بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“How do you remember names, places and events that took place decades ago, complete with all the little side details?”
“Having a good memory is not always good, you know. It means that you remember the pain of the hurtful aspects of your past. And it also means, that the regret you feel for your past sins makes your heart ache each time you go down memory lane…“
I’ve recently realized that, when I turn 35 later this year (yes, I am one of those rare females who have no qualms about revealing their age in public), I will officially be at the half-mark of age 70,- an age by which most of us are either very old, or [gasp] dead.
This means that it is more than just probable that half of my life has already passed by. This is a refreshing thing to know, really- that my time left in this prison-cell called the world (duniya) is decreasing day by day; my remaining time on earth ticking away like a time bomb. Each day brings me closer to my death, and perhaps not a day passes in which I do not imagine how I will die.
The “morbidity” of the closeness of death aside, I just love the age I am in, because at this stage in life, I am not just a child, grandchild, sibling or niece any more. Rather, I am now also a parent and aunt (الحمد لله الذى بنعمته تتم الصالحات).
It is truly beautiful to experience these new relationships; to ascend the ladder of responsibility a few notches towards greater social respect; and to enjoy the thrills and perks that come with increasing life experience as an adult, signaled by those lovely debutante silver hairs on my head.
I know! I am a weird kind of middle-aged person, because I love growing older, wrinkles and all. I never look back wistfully at my bygone school and college days as the “best” time of my life, unlike most of my peers do.
I do not yearn to return to those so-called “carefree” days of youth (-nay, just the mere thought of that fills me with horror! Alhamdulillah that the wheel of time is irreversible!), in which all our time was supposedly spent with no worries besides passing exams and getting good grades.
I find myself to be quite the oddball among my peers for this reason, because I have no idea why they look back at their ‘carefree’ youth as an era in time they’d love to go back to.
In this post, I would like to touch upon some life lessons that I have learned, which might throw light upon just why I am glad that my youth has passed, and why I love being where I am today (i.e. I like my ‘today’ better than my ‘yesterday’, الحمد لله, and hope that this trend continues in my life).
I learned quite a few lessons along the way, most of which were tough pills to swallow, and I hope that by recounting them here, they might benefit young people today, especially my own children, preventing them from making the same mistakes that I did:
The Quran Should be Recited Out of Love
The Quran is a beautiful source of guidance. It is a relief from distress; a cure for the diseases of the heart; it brings tranquility and joy to the soul, and intangible blessings that pervade all aspects of one’s existence.
No doubt, a Muslim is obligated to seek knowledge of the Quran; to learn how to recite it, understand it, act upon it, and to keep a close connection with it throughout their life. What this Quran was not meant to be, however, was a book that is picked up only when something goes wrong in our lives, or when someone dies.
Among the Muslims of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent (better known internationally as “desi’s“), it is considered imperative that a child be taught how to read the Arabic text of the Quran as soon as possible. A teacher of the Quran, known better as a “Qari/Maulvi Sahib“, comes to the homes of a neighborhood in succession every evening on weekdays, teaching the reading of the Quran’s Arabic text to the children of each home for 10-15 minutes. There is great emphasis on teaching a child who is in the age range of 6 to 12 years, how to read the sacred Quranic text, which is admirable.
But the problem is, that this teaching is often done in a rather ceremonial, unmelodious, Urdu-accented manner (e.g. the Arabic letter ba with a kasrah underneath it, بِ , is pronounced “bay” instead of “bi” – as in “bin”). An equal emphasis is not laid, unfortunately, by the parents or the Quran teacher, on the child understanding the Arabic that he or she is being made to read.
At the outset, there is nothing wrong with this traditional way of learning to read the Arabic of the Quran.
We must remember, however, that the way the Quran is taught to our children – the overall methodology and approach used – determines how they will view and perceive it as they grow older.
If we force it upon them via a third person, at a fixed time of the day and week, obligating that they read it without understanding, then our children will grow up to treat the Quran the way most of us Pakistani (desi) adults treat it, at our (older) age. If you are an adult desi who has been taught the Quran during his or her childhood in the way described above, then you probably know what I mean.
An average Pakistani adult (man or woman) does not recite the Quran on a daily basis, and even if they do, it is less out of a desire to seek closeness to Allah and understand His words, and more as a ritual,- considering it an act of worship geared solely towards earning rewards, or obtaining blessings manifested as worldly benefits, and not as a form of Divine communion with the Creator.
