeth before you have breakfast”/”Go take a bath, you’re very dirty/”Put away your books/toys, NOW!”/”Go cut those long nails!”) – should we NOT train our daughters about the Islamic rulings of their clothing long before they hit puberty, too?

Just like we take great pains and worry about making them learn how to read and write as soon as they are able to (age 3-5 onwards)?

Right?

Or am I wrong here?

Don’t ALL mothers train their daughters in the art of removing their extra body hair by the time they are 16 (that’s quite late nowadays, I think. I’d go with a 12)?

Do they not train them in what to do when they experience menarche?

Then why not the obligatory hijab (Islamic standard of modesty in clothing)?

Just what excuses does a practicing Muslim mother make to herself when she allows her daughter, who is 10+ in age, to go out of the house wearing skinny jeans and a short shirt?

Surely these mothers are giving themselves some comforting excuses that allow them to get deluded into believing that training a young daughter in wearing the correct Islamic hijab from age 7+ – using love, wisdom, and gradual, step-by-step practical instruction – is NOT an obligation upon them, as a parent.

Even though their daughters’ daily brushing of teeth and sitting for/passing school exams IS an obligation, apparently, since long before that age.

Anyhow, rant over about my confusion. :) Now let’s get back to the point: why I am mentioning all of this.

Whenever I encounter such a mother-daughter duo, and obviously “judgmental” questions about their parenting style/choices do pop up in my head, I never corner these mothers and rudely ask them upfront questions about why they are not making their teenage daughters observe Islamic requirements of hijab, something which they obviously consider to be an obligation for themselves (since they are doing hijab and abaya since many years, and involved in Islamic da’wah work too). Heck, they are not even making their daughters wear modest clothing, let alone a head cover and an outer garment!

And even though I ‘judge’ them like this inwardly (ouch, how mean of me…what a typical, ‘judgmental’ Pakistani aunty I am becoming, eh? When in Rome….), I refrain from being rude and crossing the boundaries of social decency and maturity to ask them this question outright:

How/why can you do this to your daughter?”

I call my lip-biting, non-intrusive stance of not asking such questions, “respect” for their parenting choices, even though I am totally bewildered by them.

And by that I do mean, really, really confused and bewildered.

Since I did the diploma course at Al-Huda, I have known and seen many such mothers raise their children, since by Allah’s grace, I started to move about more in the social circles of practicing Muslims. Many sisters who studied the entire Qur’an and started practicing hijab themselves, happened to give birth to daughters a little before, after, or during their Qur’an studies/reversion towards Islam.

However, then I started to observe this ‘hijab contradiction’ parenting phenomenon, and to this day I am confused about it.

If you know the answer to this question, i.e. why a mother who herself observes hijab and considers it to be an obligation, since before her daughter hit the age of 5-7, does not train her daughter to observe hijab at the right age i.e. between age 7 to 10, the way she trains her how to perform the 5 daily prayers, brush her teeth, and take a bath, please comment below and enlighten me.

And do let me know, while you’re at it, why she buys her those skinny jeans and short shirts too. I mean, we know that most 13 year old girls don’t yet have the money to shop for their own clothes (and branded, expensive, designer clothes at that), nor do they go out alone to do the said shopping, do they?

Please Don’t Make Me Turn this into a Two-Way Street

Now, back to the said interrogations that I am subjected to, especially by older ladies.

“How can you not send your children to school, when you went to school/college yourself?”

Well, below are examples of a few questions that I want to ask them in reply myself, but I don’t (remember the deliberate lip-biting to stop myself?):

“Why do your children talk in English only, when you have conversed in Urdu throughout your life, yourself?”

“Why don’t any of your daughters observe hijab like you do, even though you have been observing it meticulously since long before they hit puberty?”

“Why do you hastily move your child away from cigarette smoke in public places, when you smoke(d) cigarettes for years yourself?”

“Why do you let your children drive a car, when you have never driven one yourself?”

“Why doesn’t your 30+ daughter make fresh chapati‘s twice a day for her family, the way you have done for decades yourself?

“Why do you let your unmarried children travel abroad for leisure, alone, on international vacations, when you never traveled alone yourself?”

“Why do none of your sons know how to fix the plumbing in your house, when you can easily fix it dextrously and easily yourself?”

“Why do you let your teenager pose for pictures arm-in-arm with their non-mahrum cousins and school-friends, even though you avoid all physical contact with non-mahrums yourself?”

“Why aren’t your children aged 30+ getting married, even though you both got married in your early twenties yourself?”

“Why have you kept a full-time maid for your only child, even though so many mothers today are raising numerous children without one? Why can’t you care for just one child yourself?”

“Why are you working full-time even though you have small children, when you were raised by a stay-at-home mother yourself?”

“Why are you allowing your child to have his/her own tablet (iPad) and to play games on it for hours, when you grew up even without a television set, yourself?”

“Why are you raising your children in a conservative Muslim-majority country, even though you were raised in the secular West yourself?”

“Why did you send your children to University for a 4-year Bachelor’s degree, when you (and your spouse) didn’t get one yourself?”

“Why do you allow your small children to use Facebook and other social media, even though you don’t use it yourself?”

The answer to all the above questions is more or less the same, and let me give it to you all myself, sisters and brothers. The answer is:

Because, as my child’s parent in this era, and according to my personal circumstances (which are unbeknownst to others), I know what is best for my children, and I want nothing but the best for them. Whatever I have decided, is for their own best interests.

Please, my dear perplexed sisters and concerned mothers who wish to interrogate me about my decision to unschool, we are all in the same boat. We have all been tested by having children, and we all have to answer to Allah for how we raised them (especially when they little, and needed us more).

Please don’t make me turn your interrogations about my decision to not send my children to school, which are admittedly inspired just by your honest shock and wonder at this novel, unheard-of phenomenon i.e. homeschooling, into a two-way, “judge-fest”.

I don’t want to judge you, and I try hard not to.

So please do not judge me.

Can we please live and let live, as parents?

Conclusion: Degrees Don’t Guarantee Success, Divinely Inspired, Beneficial Knowledge Does

Yes, my husband and I have Bachelors and Masters degrees from accredited universities, and yet, it is possible that we might not send our children to either school or to college/university – ever.

Shocked? Please don’t be. Please take some time off from watching Pakistani dramas, sharing updates on social media, shopping, cooking, watching cheesy/idiotic movies and Geo News, to educate yourself about modern-day findings about education and schooling.

Also, do you really – honestly, and truly – idealize and epitomize the Prophets of Allah (عَلَيهِم السَّلام) and their Companions (sahabah), more than you do contemporary scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, thinkers, experts, millionaires, and other achievers of today?

Do you? Honestly?

When you leave your Qur’an class and come home to sit with your children, talking to them about their future over dinner, who is it that you want them to look up to? Who do you tell them to emulate? The successful, rich people today, who have professional degrees and live in huge mansions, right?

Or do you tell your children to always, always emulate Allah’s Prophets and their companions? To always idealize their way of life; their morals and values; their level of knowledge and it’s practical application?

Well, GUESS WHAT? They had NO DEGREES. None, whatsoever.

But they did have Divine, beneficial knowledge (العلم) that they sought primarily via the company of righteous scholars and through self-driven hard work.

Even if you disagree and insist that degrees are the only way to become educated, you have to admit that there is a big difference between the two kinds of knowledge: that which is structured and institutionalized, and that which is Divinely inspired.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with pursuing institutionalized education and degrees (especially for those want to become doctors and professors), acquiring these does not guarantee future success or the acquisition of beneficial knowledge.

Just look at the unemployed people in your own extended family, who have more than one ‘solid’ degree from accredited institutions under their belts, and yet, despite all efforts, they are unable to find gainful employment.

I assure you, you will not have to look far, or too long, to spot even one such individual!

No one knows yet what the future holds for our children (i.e. whether they will choose to pursue degrees or not), so we try to refrain from making any tall claims about this beforehand.

We do keenly observe our children, though. We monitor them all the time – did I mention that we have them at home, or with us, all the time, i.e. they have been raised with no maids, schools, or babysitters for the past (almost) 5 years? And yet, we sincerely seek Allah’s help in our parenting journey, today and in the future. We know that, as parents, we are merely the means, and not the source of the good that comes towards our children from Allah.

We try to keep abreast of latest beneficial trends and discoveries in the field of education, and about the changing dynamics of learning methodologies today. The Internet is an awesome source of information, you know. Perhaps you should do some similar research on education too, since you are obviously so keen and concerned about all children – including ours – going to ‘good’ schools/colleges.

So let me end by saying this:

Don’t judge and interrogate me about what I am doing with my children, and I won’t judge you for what you are doing (or have done) with yours.

Deal? :)

*Handshake* (with sisters only)

Posted in Education, Home and Family, Home Education, homeschooling, Motherhood, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology, Youth | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

My Interview at WordMothers.com

Sadaf Farooqi:

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

I was recently interviewed at WordMothers.com, a blog that showcases female authors, word artists, and book industry professionals.

Originally posted on WordMothers:

Interview by Nicole Melanson ~

Interview with writer Sadaf Farooqi by Nicole Melanson

Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer of Islamic non-fiction and a homeschooling mother of 3, based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate Masters degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education.

Sadaf runs a personal blog called Sadaf’s Space, and currently writes professionally for OnIslam.net. In the past, she has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and MuslimMatters.org. Some of Sadaf’s articles on marriage have been published as a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.

Sadaf Farooqi’s blog

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?

In 2006, I found myself staying at home with my first baby. Often, I’d Google solutions to first-time-mommy-related challenges and problems, only to land on and read personal blogs penned by experienced mothers. So I ended up reading many articles and blogs in my spare…

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Posted in Motherhood, Muslim Women, Professional Work, Quran | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Timeless Pearls of Wisdom from the Qur’an

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Reciting the Qur’an is an act of worship.

Thinking deeply about the ayaat of the Qur’an whilst reciting them in Arabic (especially when/if Allah has blessed the reciter with enough knowledge to understand the Arabic of the Qur’an directly) can have many beautiful effects on the reciter, not the least of which is the acquisition of deep insight (تَفَكُّر), which enables him/her to closely relate the ayaat they are reciting to the currently-happening events and incidents in their own lives, as well as the lives of other people dwelling in the same era as they.

Here are a few such pearls of wisdom in the Qur’an that I’ve extracted (by Allah’s will) over time. Please keep in mind, that I cannot explain in full details how I gleaned these lessons through the course of many events in my own life, but rest assured, it was the Qur’an that was the source of the wisdom imparted through them, to me.

And all good is solely from Allah.

☞ Victory and Success Comes Only Through Pain and Hardship

There is no shortcut to success, either worldly or that of the Hereafter.

To attain any goal, blessing, status, honor, achievement, award, or a high level of intangible or intangible success, one must be prepared to toil hard, tolerate and overcome problems with strength and patience, and face the opposition of people with staunch, unswerving firmness.

Only successful people have haters and antagonists. It is the people who aren’t achieving anything special or extraordinary in their lives, who have no enemies, antagonists, naysayers and critics.

It took Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) twenty three years to achieve his noble mission of conveying Allah’s message of guidance to mankind.

Yet, the first incident in his life that signaled the descent of this special gift from Allah was anything but a pleasant experience for him.

After receiving the first revelation of the Qur’an through an unexpected meeting with archangel Jibreel, he was actually so overwhelmed and scared, that he started trembling with terror and sought solace with his wife. Yet, rather ironically, the cause of his fear was the beginning of the greatest blessing anyone could ever ask for – that of being chosen to do Allah’s work on earth as His Prophet.

The lesson here is the same that I have extracted from almost all of the stories of the other Prophets in the Qur’an: success, pleasure of Allah, and higher ranks come only through hardships and unpleasant circumstances:

Prophet Musa عليه السلام had to run away from a city/nation to escape the persecution of rulers because he had unintentionally caused the death of a man.

Prophet Yunus عليه السلام had to endure suffering because of his people, which led him to almost drown, and then get ingested by a huge whale, suffering physical injuries and isolation as a result.

(I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet someone who was swallowed by a whale yet came out of it alive! Talk about positivity! √)

Prophet Essa/Jesus عليه السلام was also persecuted by his people. We all know what happened to him. Despite being a chosen slave of Allah with whom his Lord was pleased, his miraculous birth, eventual (apparent) crucifixion by the Bani Israel, and the circumstances surrounding his apparent death depict a life picture full of pain, persecution and trials.

Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام was thrown in a well by his own blood-related kin when he hadn’t even reached adulthood. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet someone who was thrown deliberately, after devising a premeditated plot, into a well by his own siblings!

But it is not just the Prophets – who appear to be probably ‘out of reach’ for most of us, because we cannot even hope to reach a level of taqwa that is close to theirs – who endured extreme hardships and trials patiently for the sake of Allah, and were granted success in this world and the next, because of their endurance of the same.

It is also ordinary, fallible human beings like ourselves who have reached success in both worlds, who might grant us inspiration more easily, because more of us can hope to be like them.

Well, the Qur’an mentions a few of them as well.

There is Zaid, and the trial he endured when he divorced his wife Zainab and she was married by the Prophet ﷺ: this was an action that was considered very scandalous at that time, and carried great social stigma. Yet, Zaid endured the ensuing backlash for the sake of Allah, because through his endurance of this painful experience, Allah abolished a man-made social taboo/custom forever. Not to mention, he came out of it holding the exclusive honor of being the only companion of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ whose name is mentioned in the Qur’an!

Then there is A’ishah bint Abi Bakr and the incident of ifk. She and the Prophet ﷺ (and their loving relationship), were tested greatly through this trial. She spent most of the days that this trial lasted, weeping. Allah halted Divine revelation for a month, which further exacerbated the difficulty of the situation, and gave the mischief-makers and gossip-mongers in Madinah a further chance to show their true colors through the careless wagging of their tongues.

However, she and the Prophet ﷺ (and their marriage) successfully emerged from this test of their faith stronger than ever, and even though people who slander and curse her exist in the world to this day (thankfully, they are an exclusive minority), through this trial, Allah raised her ranks, and proved her innocence through a specific, acquittal-imparting – albeit indirect – mention of her in the Qur’an.

What could be a greater honor than that?

I can give other examples as well, of ordinary people who were sincere Muslims during their time, who endured trials and were raised in ranks because of their lofty level of faith for the sake of Allah, but I cannot go into details here because that will make this post too long.

There are the 3 believers whom Allah ordered to be socially marginalized because they didn’t go out in time for jihad with the Prophet ﷺ.

There is the man who was martyred when he tried to help the three Prophets who were being persecuted by his nation, and got killed by them because of it (the whole story is in Surah Yaseen, ayaat 13-27).

There is the man who publicly supported Prophets Musa and Harun in front of Pharaoh by making an impressive speech in their defense, after hiding his faith from Pharaoh (who was his relative) until that point i.e. he had secretly become a believing Muslim despite Pharaoh’s antagonism towards Prophet Musa, as narrated in Surah Ghafir.

There are the companions of the cave; the group of young lads who took a stand for the sake of monotheism; who received, as a result, Allah’s special miracles. One was in the form of ‘time travel': awaking to having traversed a 100 years without advancing in age. Another special miracle that Allah gave them was the bypassing of the sunlight from the mouth of their cave in such a way that they remained undisturbed; of His turning them over and over; and His casting special terror (of them) upon anyone who entered the cave.

And there is Khaulah, who has a whole surah of the Qur’an named in her honor because she stood up to the oppression of her husband when he first did dhihaar (a custom in Arab jahiliyyah) on her, then tried to be intimate with her later the same day, by stopping the Prophet in his tracks and complaining to him about her husband in an argumentative manner (جدل).

All of these believers have been granted raised ranks by being mentioned by Allah, either directly or indirectly, in the Qur’an.

But the point I am trying to make is: that if you want to be one of Allah’s ‘special’ slaves; someone whom He loves; whom He honors by making His close, special friend (ولى) – be prepared to be tested severely; to cry hot tears of grief; to feel isolated and ‘let down’ by people; to lose loved ones for His sake (and I do not mean by death); to be socially marginalized and persecuted (even killed) by ‘your’ people.

Be prepared for a life full of outer difficulties, but inner peace. Be prepared to feel like you are weird; that you don’t belong; that people hate you. Because they will.

And because victory (of both worlds) comes through pain, loss, grief, and hardship.

There are no shortcuts.

Never Say Die!”

The Qur’an has taught me that Allah’s help definitely comes for believers who are 100% sincere to Him.

However, sometimes, that help apparently ‘gets late’ in coming, because man is naturally predisposed to being impatient and full of haste.

People generally want to hasten outcomes in their lives according to their desires; whereas, with Allah, every decree and decision has an optimally-appointed time that is perfect and best for the believer’s own benefit in life.

stones in waterYet, whenever we encounter an apparent dead-end, or a seemingly immovable road-block in life (think: our dua’s for a particular blessing not being answered for many years), Shaitan tries to make us despondent, and entices us to think and say bad things about Allah, e.g. “Why isn’t Allah helping me?”

However, the sincere believer doesn’t fall into the trap of Shaitan, and forces himself to think positively about his Lord, even in the most seemingly bleak, hopeless, and rock-bottom circumstances and dead-end situations. He says with conviction:

كَلَّا إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ

By no means! My Lord is with me! Soon will He guide me!” [26:62]

I know that, as believers, we cannot hope to receive miracles from Allah the way His Prophets did during their lives and missions, but nevertheless, it is not totally untrue and unheard of for the friends of Allah (أولياء الله) to have inexplicable, apparently ‘miraculous’ incidents happen in their lives that personify the descent of Divine help from their Lord.

The Qur’an has taught me, and by the grace of Allah I have practically experienced this in my own life, to never, ever ‘say die’.

That is, to never give up, throw my hands up in the air, and quit doing something good,- thinking, “This is it. No way out from here”.

There is always, always a way out. And no matter how bleak a situation might seem, no matter how difficult and bad, there is always good in it for us.

Day always follows night. The light is always there at the end of the tunnel, and the tunnel always has an end.

And Allah is always there for you.