Most Muslim adults in the society in which I live, prefer to read the Quran silently and not loudly, and a majority of them cannot recite it with proper tajweed, nor with any direct understanding of its Arabic text.
Many adults read the Quran just to “complete” it (and oh, how we love completing it! How we love to have our Quran ‘khatam’!), just the way the entire emphasis during our childhood was to complete it once or twice with a maulvi sahib (whom we almost always admired less than, say, our English Grammar or Math teacher at school).
Once “completed”, and the associated mithai (traditional sweetmeats) distributed among relatives and neighbors to announce this much-awaited ‘khatam’, we would pack the Quran away on the top shelf of our cupboards, picking it up henceforth only when something went wrong in our lives, or when someone died. [Lately, however, it has also started to be picked up for another reason (a new fitnah): when an atheist friend of ours demands that we bring forth proofs from it to answer their challenging questions about "God" or religion.]
How many of us desi adults today, have continued to recite the Quran daily, out of love, interest, spiritual thirst, and passion, once our maulvi sahib stopped coming to our home to force us to recite it, long after the flowers of our “Ameen” ceremony wilted and withered away?
How many of us adults worked as hard on learning to recite and understand the Quran when we were teenagers, as we did on preparing for our O/A levels; our Matriculation/Intermediate examinations; or our SAT’s?
The Quran education of children is supposed to be implemented according to a more holistic approach that starts with the mother’s pregnancy. I think I have elaborated enough about the importance of a baby’s listening to the recitation of the Quran from the age of 15-16 weeks gestation in the womb, to the age of 5-6 years old as a child.
From this age onwards, while it is important to obligate seeking the knowledge of the Quran upon the child (which most Muslim parents are keen about doing, alhamdulillah), the way this is done, should be based on immense wisdom and a gradual, step-by-step, un-rushed approach. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say.
This “less-is-more” approach is what works best at the beginning, when the child hits the age 5-7. The parents should also make sure that the overall tarbiyah (character-building) of the child is linked to the Quran in every aspect of life, and that the child doesn’t just perceive the Quran as an unintelligible book that he or she is being forced to read.
The child should not perceive the Quran as ‘just’ a book that is opened systematically for ritualistic, incomprehensible reading for not more than 10-15 minutes per day, just the way a grammar or math textbook is opened.
You might be thinking, “How can this be accomplished?”
Well, for this, the parents should refer to and explain the content, teachings, commands, laws and verses of the Quran regarding all normal, day-to-day matters – eating, interacting with others, dressing, bathing, cleaning, working, studying, marrying, celebrating, cooking, bartering, buying, selling, worshiping – you name it. The children will then perceive the Quran to be what it is; what it was always meant to be: a source of guidance for each and every aspect of life.
When the child is being praised for doing something good, or reprimanded for doing something wrong, for example, the parents should reference a command or teaching found in the Quran. E.g. backbiting, lying, betraying trust, talking disrespectfully, etc.
Also, when it rains, or when the night turns into day and vice versa (at dawn or maghrib time), or a seedling is seen growing out from the ground, or the birds are observed flying in the sky in straight rows, or when thunder and lightning strike and the children get curious about it, – at all such times, the parents should seize the opportunity to discuss with them how the Quran mentions and explains all of these phenomena.
Of course, it is obvious that, for this kind of holistic Quran education to be possible, the parents should themselves be not just knowledgeable enough about the Quran, but also be immensely keen to incorporate its teachings into their own practical lives.
If the parents undermine or outright ignore the Quran in their own lives, and hand over the basic Quran education of their children to a third person, treating it purely as a subject to be taught that is separate from all the other aspects of the children’s upbringing, the latter will do the same when they grow up.
Once those forced, 15-minute weekday Quran sessions with the maulvi sahib come to end, these children will no longer feel the inclination to pick up this Glorious Book and connect to it with a spiritual vigor and thirst, which is not prodded by their parents’ glaring eyes accompanied by blackmails of confiscation of toys or other privileges.
Therefore, one of the most important life lessons I have learned, is that in order to properly teach the Quran to children, it is imperative for a Muslim parent to keep a close, passionate and emotionally strong connection with Allah’s Book, the Quran, themselves.
This connection should be so strong, that it becomes clearly apparent to their children every day; making the Quran become the first source of guidance and knowledge that the whole family refers to whenever they face a problem in life, or require a solution for any matter.