☞ Our Enemies Are Very Near

One of the most amazing things that I’ve come across in more than one place in the Qur’an, is the warning Allah gives us about being careful of enemies in our midst, near us, especially in our families.

I mean, who would ever suspect a family member of being their enemy, right?

Yet, Allah specifically warns us about them in the Qur’an:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَاجِكُمْ وَأَوْلَادِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَّكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ وَإِن تَعْفُوا وَتَصْفَحُوا وَتَغْفِرُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

O you who believe! Truly, among your wives and your children are (some that are) enemies to yourselves: so beware of them! But if you forgive and overlook, and cover up (their faults), verily Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [64:14]

Nothing can be truer than Allah’s words. No advice could be more sincere or beneficial for us than the advice and exhortation of the Lord of the Universe.

And He is telling us clearly in the above ayah, that we have some enemies among our own families. He uses the same Arabic word in the Qur’an, to call them our enemy (عَدُوّ), which He uses to refer to Iblees (Shaitan).

We spend most of our time with our families as we live life, and expect them to be pillars of support and a source of unconditional and unrelenting love for us.

Yet, some of them are our own enemies. And this is precisely because this love of ours for them, and their love for us, can often become an obstacle in our path towards success in the Akhirah, and a major roadblock in acquiring the pleasure of Allah in this world.

That happens when our family members cause us pain and suffering because of the level of our faith in Allah (religiosity), or when they act in a manner that it becomes difficult for us to act upon some commands of Islam.

Ask anyone who has come towards Deen, about who made it the most difficult for them to act upon Islam, and they will most probably name a close family member.

Also, here I’d like to add that, the pain caused by family members varies over the course of our lives. For example, during our youth, we might suffer pain because of one particular relative, whereas a few years or decades down the road, that same relative might have become our very close friend/supporter, and the source of our problems could now be another family member, who was hitherto cordial and nice to us. This happens throughout our lives. Certain relatives cause us varying degrees of problems at different stages in our lives.

As I mentioned above, it was the brothers of Yusuf who not only plotted to ‘get him out of the way’ in their endeavors to acquire their father’s exclusive attention, but actually went ahead, put their heads together, and practically achieved their vile mission.

It was Qabil who killed his own blood-brother, Habil.

It was Yusuf’s master Aziz’s wife who tried to cheat on her righteous husband, Aziz, behind his back, in his very house, by seducing his own slave, Yusuf. And even though he caught her red-handed in the act, she remained unrepentant afterwards, trying to garner her socialite girlfriends’ support in continuing to sexually harass the young Yusuf.

The wives of both Prophets Lut and Nuh (عليهما السلام) also proved treacherous to their husbands despite dwelling in their homes, because they harbored sympathies and love for their sinful, transgressive, doomed townspeople instead.

These are the few examples I could think of from the stories mentioned in the Qur’an, about how it is a righteous person’ own family members who become a trial of their faith and steadfastness upon the path of Allah, by dishing out actions and words towards them that makes it difficult for them to obey Allah and His Messenger ﷺ consistently.

And if we allow them to succeed in their opposition, they will truly prove to be our enemy.

So what do we do, when someone from our own family thus becomes our enemy?

Please proceed to read the point below ☟for the answer to that question.

Kill Them’ With Kindness

When someone – anyone – wrongs us, treats us badly, or oppresses us, the natural, innate, reactive urge within us entices us to strike back at them, and give them an eye for an eye, (perhaps even more)!

When the one who mistreats us is someone from our own family, and they unapologetically continue to mistreat us over time (knowing that we do not like what they are doing to us), it hurts even more, because they are close to us, and/or we love them.

For cases such as these, Allah has recommended a long-term strategy that will ‘kill’ the enmity for us harbored in the hearts of our enemies, especially those within our families:

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ

Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and you was hatred, become as it were your close friend.” [41:34]

Returning bad behavior with good is definitely not easy, especially when tremendous damage has been done.

However, it is possible, for those who are determined enough to continue forgiving their enemies, albeit without falling into the same hole twice.

The key to striking the balance between being a weak pushover who allows people to walk all over him by not taking a stand (mistaking this to mean “being patient”), and becoming a hostile grudge-holder and vengeance-seeker bent on taking revenge,– is to maintain a safe distance from those family members who have repeatedly wronged one, and from whose harm one still does not feel safe.

Those relatives who continue to pose a danger to our Akhirah, via word or deed i.e. they refuse to change their vile ways/habits over the course of many years,– we should continue interacting with them from a safe distance on our own terms – i.e. without compromising on our limits/boundaries.

It is very important for us to impose these strict boundaries; for us to remain careful and wary with such relatives, because this is what Allah has advised us (فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ) in the Qur’an, and it ensures our dignity, self-respect, privacy and emotional/psychological safety from their evil.

Returning bad with good can be achieved with such relatives as follows:

  1. Greeting them with a quick salam and a smile whenever you meet them in person (this doesn’t apply to non-mahrums), but quickly moving on.
  2. Visiting them briefly when/if they are ill. A phone call or text message can also accomplish this at a lesser level.
  3. Helping them financially if/when they need it.
  4. Accepting their banquet invitations, but keeping interactions therein business-like, limited and to-the-point e.g. by leaving soon and not allowing yourself to be drawn into long conversations with them.
  5. Giving or sending them occasional gifts.

Returning the bad deeds of one’s enemies with good deeds is possible without allowing them to go on harming you. All it needs is a little prudence, firmness and discretion. People treat us a certain way only if we allow them to.

The best example from the Qur’an of repelling evil with good that I can think of, is the way Prophet Yusuf handled his half-brothers on meeting them again, in Egypt, when he was in a position that allowed him to have the upper hand over them.

He used the wisdom, discretion, and shrewdness that he had acquired as a result of enduring years of hardship, to reveal his true identity to them only after he had made them agree to a business deal/contract, according to the terms and conditions of which, they had to leave his younger brother with him before returning home with the purchased grain.

Yusuf knew only too well how they had plotted against him when he was young, benign and naive. Once they came to Egypt after he had become (unbeknownst to them) the government-appointed treasurer, he didn’t do or say anything that would enable them to put him (or his younger brother) in a weak, compromising position again.

Rather, he used his knowledge of their mindset, nature and specific personal situation (viz. need of grains due to famine) to make them bring not only his younger brother to him, but also his aging parents.

As I said above, I have had life experiences that corroborate what I am saying here: using the strategy outlined by Allah in the Qur’an with our enemies in the long term, of returning their ad deeds with good (without compromising on our personal safety/distance/boundaries from their harmful actions), brings about surefire results: it is the single most wonderful way of ‘killing’ our antagonists’ enmity towards us, and making them our friends instead.

But it takes years; it doesn’t happen overnight. Very few people have the patience to go the distance with this strategy.

Maybe that is why most of our enemies remain our enemies throughout life, because we harbor grudges and indulge in doing their gheebah to let off steam, instead of following the recommendations of the Qur’an to get rid of the enmity between us and them for good.

The Mills Grind Slowly, But Surely

This is definitely not the last life lesson that I have gleaned from the Qur’an, but it is the last one I intend to discuss here, due to word-count and post-length constraints (this post has again become quite long by now, hasn’t it? So what else is new?).

To put it briefly, it takes a certain amount of time pre-appointed by Allah for decrees to happen; for things to reach fruition; for visions to be accomplished, and for missions to be completed.

As I said above, man is a creature of haste. Man wants to get what he desires quickly and immediately. Yet, the all-wise plan of Allah is based upon His limitless Divine knowledge of the Unseen (الغيب).

Many a thing that we desperately want can take years in coming, because Allah knows at what exact time that thing will be beneficial for us to have.

The Qur’an itself took 23 years to be revealed in totality. This process (i.e. the total revelation of Allah’s final message of guidance to all of mankind) also involved many ground-breaking and difficult events, incidents and situations in the lives of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions.

Many, many a time, man wants to achieve his goal or attain a particular blessing as quickly as a snap of his fingers. However, the Qur’an teaches us that there is a law of Allah that cannot be changed, no matter how much we want or try to hasten outcomes: reaching a certain place, or acquiring a certain blessing takes time.

إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ

Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure.” [54:49]

Combined with apparent Divine ‘delays’ in the culmination of our desired goals, missions, and outcomes, man’s haste and impatience causes his own frustration and distress.

For example, a human baby can never be born in just a month or two. Creation of each human life that comes into this world, has been decreed according to a pre-ordained amount of time (9 months, give or take a little).

The same law applies to aging. A person can never grow up overnight and reach a certain age, without passing each and every year (365 days) in between. No amount of haste can allow a 10 year old child to become 25 years old overnight.

The above examples are just of the exact, known preordained amounts of time that is needed for obtaining tangible things/goals. But what about the uncertain time intervals that are needed to be passed before attaining certain other, more surreal blessings, which only Allah knows about?

E.g The time that is required to achieve or acquire intangible types of provision, such as knowledge, wisdom, and insight. Or the exact amount of time that has to be passed before a person’s marriage is decreed, or the birth of their child, or the acquisition of provisions such as a high-paying job, a house, and the car of their dreams?

Man can never ever be sure of the the exact length/amount of these preordained time intervals; only Allah knows.

وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلاَّ عِندَنَا خَزَائِنُهُ وَمَا نُنَزِّلُهُ إِلاَّ بِقَدَرٍ مَّعْلُومٍ

And there is not a thing but its (sources and) treasures (inexhaustible) are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and ascertainable measure.” [15:21]

So when things appear to be taking ‘too long’ in coming to him, man begins to get hopeless and despondent.

The truth is, that no matter how hard he pursues the means to achieve his desired ends, man can never be sure that at the end of his toils, he will surely acquire those ends. For this, he is totally dependent upon the will of Allah; waiting needily for Allah to say “Be!” regarding his decreed provision, so that he can get it.

The Qur’an has taught me that delays (or what I perceive to be delays) in the acquisition of goals and blessings are always for my own good. There are many things that I now realize, as I look back at the approximately three and a half decades of my life, that they came at a preordained time that was just right, even though I was getting impatient to get them sooner back then.

Even right now, when there are apparent delays in some of my dua’s being answered, alhamdulillah, I seem to know better. I know that my Lord will never decree something for me before the time for it is just right – for my own benefit and good.

******

So there they are: five valuable pearls of timeless wisdom that I have gleaned from reciting and pondering upon the Qur’an, bi idhnillah. لَا قُوَّةَ اِلَّا بِالله

What have you learned? Please share. :)

Posted in Islamic Knowledge, Pleasing Allah, Quran, Reflections and Reminders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

10 Years Later: Yes, We Came Back From Canada, and No, We Still Don’t Regret It

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

This is a very long blog post again, more like an eBook. I am a non-fiction book author now, so what else can you expect? Grab a cup of coffee before you sit down.

This past month has been rather sentimental for me. Because it was October. October 2014.

You see, ten years ago, in early October 2004 (3rd to be exact), I returned permanently from my apartment in North York, Toronto, Canada to Karachi, Pakistan after my husband and I mutually decided that we wouldn’t raise our children there.

Forest-Manor-Rd

The apartment building where we lived in North York, Toronto. Image courtesy: Google Maps

Seasoned Toronto dwellers might be interested to know that we were situated on Forest Manor Road, near Don Mills Subway Station, Fairview Mall, and next to Forest Manor Public School. We used to go for walks in Parkway Forest Park. Iqbal Halal Foods was our halal meat stop, and Masjid Darussalam at Thorncliffe Park was our Jumuah stop.

I was two months pregnant at that time. And very sick due to excessive nausea and vomiting, which was not a famous condition back then.

Unlike it is now. Thanks to Kate Middleton’s pregnancies.

In fact, I owe Kate a big thank you, suffering as she is once again nowadays, poor thing. You see, because of Kate, the condition of Hyperemesis Gravidarum is actually something that people are now aware of, talking about, discussing, and most importantly, accepting as a reality for a very small percentage of pregnant women going through their first trimester.

Back then, assuming that I was experiencing the ‘normal’ variety of nausea and vomiting associated with early pregnancy, I got the, “But this happens to every woman during the first trimester. Why’d you come back? You needed to be pampered, didn’t you? ” too often to recount. Too condescendingly, presumptuously to recount.

So, earlier this month, as the date of 3rd October 2004 came, I reminisced much about the same date ten years ago, when I hopped off a plane in Karachi, which I’d boarded from Toronto — on a one-way ticket.

Little did that naive, 26-year-old, newly pregnant me know what she was in for.

For the rest of her life.

The Question that Still Lingers

“So, why’d you come back? It must have been just because of your pregnancy, right?”

Sigh. The number of times I have been asked this question. Bleh.

Apparently, anyone who gives up the many “benefits” that can be availed by being a Canadian citizen, in order to remain ‘just’ a Pakistani passport holder, is either crazy, hasty, or just plain stupid.

First of all, I do not owe anyone an explanation or justification for our decision to return. To each their own.

So why write this post then? Well, because I know one thing for sure: that many people still wonder whether we regret coming back, even just a little bit. This post should serve to enlighten them well about that, insha’Allah.

After all, it has been ten years. A whole decade.

And although my husband is a Canadian citizen (yawn), since he has spent 3 years living in Canada (where he landed as an immigrant to do his second MBA), me and my children are not.

I did become a permanent resident when I landed in Canada, i.e. I went to Canada as a landed immigrant (permanent resident) and not on a visit visa, only because my husband wanted me to take that option after our nikah, so that I could live there with him while he was there.

At the time after my nikah, when we both started putting together my application as my husband’s soon-to-be-sponsored “spouse or conjugal partner” (*chortle*), I was rather ignorant of the whole immigration process and what it entails. I just did what the elders and husband asked me to do.

I also assumed that, since so many Pakistani’s are constantly migrating to, and apparently seem to be happily settling down in Canada, I would too.

At this point in the story, I’d like to point out how no one, not a single person I knew, who had relatives/friends settled in Canada, told me anything about what life in Canada is generally like for married Pakistani women, except for two people.

One, a sister at Al-Huda said, “It is good that you will be going there for the first time in the summer. Else you’d have suffered a weather shock.” Which was news to me. She told me that the extremely cold weather came as a “shock” for newcomers, who got depressed because of it. Another aunty told me that I’d need to get a job, else I’d suffer from depression due to staying at home. My husband had also once told me that it was extremely cold during winters. But that was about it.

No one asked me to read up about Pakistani immigrants’ life in Canada, or to talk to immigrants already living in Canada as wives or mothers, to know what it’s like, or to prepare myself for what was in store for us in the future.

All the people whom I met between my nikah and rukhsati used to just ask me this question, “So, have you learned how to cook?”

Yawn. Cooking. The ultimate life-saving skill a wife needs to survive marriage. Right?

Actually, the truth is, that immigrants don’t talk openly about all aspects of their life abroad (especially the negative ones) with Pakistanis who are still living here (more on that below in the post).

I found out what immigrant life is like only after landing there, when immigrant families who were living there since many years candidly opened up and started talking to me about what challenges I’d face there from then onwards. But they did that i.e. became honest and open about the hard work, sacrifice and other problems we’d need to endure there, only when they thought we had come to live there for good.

That is, they talk openly about the negative aspects of their immigrant lives with a fellow Pakistani, only once the latter has permanently crossed over to their side, and has (apparently) burned all bridges of ever returning to Pakistan. That is when they become candid.

Anyhow, 3 months in Toronto, and I decided that living in Canada for 3 years, birthing my first child there (yeah, we both were very eager to have a baby as soon as we got married) and then taking an oath at the end of that term, to swear allegiance to a Queen I didn’t know, in which I would be required to promise the Canadian government that I would henceforth obey every law of their country, was just not worth it.

In my book, that is.

Taking an Oath: A Very Serious Matter

I believe that Allah will question me very, very strictly about any oaths that I take, including any oath of citizenship; any allegiances that I form (especially as an adult, sane Muslim, to a non-Muslim government that is openly hostile towards non-resident Muslims, has killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in other countries, or has openly supported their massacre, and has invaded Muslim lands by force, more than once); or any promises that I make about which laws to abide by during my life, and which society to work for the betterment of. According to Wikipedia, the oath of Canadian citizenship goes like this:

“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

Now, I did not choose the place in which I was born, so that is something my parents (or their parents) will be questioned about. That is, I will not be questioned by Allah about what my birth nationality is.

However, I will be questioned about which nationality I proactively chose for myself as a Muslim adult, and which one I also chose for my Muslim children, by e.g. deliberately birthing them in a certain country, or by taking them there as immigrants, and consciously choosing to raise them there.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

وَأَوْفُواْ بِالْعَهْدِ إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ كَانَ مَسْؤُولاً

“And be true to every promise – for, verily, you will be called to account for every promise which you have made.” [17:34]

Allah will also question me very strictly about how I raised my kids, and where, and why. He will also question Muslim parents about why they relocated from one place to another, and how the move(s) affected the upbringing of their children.

Raising a child is a job that takes less than two decades, but which has an enormous impact on the parents’ future generations. That is, the way you raise your child (and where, because each place has it’s own unique impact on the child) will affect your lineage decades, even centuries, down the road.

So parenting is definitely not a job that one can be laid-back about, or which a Muslim can allow to be affected by short-term, career-related decisions like where to live, especially since many studies indicate how a child’s personality is fully developed as early as age 5.

So I bailed out, because I had no intention of swearing allegiance to a non-Muslim government (especially one that legally allows homosexual marriages). No matter how “Islamic” their systems were. No matter how clean their environment/water was. No matter how “free” their public education and healthcare was. And no matter how safe and secure it was for us (and our future kids) to live there as compared to the polluted, politically unstable and wrought-with-injustice city of Karachi, Pakistan.

Secondly, though we came back primarily because we decided to raise our children in Karachi, and hence spare them any confusions, challenges and conflicts related to self-esteem, identity, race, and ethnicity as they grew up, there were several other factors too.

And no, it wasn’t because I felt marginalized in Toronto because of my hijab. Actually, I always went out in Toronto wearing niqab, hijab and abaya (even my signature black one!), but never experienced anything out of the ordinary, except perhaps a little coldness in attitude from some women whom I interacted with in public, e.g. the cashier at a store, or the government office employees where I went for formalities related to my social security card, and health card.

One of the main reasons that we came back, was probably because I do not possess the immigrant mindset. And because of this, I admit that I felt extremely out-of-place among the Pakistani immigrants that I knew there, just because of my different way of thinking. So what is “the immigrant mindset”?

The Immigrant Mindset

I have written about 3 broad mindsets related to money before. But in this post, I want to address the ‘immigrant mindset’ in particular, which was one of the main reasons why my husband and I decided not to permanently settle in Canada.

And before any Pakistani-Canadian readers here decide to take this personally, I want to point out that the ‘immigrant’ mindset applies to all immigrants, regardless of ethnicity and religious belief.

For example, this mindset could even be possessed by someone hailing from a rural village in Pakistan, who emigrates to one of the Muslim countries in the GCC to seek a better livelihood.

It would also be possessed by e.g. a Spanish/Brazilian/Mexican/Italian immigrant who decides to relocate to USA for pursuing the chances of a better life for his or her future generations.

So please do not take any undue offense if you or your parents emigrated from one country to another for the sake of a better life (or, in particular, if you or your parents have emigrated to Canada from Pakistan), because none is intended.

Characteristics of an immigrant mindset that I couldn’t see myself adopting in the future, even if I tried to, are:

→ Immense love for, awe, amazement at, and admiration of, their adopted country’s culture, level of development, infrastructure, systems (healthcare, law enforcement, education, civic), values, and society. And by that I mean, golf-ball-eyed, star-struck, gaze-affixed, speechless, how-amazing-is-this-country-and-it’s-people type of awe. Uncheck this box. I felt no such thing.

→ Love of foreign currency, especially the “daaler” (dollar). Uncheck this box again. You can show me bills totaling a million dollars in your possession and I wouldn’t feel like snatching them from you, one bit. Bless you.

→ A barely disguised contempt and disdain for the culture and people that they left behind. This is actually one of the prime reasons that immigrants run off to more developed countries in the first place: to escape the rampant ignorance, filth, chaos, injustice, disease, danger to life, political instability, and corruption that they encounter in their home countries.

→ Not being able to mentally “let go” of the culture that they left behind, despite disliking the country and people from which it originated. So Pakistani immigrants might continue to identify themselves as “Pakistani” even whilst hating their past life in Pakistan inwardly, and even after choosing to live in another country for decades, and always inwardly fearing the prospect of being forcibly sent back to Pakistan by the government of their adopted country.

Never is this dichotomy more apparent than on 14th August every year, when this day is often celebrated more zealously by Pakistani’s living in other countries, than by those living in the country itself.

They become teary-eyed with emotion as they express their love for “their country” whilst attending 14th August independence day dinners, but they don’t want to come back and live in it.

Contradiction much?

Another way that this refusal to “let go” of Pakistani habits and culture, is apparent in the way immigrants keep protecting them and holding on to them within the confines of their homes, even after decades e.g. you’ll never hear of Pakistani Muslims eating chocolate waffles or blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Eid morning, it will always have to be sheer khurma.

Or in how they conveniently keep visiting their homeland whenever they need to save their moneydaalers” (or any other foreign currency that they love to earn, but not spend) i.e. whenever cheaper products or services can be more easily availed from back home.

Examples?

Cheaper wedding banquets. Cheaper (and more servile/easier to control) daughters-in-law. Cheaper but much more exquisite and beautiful gold jewelry. Cheaper and beautiful traditional couture i.e. Pakistani wedding clothes, or office attire (even official pant-suits are so much cheaper and much better stitched by the good ol’ paan-chewing tailors in Pakland). Ah, the Pakistani textile industry – be it pretwear or unstitched cloth – there is none like it in the world, is there? (I’m not kidding or being sarcastic here).

Then there’s cheaper and organic leather products made from halal animals e.g. bags, belts, wallets, and luggage. Cheaper and much more delicious Pakistani mangoes (during summers).

Cheaper sons-in-law (for aging daughters) who can be readily imported from back home. Cheaper undergraduate/college education, especially for Pakistani immigrants who live in the GCC, where their children are allowed admission only into a few “Pakistani” colleges, if at all (thanks to emiratisation), or those American kids who want to become doctors but cannot afford medical school fees in the US.

Examples of cheaper services: massages/treatments at spas, haircuts at saloons, or henna done by professional mehndi wali’s; customized, personal tailoring for clothes; getting invitation cards for weddings printed in bulk.

Cheaper medicines. Cheaper textbooks (Urdu Bazar zindabad!). Cheaper but more compassionate and expert specialist doctors. Cheaper nannies and maids. Cheaper cooks and drivers.

You get the idea? “Cheaper, cheaper, cheaper” being the key word that keeps immigrants tied to, and returning often on visits to, Pakistan. On economy-class, no-stop, “no frills” PIA flights (more on the flights below).

Or understand it better this way: they want to earn more money, in the coveted golden foreign currency (such as the daaler), but they want to spend money only in Pakistani rupees.

They want to live physically in a cleaner, more developed country, but have left their hearts back home, here in Pakistan.

→ Thinking before every decision, big or small, personal, professional, or familial: “But if we have to live here, we must _______ | we cannot _________ | we will have to _________.”

That is, their desire and goal to assimilate, settle down in, and succeed in their adopted country/culture supersedes and surpasses all other decisions. ALL other decisions.

Below, are some of the characteristics of the way of life of an immigrant, according to my personalized experiences and interactions with them, which I could not see myself adopting as a lifestyle, not even just for 3 years:

The Immigrant Lifestyle

Please don’t be incensed now, if you are. I am openly admitting that the problem lies with me. I am perhaps too inflexible as a person, too stuck to my rigid morals and ethical principles for living life, to adapt myself to a foreign culture, or to let my head hang just a wee bit lower in apologetic servility as an outsider, in order to assimilate into another country to reap personal benefits doled out to me, or to my kids, by it’s government.

Anyhow, if you still want to read more about the way of life of an immigrant, please go ahead:

→ Penny pinching.

Saving every single dirham/dinar/dollar/euro during their initial struggling years after emigration. Which means: spending as little of it as possible, but striving to earn as much of it as they can.

Waiting for annual sales to purchase clothing and other items (or going back to Pakistan to purchase them. Did I mention that they are cheaper in Pakistan?).

The cycle goes something like this: the immigrant spends the first one or two decades post-emigration pinching pennies, cutting out coupons, and buying from discount/clearance store outlets only.

By the time they reach financial stability (after 2 decades, usually) they are buying from the better known stores and chains, but the likes of Porsche, Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent still evade them until perhaps their children are in their thirties.

Despite reaching a state of being quite financially well off, however (e.g. being the wife of a gainfully employed, practicing neurosurgeon), I have yet to come across a Pakistani immigrant housewife in the West who employs a part-time housekeeper/maid for housecleaning.

I’ve heard of backyards being mowed, floors being polished on all fours, walls/roofs being painted with bare hands. I’ve heard of them gifting $100 to a relative once in a while; but what I have never heard of, is a Pakistani housewife in the West spending $50-$120 to hire a maid to even partially spring-clean her home, not even once in a while.

Not even if she is very ill, or hospitalized, or in need of extra care.

Immigrants will ask relatives in another city, or family friends nearby, to come over (by driving 4-8 hours, never on an airplane) and provide them with urgently needed favors and services (such as cooking or babysitting), but will not pay for professional services in the same category, even if they have the money to pay for them.

→ Social drinking and eating of non-zabihah meat (this applies to Muslims who used to abstain from these, and considered them haram, back in their “homeland”). Enough said.

→ Being eligible for mostly lower-social-class and blue collar jobs (at first, at least). At some point, every immigrant faces discrimination at the workplace. Consequently, an immigrant almost always needs to “settle” for “lesser” jobs because of belonging to a minority in their adopted country.

Again, I’d like to give a local example of this. The jobs of domestic help, attendants/nurses, sweepers, cooks/chefs, and waiters in Pakistan are mostly taken up by local Christians and Hindus.

Very few from these ethnic/religious minorities make it up the corporate ladder in Pakistani companies, and that also happens only if they change their name to a more “Muslim sounding” one and/or do not openly practice their religious beliefs in public. E.g. the female nursing attendants employed for my (now deceased) invalid grandmother were mostly Christians. And they’d change their name to fit in e.g. Mary would go by Maryam, Berna went by Parveen, etc.

Another example, if I may be allowed to quote it?

In USA, most nannies, butlers and maids employed by wealthy people belong to the immigrant working class i.e. they are non-white immigrants from other countries, who usually speak little and heavily accented English.

→ Not openly discussing the things that they dislike about their life in their adopted country after emigrating to it, with anyone “back home”, except during very secret, hush-hush conversations with confidantes.

I have already experienced this personally while I was in Canada, albeit for only 3 months.

I have no idea why it seems as if immigrants sign a “code of silence” or something! Is it so difficult to be blatantly truthful, upfront, factual and neutral about all aspects of their immigrant life, including the negative ones?

You want an example? Here goes.

You know I love living in Karachi, right, and that I was born and bred here? Well, now you do.