Campus Cliques Don’t Have a Leg to Stand On
High school and college. What images do these terms conjure up in your mind?
Exams. Books. Friends. Peer pressure. Bullies. Parties. Crushes. Teachers. Studies. Confusion. Tears. Results. Regrets.
For many of us, high school might be associated with unwanted memories of idiotic and juvenile behavior. Such memories can be triggered by a single glance at the photographs that appear under the “People You May Know” lists that irritatingly pop up nowadays on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. For many of us, these lists might just as well be labeled, “People You Knew and May Want to Forget”, or “People Who Made Your Life Miserable”.
Take it from me, especially if you are a teenager or young twenty-something college-goer reading this. By the time you are 34, some of the people who were your closest friends back in high school have become nothing more than distant memories, or the source of such negativity and toxic feelings that today, they make you run the other way.
And some of the people you spurned and looked down upon in high school because you thought they were nerdy, geeky, or outright plain ‘losers’, might have become so successful, that they are now your source of inspiration and even envy — as you chase them with requests to ‘connect’ on LinkedIn, or to meet in person.
In high school, for some reason, it becomes compulsively imperative for one to belong to the “cool” crowd, whether it is a coed institution or not. Being on good terms with the “popular” crowd, knowing how to talk the right way, and to carry yourself confidently, somehow carries more weight than good grades and impressive report cards.
Braces, acne, a slouch, body odor, flaky dandruff, belonging ostensibly to a lower social class, a weird (read “FOB”) English accent, excess weight, or even the hint of a physical disability can seriously outcast a young teenager, making them shunned by the cliques of the more ‘popular’ kids at their institution, which mostly comprise of dolled-up fashionista’s, queen bees, burghers, sports jocks, and other “alpha” teens.
The funny part is, that the so-called nerds, losers and geeks in high school become 100% convinced during those trying years, that all their better-looking, popular and more confident peers will definitely go on to become extremely success in life, whereas they will be left behind because they are not, and will never be, “good enough” in the eyes of the former.
Take it from me: that doesn’t always happen. Most of those who used to be self-absorbed, loud-mouthed, high-fiving, self-confident overachievers in high school (along with their crowd of apple-polishing backslappers) turn out to be average-achieving professionals in their thirties. No exaggeration.
And guess who leaves them behind achievements-wise (not just professionally, but also in other aspects of life)? It could be the chronically depressed, braces-wearing, introverted girl compulsively doodling apparel designs (which were, unbeknownst to her, awesome) in her journal at the back of class. Or the oily-haired, bespectacled, acne-faced “nerd” who always had his nose buried in a book, even at the class picnic. Or the shy, sweaty-palmed, socially awkward “dork” who stammered and squeaked when he spoke (that is, when he spoke at all).
Even though my children are being homeschooled, and they might never experience what high school is like (unless they want to), one of the most important lessons I want to impart to them, and to other youngsters, is that high school cliques have no leg to stand on in life.
During your school and college years, being an ‘uncool’, unpopular social misfit feels like the biggest failure, but in reality, it is not.
Time passes. Things change. People change. Mills grind, slowly but surely. Night becomes day. Dawn breaks. The mist clears.
Those who work hard always become successful eventually, no matter how much others might look down upon them, or make them think that they will never be able to succeed at anything.
And decades later, it feels good – oh, so good – to see the past (so-called) “losers” come out better, even if only at a purely worldly level, than those who used to look down upon them and publicly scorn them whilst sitting ensconced comfortably in their exclusive cliques, on campus benches and cafeteria tables.
The ones who now pop up under the list that the past nobodies would like to rename as the “People You Knew But Wished You Didn’t” list.
Success is, as they say, the best ‘revenge’.
Very High Grades Don’t Matter Much Ahead in Life
As an addition to the above lesson, it has also become painfully apparent to me that all those hours I spent poring over dreary textbooks (O-level Chemistry! Ack!) and worrying about exam results, were to a large extent, a very futile effort.
Yes, quite futile.
This is because, now in my mid-thirties, I see those who barely passed their exams back in high school or college, standing at the same level of the professional hierarchy, if not a higher one, than the ones who got straight A’s.
You might think I am totally nuts. But the fact is, as I mentioned at the very start of this article, that Allah has blessed me with a memory via which I do not just remember names, but also entire past events and their details that occurred decades ago. I remember how someone cried and cried because they failed a particular examination. Today, they are doing what they love, have earned well, and even taught at their Alma mater. They are successful.
But back when they were 17, their teachers and parents had few good things to say about their intellectual abilities and their chances to succeed in life, based solely on their performances in exams and tests, and that too in those subjects/courses that do not carry much importance in personal or professional life in the first place…..Such as O-Level Chemistry! Ack!
Enter math, as another example: the most overrated, over-glamorized, over-emphasized subject in school, in my opinion. And I am speaking as a person who got an A in both O- and A-level math, as well as a subject GPA of 4.0 in Linear Algebra during my undergraduate studies in Computer Science.
Take it from me, the ex math-geek: MATH IS OVERRATED!
I don’t want to quote more real-life examples here, even though I can quote many, because I do not want to relinquish the privacy of the individuals whom I studied with back in school and college.
But I am not exaggerating, readers. Truly, if I had known back when I was 13-21, that the excellent grades and marks for which I was working my brain off, would matter as little as they do now, later on in adult, professional life, I would have saved myself the trouble and chagrin, and focused on more important things.
..Such as studying and memorizing the Quran.
Queen Bees Also Have Feet of Clay
This one is for the girls. Any girl with a BMI over 25, height under 65 inches, and waist over 25, who constantly compares herself to the svelte, long-legged, fashionable, beautiful and popular ‘queen bees’ of her class, should not allow those who temporarily happen to be more good-looking, to ruin her self-esteem, or to spoil the way she perceives herself.
Looks are temporary, as is the space on the pedestal that some people get perched on.
“But she gets all the guys. They all fall for her, just because of her looks.”
Okay, so she ‘gets’ them all to fall for her just because of her looks. She might even bag the most eligible bachelor and get married as soon as she hits twenty one, leaving all the rest of the girls feeling bad about themselves. Correction: I should rephrase that to, “leaving all of her girlfriends allowing her looks and life achievements to make them feel bad about themselves”.
But even though in high school it might seem like looks are everything, especially for girls, things change with time. Some buds just blossom late, that is all. Many a chubby, awkward, ‘invisible’ teenaged girl goes on to shed her inhibitions (and baby fat), flowering and blooming later on in life into a confident, well-educated, good-looking diva, who might enjoy a much better, more rounded and balanced quality of life than the beautiful, picture-perfect queen bee she so admired back in school.
In my limited life experience, the teenaged girls who have the so-called ‘social advantage’ of an extra helping of good looks that Allah has bestowed upon them, and whose entire school and college life thus gets affected by these exceptional looks, including who their friends are, and what kind of social life they have as a result, end up not just marrying very young (which is not a bad thing, but since most guys and aunties are always chasing them solely for their face and beauty, they don’t stand much of a chance in consistently saying no to marriage proposals), but they also do not go ahead to achieve much in life after they are married.
Now go on, fire me for saying that!
“Not all good-lookers are airheads!” you must be thinking.
Sure, they are not. But the world around them (including the people around them) doesn’t allow them to look too far beyond their face, figure, wardrobe, makeup, fashion accessories, and personal style. Their beauty influences their whole life, until it becomes the center of their focus.
Want the truth?
Very few of the drop-dead beauties that I studied with back in high school and college, who got married to their Prince Charming in their early twenties while we all looked on in gaping-eyed, jaw-dropped awe (sighing, “Oh, she looks SO beautiful!”), do little else now, at age 34, besides posting profile picture after profile picture of themselves on Facebook, in different poses and outfits, proceeding to bask in the subsequent compliments. (Most Facebookers probably know at least one such “pretty woman“, whose hallmark is a ‘Profile Pictures’ Facebook album having more than 30 photos – mostly of herself.)
It is what they have been thriving on ever since they turned 12!
The superficial, glossy-fashion-magazine-toting contemporary world refuses to allow any pretty young thing to shift her focus away from her looks. Only the determined beauties-with-brains can break the chains of this ‘sticky’ superficiality, forbidding their lifestyle to be formed on the basis of their physical attributes and assets. The 24/7 social media serpent has the fair maidens even further shackled, just as it gnaws away at the rest of us, turning even the most humble ones amongst us into unabashed narcissists!
So if you are a moderately attractive girl who looks drop dead gorgeous when she dresses up, be grateful that you are not the class queen bee, because there is a high chance that if you were, your pretty appearance and the popularity it garnered could eventually go to your head.
Pushing much else of what was left – out.
This, Too, Shall Pass
To conclude, I’d just like to advise my younger readers to not take life and its setbacks too seriously at their age. There is an adage that goes like this, “Youth is wasted on the young,” and although I do not completely agree with it, I do think that when someone is very young, they tend to get affected very quickly by negative events and adversities, thinking that they will never recover from these setbacks. Such as:
Childhood best friend moves to another city, state or country -> “My life is over!”
Backstabbing frenemy lets out an embarrassing secret to the rest of the class -> “My life is ruined forever!”
Failed a critical examination -> “My career has gone down the drain!” Or, once again -> “My life is over!”
In reality, many if not most of us survive and, in fact, go on to thrive wonderfully, after recovering from such apparent failures and calamities that occur during our youth. I would go as far as to say that these calamities are blessings in disguise because of the good they bring about.
I now consider any negative event that occurred during my own youth a massive “grow-up” pill, which made me come out stronger, more wise and more mature than I was before it happened to me, even though its memory is still painful and a source of regret.
So, for those of you young ones who are crying because their family is relocating to a new place, or because they were publicly ridiculed by cyber-bullying classmates on Facebook, or because they couldn’t get into the institution of their choice, or because the person they wanted to marry jilted them for another, I’d say that there will come a time in your life, insha’Allah, when you will look back upon this negative experience and acknowledge that it was good for you. In fact, you might just look back and thank Allah for making you endure it.
Yes, you will actually thank Him for it, because you will see the great benefits it brought about for you in the long term.
Conclusion: a Snapshot From My Past
I recently came upon a very interesting entry in my diary that I wrote exactly 10 years from today.
Actually, that is precisely why writing regularly in a diary is so wonderful. As your life progresses, you look back into the past and see the impassioned writings of your younger self, and you smile as your eyes mist.
Here it is:
You can see the thoughts of my younger, 24-year-old self about what the life of a woman, who is a wife and mother, should be like.
When I was writing these thoughts down in my diary ten years ago, I was neither married nor engaged, nor had my husband’s marriage proposal arrived yet (it came in December later the same year).
Had I tried to imagine myself as a wife and mother in the future at that point in time, what would I have envisioned? Would I have seen myself as I am today?
Perhaps a little, yes (probably the wife and mother part), but I don’t think I would have seen myself as a blogger, writer, or a book author! I would have probably just seen myself still writing in a physical diary, not sharing a digital diary (my blog) with the rest of the world! الحمد لله الذى بنعمته تتم الصالحات
لا حول ولا قوة الا بالله – No one and nothing can cause benefit or bring loss except (with the permission of) Allah!
So I will just conclude by referencing the famous adage about how you should watch your thoughts, because they become your actions. And how those actions become your habits. And how your habits become your life, or something of the sort.
E.g. A few of my peers started smoking when they were in their teens or twenties (yes, I know many ladies who smoke – in secret). They started it just as a fun thing to ‘try out’ while they were with their friends.
Sadly, the hard, painful truth has now hit home for them — that it is much more ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ to smoke a cigarette that you are not addicted to, at age 20, while hanging out with your friends at a cafe or campus party, than to do so hiding in your parked car at a wedding, because you are so addicted to it today, in your mid-thirties, that going without it even for a few hours makes you physically sick with withdrawal symptoms.
All such people despise themselves for being closeted smokers, and hate themselves for this habit, because no matter how hard they try, it is very difficult for them to quit. Having little children only makes them feel even worse about it. They look back with extreme regrets, and wish they had never picked up that first cigarette back when they were younger.
Old habits die hard. When you are young, your habits are forming, and you are akin to a fresh blob of wet clay, which can be molded as the sculptor desires. By the time you hit your thirties, the clay has begun to dry up and set.
Be careful with what you do with yourself when you are young. Time flies, and the years add up, slowly but surely; and irreversibly.
Before you know it, you are looking back with tears of regret at the time lost, the opportunities passed by, and the ills acquired unwittingly.
If you are still young, you can ensure that the tears that you’ll cry later on in life are not those of regret, but of pride and joy. What would you like your 35-year-old self to see when he or she looks back over their shoulder, one or two decades into the past?
Would you like to see a non-serious, expletive-uttering, cigarette-puffing, careless, utterly ‘lost’, mass of confusion? Or a serious, honest, studious, grounded, balanced, Allah-fearing and humble person?
The choice is yours.