Anyway, here are the things I dislike about my life here:

Grave/saint worship at mazar’s (viz. open acceptance of the biggest sin in Islam: shirk), bomb blasts, cell-phone-theft, shootings/killings, widespread muggings and robberies, rampant misogyny, dirt and filth, power outages, crazy road traffic; overflowing roadside gutters, street beggars, huge garbage dumps, mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, and the geckos that eat them; the excessive heat and humidity during May-June every year, paan-chewing and spitting in public places; how the whole business community in the city rises late in the mornings, and everyone sleeps in late on weekends hereby losing out on the early morning blessings/barakah (including me, I can’t seem to stay awake for long after sunrise); extravagant, wasteful, late-night wedding parties; political and civic strife shutting the city down every few days or weeks.

The above list was not difficult for me to lay out before you at all. I feel no qualms about stating the facts about a city that I love to live in.

Now, please can you tell me, whether you are an immigrant to the UAE, Saudia, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, or Europe, why you do not talk about the things you dislike about your life in your country when you come and visit us in Pakistan?

What is it that stops you?

→ Changing their definition of “modesty” and morality according to the social situation and short-term objective to be achieved, primarily that which has got to do with promoting social assimilation and integration (more on that below), or a boost of their career.

Situations according to which standards of morality are conveniently switched/changed, like gears in a car: when shaking hands with a person of the opposite gender during an interaction that is career-related; wearing a forced amiable facial expression when beholding graphic and gratuitous PDA (public display of affection), nudity on public beaches, homosexual marriages, Gay Pride parades, or Mardi Gras, or indulgent alcohol consumption (“Spring breaaaaak!”) — despite being inwardly disgusted by these and other aspects of the culture of their adopted country that they wouldn’t dream of personally acquiring for themselves or for their children.

→ Not attending their parents’ funeral “back home” because they just visited the country 2 months prior to it, and they cannot buy another ticket just yet, viz. spend $1000 on yet another return trip.

Don’t fire me for saying this. I have seen quite a few real-life cases of adults who couldn’t didn’t attend their elderly parents’ funeral because of this reason.

Maybe missing this event (i.e. being by your elderly parent’s side as they depart this world) is not a big deal in your book, but it is a HUGE deal in mine. May Allah save me from ever being in such a situation. Ameen.

→ Taking an 8-18 hour flight once year, or a few times a year, for renewing their visas (i.e. effectively being asked to exit the country and re-enter it, by law), for visiting relatives, or attending weddings “back home”.

Having to take such “obligatory” flights with little children, an infant, or a toddler is definitely not an easy task, especially if your husband is not accompanying you. But flying like this is part of life for an immigrant. And yeah, sure, they get used to it. All the more power to them.

Most immigrants do not stop taking these flights even after becoming citizens of a foreign country. Or even if they have lived for 20+ years somewhere in the GCC or the West.

As long as they have relatives, property, or other roots in Pakistan, the need for them to ‘ride two boats at the same time’ will prevail.

And they will have to take these uncomfortable, economy-class flights (which also dig a small hole in their pocket each time) for an indefinite time period.

But I couldn’t see myself doing that just for the sake of becoming a Canadian citizen. Yup, I’m not much of a long-distance traveler, you see. Rigid old me. :P

→ Socially avoiding/cutting off a certain “other” category of immigrants hailing from the same homeland as them, when they socialize at events in their adopted country.

For example, an immigrant yuppy who drinks, parties and openly lives with his/her ‘gori‘ girlfriend/’gora‘ boyfriend will never attend a religious social event where desi uncles/aunties will be present sporting the latest formal shalwar kameez outfits and talking loudly in their ‘FOB‘ accents as they discuss the latest Geo News update/Pakistani morning show episode over spicy, oil-rich Chicken Biryani and ghee-laden gajar ka halwa.

Despite hailing from the same city and country, both immigrant categories will be totally scandalized by the lifestyle and choices of the other, so they’ll socially avoid each other like the plague.

You see, the first kind of immigrant has “assimilated” completely into their adopted country’s culture and people, but the latter has not.

→ Which brings me to the creme de la creme of an immigrant’s dilemma post emigration, which hangs like a dark cloud over their lives as soon as they ‘get off the boat’, so to speak: the pressure to integrate and assimilate.

Each and every immigrant who lives as part of a minority in their adopted country, feels the pressure to assimilate.

Remember, I am not taking just religion into account here as I describe this point. It has got more to do with living as a (visibly) ethnic minority member as part of a larger, foreign, cultural majority.

The pressure to assimilate applies to every immigrant, but especially so to religious minorities anywhere in the world. E.g. even to the Christians, Zoroastrians, Shia’s, Ahmedi’s, and Hindus living in Karachi.

Because of fear of persecution, marginalization or ostracization, they live in close-knit communities, near each other, and hold on tightly to their different cultural/religious practices in the privacy of their homes, because of the fact that they are a minority. E.g. they change their names and are forced to do other things (such as call their god “Allah”, and not Bhagwan/Jesus, in public) in order to blend in/assimilate into mainstream society.

Just as a FYI: if I had been born into one of the persecuted minorities in Karachi (alhamdulillah that I wasn’t), I’d probably have left this city a long time ago.

As I said above, changing their name, wardrobe and conversational accent/style in order to assimilate and ‘blend in’, is the expected norm for most immigrants. E.g. Salman eventually goes by “Sal”, Nauman eventually goes by “Nammy”, Khalid becomes “Kal”, Shahzad becomes “Shaz”, and Abdullah adopts a new name altogether.

I can only imagine what an “Osama” would call himself after emigrating to the West. “Ossie”, or “Sam”? :\

→ Always facing the risk of being passive-aggressively and derisively told by their host country’s nationals to “Go home” as they cross paths in public. Always. We are “brown”, accented, Urdu-speaking people after all; the outsiders struggling to fit in; the ‘others’ who have come to their country from elsewhere, in pursuit of a better life/home/education/career/livelihood for themselves and their children.

Now please, take a deep breath.

There.

Now, read this: The above list is not my personal judgment about immigrants.

It is merely a list of things that I have observed in most of the immigrants whom I know.

These are all of the things that I could not envision myself doing on a permanent or a long-term basis, in my own life, by going on living in Canada.

I just didn’t think the sacrifice of my current lifestyle; and proactively changing my current goals for my children, and ‘adapting’ my personal moral values, habits, and principles to fit in to another culture/country, was worth it.

And yes, I didn’t have any desire to raise my children in Canada, as Canadians, despite knowing that public-school education is free; that one day their undergraduate, college tuition fee would be reduced to a third if they became citizens of Canada; despite knowing that I’d get “free” healthcare (there is a reason I put that “free” in quotes, by the way); despite knowing that the Canadian passport would lift visa restrictions/fees and open travel doors wide for us in many countries of the world; despite knowing that a Canadian citizen earns much more than a Pakistani passport-holder, almost everywhere in the GCC (due to discriminative salary scales, based on nationality).

I was the problem. I couldn’t change. I couldn’t see myself bending, adapting, and changing my goals, values, morals, lifestyle, and priorities for the sake of acquiring the citizenship of Canada, and for the sake of living there.

That, and did I mention that I didn’t particularly like the prospect of living in a deep freezer for 6 months a year? :)

No, I didn’t mention that, did I?

Nor did I mention that my husband, despite holding an MBA degree from the University of New Brunswick, couldn’t land a halal permanent job in Canada throughout his 3-year stay there.

Nor did I mention how the taste of the meat, vegetables, fruit, milk and all other food in North America is off-puttingly bland in comparison to that in Pakistan?

Nope. I didn’t mention any of those other points, did I?

Hmph. What does this ignorant niqabi Pakistani woman know anyway, about how wonderful other countries are compared to her loser Karachi? What has she seen of the developed world, boxed in as she is into her own self-imposed cage?”

Last, but not least, before I sign off, I’d like to list, just for your information, the places, cities and countries of the world that I have visited, prior to landing in Canada as an immigrant in 2004.

This is not an attempt to brag, please. It is actually a very humble and small list compared to the innumerable places most of you have probably visited around the world yourself.

So why am I displaying this list here? So that all the readers of this post can have an idea about how “enlightened” by international travel I was prior to landing in Canada as a FOB. :P

And I want to pinpoint that when I visited each of the places below, I wore my signature headscarf, abaya, and niqab pulled over my face (all guidance is from Allah), and I visited all of these places in 2001, at the age of 22-23, except for the last one.

  1. London, UK. Oxford Street. Marble Arch. British Museum. Rode a Double-Decker red bus (and loved it!). Paddington Station. Claire’s. Trafalgar Square. Big Ben. Selfridges.
  2. Wilmslow, Manchester, UK. Visited the largest outlet of Marks and Spencer that is located in Manchester (I didn’t like anything much at the multistory store, so I came out empty-handed). Royal Doulton.
  3. Troy, Michigan, USA. Mervyn’s (now defunct). Somerset Mall. Claire’s (again). Build A Bear. Tuesday Morning. JCPenney.
  4. Downtown Detroit (on a deserted Sunday). Monorail ride. Fed seagulls on the side of a lake that I cannot recall the name of. All I remember is that we could see the skyline of Windsor Border in the distance.
  5. Downtown Chicago. Lake shore Drive. Navy Pier. Tram ride for tourists. Sears Tower (now Wills Tower) Sky deck. Illinois Institute of Technology campus (sat down to read a bit in the library, visited their cafeteria). Payless Shoes. Chicago Union Station. Took an Amtrak train from Chicago, Illinois to Dearborn, Michigan and back.
  6. Bloomingdale, Chicago (a suburb). Dominick’s (now defunct). Marshal Fields mall (now defunct).
  7. Niagra Falls, Canada. Tim Horton’s. Walmart.
  8. Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia (2002).

Conclusion – The World is Big Enough for All of Us

Yes, yes, I know, if a list could be compiled detailing all of the things wrong with Pakistan, Pakistani society, and Pakistani people, especially the port city Karachi, it would by far outnumber any other list of vices, evils and injustices related to all the other places on this planet lumped together.

It is probably true, that Karachi is one of the worst cities in the world, to live in! But what can I say?

Except that I am happy for you where ever you might be living, and the life choices you might be making.

It would be great if you can also be broad-minded and respectful enough to accept my rejection of Canadian immigration and of a life in the West, as a proof of humankind’s “unity in diversity”.

If my rejection of living in Canada or anywhere else in the world as an immigrant, brings any kind of awkwardness into our friendship/relationship as adults (I am 36 right now), then that means that one of us has still got some growing up and mental maturing to do.

Everyone is different, and my choice to not live in a country as a minority member or an immigrant, or to raise my children as minority members and second-generation immigrants, is not meant to be a judgment of your choice, or your parents’ choice, to do the same.

I hope that after reading this post, you will never feel the need to ask me the question, “So, why’d you come back from Canada?”

And even if you do, I’m hoping that you won’t. I think we all can live and let live.

And if you are a Pakistani who can’t wait to leave Pakistan to escape from the very real problems that we all are facing whilst living here, believe me, I wish you and your family nothing but the very best, from the bottom of my heart.

Bon Voyage! [*Waves hand vigorously*] :)

Posted in Current Affairs, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Is Social Media Turning You Into a Narcissist?

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Click. Tap. Swipe.

That is all it takes nowadays for a random stranger to subscribe to your blog or Facebook feed.

computer-tablet-smartphoneTo “Like” your page.

To “Follow” you on Twitter.

To “Add” you to their circles.

To “Pin” your photograph.

All over the world, people are now connected to each other with their intangible, virtual persona, profile, or ‘face’ that is supposed to reflect their actual, physical identity.

But does it?

Different From Real Life

Real life relationships are different online, and vice versa.

It is always fun to connect and interact online, in the world of social media, with someone whom we have known for years in real life.

However, in some cases, we might get to ‘see’ a side of them that we did not know of during the years of our ‘real life’ relationship with them e.g. their opinions about certain issues and how strongly they feel about them.

This is even more true if they are avid readers, writers, thinkers, activists, or active professionals in any field, who like sharing their thoughts articulately online.

We might get to see a new side of them, especially if we witness their frank online discussions and interactions with people from their other circles, which did not include us during the years that we knew them in person e.g. professional colleagues, family members, childhood friends, or spouses.

In some unfortunate cases, this new ‘epiphany’ of sorts regarding our perception/knowledge of them, might start to signal the end of our real-life relationship with them.

The Reverse Scenario

Now for positive/less depressing analysis. In many cases, online social media brings together people who have hitherto not known, seen or met each other before in real life.

Rather ironically, the gelling factor in these cases is, also, exactly the same thing that I described in the above scenario, which drew otherwise close friends in real life apart once they connected online: their impassioned personal opinions, views and thoughts about issues, which they openly share and express online.

These expressions of personal thoughts started to garner them the support, love and admiration of like-minded new individuals who responded to their tweets, viewed their writings on Facebook, or commented on their blog posts.

Real life meetups were the natural result, and lo and behold! They connected instantly in person almost as soon as they set eyes on each other.

And though they met in flesh and blood for for the very time, it felt like they’d known each other for years.

A Double-Edged Sword

Thankfully, alhamdulillah, the latter case that I have described above, has happened to me with more sisters than the former one, although the few cases of my ‘real life’ female friends drifting away from me once they connected with me online, and read my views through my blog and Facebook, have definitely left a bad taste in the mouth.

You see, some of these past ‘friends’ decided to publicly challenge my views. Nothing wrong with that, although as I reluctantly took the bait and disagreed with their counter-opinions, I found myself getting drawn into a useless back-and-forth dialogue, which was clearly wasting my time and theirs.

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to find out that those who challenge me stop hearing from me for a while if they decide to argue with me about any topic, because I detest arguments and debates with every inch of my being.

I also leave i.e. walk away from, an argument almost as soon as it starts, either by remaining silent, or physically going away. Because I believe that this action – of being the first one to leave the argument – is what would garner me the pleasure Allah in such a situation.

As for my other personal reasons, I think debates and arguments are the biggest waste of breath, positive energy and time, and they never bring about any good results. One thing that they do achieve, however, is the unveiling of the true face (and intentions) of the one who first challenges another person. In public.

And Allah knows best.

Anyhow, while the end of those real life, so-called “friendships” began soon after I added a few such real-life friends as “Friends” on Facebook (ironically dichotomous isn’t it?), I nevertheless still continued to really enjoy having discussions on social media with other sisters, for a while.

I made many, many new ‘friends’ by connecting with some amazing sisters online, and eventually met a few of them in person, and continued to have fruitful discussions with them in the virtual world.

I got to know them better personally; I shared their joys and sorrows. I saw them get married and have their first baby. I made some great new professional contacts as well, such as with editors and other bloggers. Things were great!

Until Zuck made that IPO.

Dang. That was when my “happy bubble” burst — with a loud bang!

Creepiness Galore

I have no idea whether the two are interrelated, but ever since Facebook had that IPO and then sent that conspicuously pointed email informing users about the change in their Terms and Conditions, and how the latter would affect their privacy, I have seen some decidedly creepy things that made my sixth sense tell me to cover my tracks online and proceed with immense caution whilst logged in to Facebook.

First of all, the sudden, unexpected increase in the number of ‘targeted’ ads and ‘Suggested Posts’ and pages!

I, like every other person, was in the habit of using the Facebook app installed on my smartphone. I, also like every other person, habitually browsed about something or another on my phone’s Safari browser.

That was all fine until I started noticing how the targeted ad of almost whatever I browsed about, would uncannily and almost creepily appear immediately in my Facebook news feed!

I mean, aren’t the frequent ads irritating enough as it is? I was beginning to get totally flabbergasted at how Facebook was tracking and cashing in on my browsing data from my phone!

The second thing that really started giving me the creeps because of Facebook, was about how it was tenaciously turning almost everyone amongst us, even the most humble and private ones, into unknowing narcissists, by keeping the default privacy setting for all their posts, links, status updates, and — cough — photos that they uploaded, to “Public”.

Now, that would perhaps be okay if Facebook informed them before they posted something online, that their privacy setting was set to ‘Public’ (and then asked them to confirm it before proceeding), and if it didn’t urge everyone to use tags and location data whenever they posted something online.

But it doesn’t. It also keeps throwing lists of “People You May Know” into everyone’s faces. And doesn’t leave them alone if they refuse to log in for days, by sending them email updates about what they have missed on Facebook.

You see, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Facebook thrives on a basic human need: social acceptance. The desire to be liked, admired and praised by other people. The need to fit in, be popular and considered ‘hip’.

Which is why Facebook wants every one of us to keep sharing our petty non-issues online, and it ensures that we almost always have an audience to “Like” what we share.

Result?

A LOT of (really dirty) laundry aired in public.

A LOT of occupied “virtual” soap boxes.

And a LOT of self-made narcissists.

Do I Know You?

There are so many people I used to know about, e.g. through common acquaintances at school or college. I never knew much beyond their name, or perhaps the number of their siblings. But I never really knew them.

However, as I sit writing this blog post right now, I now know (decades later) — courtesy Facebook’s “Friends of Friends” lists, tags, and location features — who these people are married to, where they live, where they work, what their (first or latest) child’s name is, where they went to vacation this year, what (or not) they wore on the beach while there, and what theme they chose for their last kids’ birthday party/cake.

Sigh. And you know what?

Having seen this kind of stuff makes me shudder and cringe with guilt. Because I do not think that these people would want me to see their photograph(s), or browse their online profile. And yet, all this information of theirs is set to ‘Public’, so what else can they expect?

You see, that is the other thing that Facebook thrives on; the other human trait that everyone of us is born with:

Curiosity.

So That’s it?

Yes, without much further rambling, that is why I am sitting here cocooned in my shell, off my soap box, and no longer active on Facebook. I could not take knowing any more.

Knowing what people (who know me and whom I know) did at a certain place with certain people, during which they allowed themselves to be photographed in (*cough*) compromising positions.

I couldn’t take knowing any more. Because while Facebook didn’t yet turn me into one of it’s full-fledged narcissists, it was gradually turning me into a grudging but stealthy stalker.

And even if I unsubscribed from Friends’ feeds, I still got to see many things that I never intended to or wanted to see, whenever someone on my Friends’ list decided to comment on something.

Now, in the end, I just have a list of questions for you, which each one of us should ask ourselves:

For the “narcissists”:

  1. Can you pass a single day without sharing something online?
  2. Can you pass a whole week without taking a selfie (and sharing one online)?
  3. When you post pictures online, is it because you want others to praise you? Or do you want to share your happiness with them?
  4. Do you like (i.e. are fond of) all of your Facebook “Friends”?
  5. Did you add every Facebook Friend because you wanted to? Or because you couldn’t turn down their request due to some kind of social obligation, guilt, or pressure?
  6. Do you check back often to see how many people have liked your update/photograph, and who they are?
  7. Does it crush you when no one does?
  8. Do you still pursue the hobbies and interests that you used to, before Facebook/Twitter existed?
  9. How much time do you spend online, as compared to connecting with people in real life?
  10. Do your family members (especially your children) complain about how much you/your eyes remain glued to a screen?
  11. If you were to go on a vacation to a remote locale with your loved ones, would you be able to stay offline from social media for a week?

And these are the questions I have for religious Muslims:

  1. Do you post more photos of yourself online now, than you did before?
  2. Is your hijab gradually slipping, as you post more photos of yourself online?
  3. Do you believe that the number of ‘Likes’ on your Facebook page (or the number of your followers on Twitter) depicts your true popularity among people?
  4. If all social media were to suddenly shut down indefinitely, would it affect your current motivation level for your da’wah work?
  5. Do you like being called “hot”?
  6. Do you like being publicly praised for your looks, by members of the opposite gender?
  7. Do you like being publicly praised for your work? Do you always retweet such praise?
  8. Have your religious views changed a lot since you started your Facebook page/blog/Twitter profile?
  9. How well you do you take criticism now, as compared to before you became a social media personality/public figure?
  10. How often do you engage in debates and back-and-forth arguments online?

Conclusion: I’m Out For Now

Currently, the situation stands like this: I log in to Facebook when I have to share something that (I have been told) most people would like me to share publicly, such as my latest articles.

I do miss some sisters a lot, with whom I loved to connect on social media. I really do miss interacting with them.

However, I cringe from ‘stalking’ the personal information that more and more people are inadvertently or knowingly sharing publicly online. And I don’t want to reconnect with these sisters whom I still consider to be among my special friends, at the cost of my peace of mind.

There is so much that people are sharing that I’d rather not know.

There are so many people whom I will perhaps meet some day with a casual nod and a half-reluctant “How are you?” as we cross paths by chance, and they wouldn’t have a clue about what I’ve seen them doing in an online photo. Nor will I be able to tell them that I know about it. Nor will they want me to do that, because they never wanted or expected me to see that photograph, did they?

Because we don’t really know each other. We never have. We just happen to know two separate people, who are each other’s ‘Friends’ on Facebook.

And in today’s world, that’s all that is needed to have someone’s nocturnal social activities broadcast halfway across the globe, in front of eyes and ears that never intended to witness them in the first place.

So which one are you: a stalker, or narcissist?

Take your pick!

Posted in Computers and Internet, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Family Togetherness Through Worship in Ramadan

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Every year, when Ramadan is about to start, a mother’s mind starts having some apprehensive thoughts: will I be able to fast easily? Will I feel very hungry or thirsty? How tiring will it be with the children at home all day? How will I plan meals? Will I awaken in time to pray qiyam and prepare suhoor, after returning home late after taraweeh? Will I be able to pray taraweeh at the masjid at all?

It’s a wonder how Shaitan always manages to put such thoughts into our minds as Ramadan approaches, even though year after year, Allah facilitates millions of Muslims all over the world, in varying circumstances and situations, to fast successfully throughout the month without encountering any major problems.

I haven’t known anyone to have suffered because of fasting during Ramadan. And what about the fortunate Muslims, who spend the entire month in Makkah? Despite the heat and dust of the barren desert, millions of pilgrims throng Masjid Al-Haram throughout Ramadan, to perform umrah, daily prayers, and do tawaf of the Ka’bah in the intense heat whilst fasting, without falling ill or suffering any physical harm.

The blessings of Ramadan are truly amazing!

Ramadan spent with babies

I can still vividly recall the way my Ramadans used to pass when my older two children were both under 4 years of age: still “babies”. Suhoor was prepared after carefully tiptoeing out of the bedroom in the dark, so that they wouldn’t wake up because of a noise.

Diapers, tantrums, toys and my arms loaded with a child – this was how most of the day passed as I fasted in the blessed month. Feeding them and watching over them sapped most of my daytime energy, and I used to wonder if the concentration (khushoo) would ever return to my salah; if I’d ever be able to pray a full taraweeh without interruptions, the way I used to when I was single, devotedly attentive from the very first takbeer of fard salah, till the imam’s last tasleem at the end of witr.

Six years later, the onset of Ramadan has dawned upon a visible change in my life. SubhanAllah, it amazes me to realize that change is the only constant in life! Now these two children, aged 9 and almost 7, respectively, are already in the age range in which they are under rigorous training for performing the daily salah.

Alhamdulillah, that means that they really enjoy standing for taraweeh prayers with us parents during Ramadan now. I no longer have to worry about them naughtily running off during taraweeh.

My youngest, a toddler who is 2.5 years old right now, is thankfully less prone by nature than her older siblings to run off by herself in large crowds. Praying taraweeh with her this year and the last, has been much easier, alhamdulillah.

My long lost khushoo almost seems to be back! :)

This just goes to show that a mother’s patient efforts during Ramadan, of taking her babies along with her in worship, pay off much more greatly than she can ever imagine, just a few short years later!

Ramadan family meeting

It really helps to convene a small “orientation” style meeting for the whole family before or as soon as Ramadan starts. Preferably, the parents should get all the children to sit at the dining table or on the floor in a circle, and brief them about what changes to expect in the household once the blessed month commences.

Young children need to be reminded every year about the wisdom behind fasting during the day and praying at night, even if they are under the age of 10-12 and thus not fasting yet. A spirit of collective worship needs to be inculcated in the household, so that the children feel like they are a part of earning the rewards of worship even if they are not fasting every day.

cerealFor example, children in the age range of 5-9 years should be trained to independently prepare simple and healthy “do-it-yourself” kind of snacks during the day, to feed themselves whenever they feel hungry, such as cereal & milk, fruit, and butter/jam/cream cheese/any other spread on slices of bread or bagels. They can be trained to add cold cuts/deli meats to bread or pita to make cold sandwiches for themselves. The purpose of doing this would be to spare their fasting mother the toil of preparing their meal at lunch time.

When children will be thus trained, they will also not disturb their fasting mother as she naps before Asr prayer in the afternoons, by remaining quiet and feeding themselves if they feel hungry.

The parents will thus benefit by allowing the children to feel more empowered and included in partaking from the reward of their parents’ fasting.

Replacing leisure outings with nightly taraweeh

Younger children also need to be reminded that, during this month, they will see their outdoor excursions curtailed to some extent. Replacing these outdoor recreational activities with indoor games and activities (books and constructive games are a great choice) will lessen the boredom of going out less often.

With my children, I have seen that the almost daily nocturnal excursion of attending taraweeh prayers more than makes up for their supposed lack of ‘entertainment’ and leisure outings. My children enjoy going to and praying taraweeh so much, that they do not feel like they are missing out on our trips to the malls, restaurants and parks, masha’Allah.

That being said, stopping at a park for 15 minutes of carefree play after taraweeh might be a good idea to keep the children motivated to continue cooperating with their parents’ schedule of worship throughout the rest of the month.

At this point, I’d like to stress, however, that those parents whose children are very young, should be mindful of them during taraweeh, and they should train them well beforehand about how to behave in the masjid during the prayers if they intend to attend taraweeh regularly.

Some of the masajid near our home have unfortunately disallowed younger children and their mothers from attending taraweeh because of the disturbance caused to those praying because of the children’s antics, and it is sad to see this phenomenon.

It was a challenge for me to attend taraweeh when my older two children were under the age of 5, because they needed to be supervised and that meant giving up praying some of the prayer in order to keep an eye on them if I attended taraweeh. Therefore, I spent a few Ramadans just praying Qiyam Al Layl at home.

In order to maintain a balance, parents of babies and toddlers can also attend taraweeh on alternate nights or biweekly, according to their convenience.

Conclusion – children can’t wait to start fasting!

From birth till puberty, a child who is born and raised in a household in which the parents spend Ramadan in worshiping Allah in a diligent, patient and devout manner, will grow up eager to start fasting as soon as possible.

This usually happens between the ages of 8 -10 i.e. the child specifically starts asking his or her parents to wake them up for suhoor, without being forced. They want to fast in Ramadan just like they see the others around them doing.

If you are one of those fortunate parents whose child wants to start fasting before you coerce them to, know that indeed you are fortunate, because your child has clearly been positively inspired by the annual Ramadan routine in your home, to want to become a part of it themselves.

Posted in Home and Family, Parenting, Pleasing Allah | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment