بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Perhaps you have been wondering where/how I am?
And, maybe why/to where I seem to have disappeared? Why you are seeing less of me?
Yes, I will admit, things in my life are different now.
However, this change did not happen overnight.
Life has a way of throwing surprises at you. As you grow older and become more mature, many things tend to become clearer.
Let me emphasize one thing, though: not everyone grows ‘up’ as they grow older. And not everyone learns from their mistakes. And certainly not everyone benefits from deep insights and life-altering lessons acquired from pondering upon the Qur’an.
However, today I want to talk about how I increasingly seem to find myself slowly crossing a bridge between two lives, or two worlds it seems. That is, if I choose to look at it that way.
At an age going on 40 (I turn 39 in September this year, insha’Allah), I am at a notable crossroads in my life.
I feel like I am in the middle of a bridge. This bridge connects two phases of my worldly existence that are at stark contrast to each other.
From where I am standing on this bridge, I can still look back and easily recall events and memories from my childhood. At this age, I am still in touch with the younger (millennial) generation, so much so that I can understand where they are coming from, and sympathize with the issues they are facing.
Many young people contact me online for advice, so I suppose they must consider my advice useful for them.
Yet, I know I am slowly moving away, into the older generation, — a generation that once experienced trends and cultural ethos that are fast becoming rare. E.g. I lived in a world during my childhood that was sans any screens for children, besides just one: the television (which was not even available, except from evening till late night). We played out on the streets, in busy neighborhoods. We knew what the game bhunda express was. 🙂
Now, decades later, my own oldest child will, soon, no longer be a child. And the lovely silver hairs on my head, as well as the wrinkles around my eyes, are growing in number, reminding me of further changes ahead.
At this point in my life, therefore, I am pausing to take my time in crossing this bridge. I am standing still on it, in order to alternately see both sides: the one I came from, and the one I am going to. At this point, I am in the stage of deciding, what kind of life awaits us in the future….when I am old (insha’Allah, if I live to see that age).
You see, in stages, what happened over the past 10-15 years or so, was that I found myself drifting into a life that I had not really planned on living. I had not envisioned doing what I am doing right now, and heading to where I am heading, back when I was even a little younger (say, in my early twenties).
It just happened. But, it is true that, when I was single & 20-23 years old, I had not planned on living the life that I am today.
The simple reason for this “change of direction” of sorts, was just one thing, and one thing only: my studies of, and relationship with, the Qur’an.
Living in Pakistan
Let’s start with a little recap: I hail from an ethnic nation in which, what I call “the slave mindset”, seems to be ingrained into our DNA, or infused into our blood (no offense).
What this means is that, almost out of the bassinet, a Pakistani baby is more often than not brought up and trained to aspire to a “better life”. This life, the baby is made to believe, can exist only outside the geographical boundaries of Pakistan.
So, yes, Allah decreed for me to hail from a nasl (tribe/people/nation) that admires and emulates peoples who have the white skin color, and aspires to dwell in countries with clean roads, smooth systems, nationalities that grant passports allowing easy, on-arrival visas, and higher-value currencies. I hail from a nasl that was once ruled and dominated by white-colored people, for many years.
So, yeah, we have certain deeply-ingrained mindsets regarding money, standards of living, necessities vs. luxuries, education, and ways of earning/spending money, which ubiquitously dictate our thoughts, beliefs, & cultural habits about what kind of life we should try to live in this world.
Now, all of this would be fine only if I possessed the same mindset. My life would definitely be easier.
But, for some weird reason that I have still not been able to figure out, I do not possess this mindset. I tend to call it “The Pakistani Poverty Mindset“. I mean, I really do not know why I do not possess this mindset that almost every other average Pakistani seems to have.
There are certain behaviors that give away/are characteristic of this mindset. You know, the way
they we pinch pennies all the time in the way we spend our money: we consider saving even PKR 25 upon something we buy, to be a laudable personal “accomplishment”. And, the way we sneakily as well as obtrusively nose our way into other people’s private matters. The way we chew and spit paan on our own as well as other people’s walls & potted plants (puke!). The way our whole extended families crowd into small, tattered, decades-old vehicles (to “save” petrol), or upon already rickety motorbikes. The way we mooch from and stubbornly invite ourselves over to those of our relatives’ and family friends’ homes who are well-off, possess political clout, are the citizens of a foreign (“gora“) country, or whose connection can in any other way help us avail some worldly benefit in the future. The way we ignore and refuse to talk about (or to) those of our relatives who are mentally ill, poor, single/divorced, unemployed, or disabled (we like to hide them, away from view, until they die off). Or the way we unabashedly pinch ‘free’ tidbits (such as plastic spoons, tissue paper, drinking glasses, even minuscule sachets of salt and pepper) from hotels or any other public places, where ever we can get our hands on them (“It’s FREE! FREE! Take it! Take it!”). The way we shamelessly cut queues in public places, and lanes whilst driving on the roads. Not to mention, how we honk like maniacs as if it is our God-given birthright, as soon as the traffic light turns from red to yellow, or when someone dares to cross our vehicle’s path.
And the way we prefer sons over daughters, because sons allegedly earn money & take care of their parents in old age — at least in our minds. And the way we pray with a sense of resignation for our daughters’ good “naseeb’s“, because we erroneously believe that their future provision depends upon their husbands/in-laws, but totally ignore our sons’ moral upbringing, dismissing their crass, immoral, paan-spitting, lascivious ways as ‘manliness’.
We — Pakistani’s — descended from ‘slaves’, or rather, a people who were ruled by the British, and we still possess the mindset of a slave nation, even if some of us have become well-off and educated, so to speak. This mindset forms the basis of our cultural beliefs and our way of life.
I thought I possessed this mindset too. But like I said already, I never did.
Even during childhood, when my peers displayed certain dead giveaways of this mindset e.g. piling just kababs & meaty boti’s high on their plates when attending a dinner at someone else’s house, and ignoring the bowls of daal [lentils] & vegetable dishes, (even if they otherwise like eating the latter) — I was different. I would just eat what I liked (albeit with gusto — I was always a foodie!). By the way, even today, I sometimes get taunted for ordering daal at BBQ restaurants. Heh!
When us girls would get together at a classmate’s house, most would binge heartily on the host girl’s “free” makeup, resulting in faces resembling strawberry tarts. I, on the other hand, focused more on getting the look sported by the face on the glossy fashion magazine cover.
When I was in A-levels, almost all of the students around me (I studied at the infamous City School, Darakshan campus) had already started to talk incessantly about which foreign university they were applying to. I felt no inclination to study abroad even then, though I had the grades to qualify for a scholarship.
As time flew…I found solace in my faith, and the study of the Qur’an turned out to truly be my calling. I eagerly joined a course to study the Qur’an after graduation, under a teacher. I loved that time in my life, despite my “concerned” relatives and friends increasingly expressing their “sincere” worries about how/why I was becoming “so religious”, and not doing my Masters or a job instead. But even the bliss of that course was short-lived, because as a Pakistani girl in her early twenties, I began to irreversibly enter the marriage market.
And we all know what a walk in the park that is!
The pressure to get married began to mount after age 23, especially since I refused to work at a job in my forsaken, male-dominated field of Computer Science, even after completing my Qur’an course. This was because most if not all software houses and IT firms employed very few women in their offices, and I was no longer comfortable working predominantly with male colleagues. Besides, I wanted to pursue loftier work than engineering software: I wanted to serve the cause of Islam, especially the Qur’an.
Our Pakistani culture is very zaalim (unjust) towards an urban, educated girl who is above age 22/23 (or age 16/18 if she is a village lass). She is not allowed to enjoy a cushioned, carefree, single life beyond this age, even if she herself really wants to get married, but it just isn’t happening yet, because Allah has not decreed it yet for her.
Desi aunties do not like to see a girl sitting comfortably at her parents’ home, enjoying love, care, and luxury, beyond this age. Either she has to work at a job (i.e. bring in money to contribute to the house/support herself), or she has to go to her husband’s home and serve him/his family.
There is no third option.
The rampant attitude is that a single daughter who is above a certain age should not be made to feel too comfortable or welcome at her parents’ home. She is regarded as a social burden, and the longer she is visible to society living at her parents’ home, the more embarrassed & awkward they are made to feel, by being asked horrid questions, such as:
Does she not receive any good rishta’s (proposals)?
Get her makeover done. And make her lose weight.
Is there some other problem?
Maybe someone has done jaadu (witchcraft) upon her? Did you try to find out, seek treatment?
I know of a widower/divorcee in his fifties, with 3 grown kids, looking for a young wife. Should I give you his number?
So, anywhere that my parents & I went, people had permanent question-marks on their faces, about my single status.
Is she going away (i.e. getting off your shoulders) any time soon?
You must be so worried!
With the likes of such caustic “well-wishers” around, who wouldn’t be worried?!
Whether educated or uneducated, anyone whom we met had just one question: when is Sadaf getting married?
Anyhow, you get the picture. Desperation set in. Like I said, we live in a culture that is very zaalim towards single girls.
Surrounded by religiously inclined female peers who were also at the receiving end of marriage proposals, once again I found myself the odd one out.
You see, even most religious girls also desired, and gave more importance to, marriage proposals from single men who were either already living & working abroad, or planning to go abroad in the near future (“abroad” meaning any country that predominantly had people of white-colored skin, but the Middle East was OK too. Anywhere but Pakistan/India — that was the general rule).
Once again, I realized that I was still different: because I had no inclination to go abroad, despite the fact that I had already visited the West (UK, USA, & Canada) once, by then.
And, as fate would have it, any proposal that I received, despite my abaya and niqab, was from guys either already living/working/studying in USA/Canada/UK, or planning to go there eventually.
So I resigned myself to fate: my kind was a dwindling species.
If I wanted to get married, I would have to go abroad.
Ergo, I did not let my lack of desire to live in a foreign country stop me from saying yes to a proposal that was otherwise satisfactory according to Islamic values. And that is how I got married, and went to boring, chilly, dull, and lifeless, but picturesquely scenic & squeaky clean Canada (no offense, Canadians). I have already written enough about what happened next. You can read it here.
Anyhow, back to the point: my husband did not have a permanent job/stable career in Canada, even though his MBA and 3 years of residency were almost up. So we decided to come back & raise our children in
We did not want them to have any confusions or insecurities about their religion, identity, ethnicity, historic background (lineage), or language. We did not want them to grow up in an environment where they could be made to feel like the odd ones out, part of a small minority, referred to as “aliens”, or treated as immigrants trying to “assimilate”. We wanted them to grow up feeling comfortable in their own skin, and not like outsiders, especially in public places. We wanted them to be able to speak Urdu confidently, audibly and freely, whenever and where ever they wished, without any fear of social awkwardness or embarrassment.
So, back it was to Karachi for us.
And we still have no regrets about that decision. Alhamdulillah.
However, as I recited the Qur’an during pregnancy for each one of my children, and dedicated each fetus to the cause and path of Allah, I did not know that Allah had something totally different also in store for my children, as they’d grow older….
Homeschooling, Specializing Into Unschooling
The next epiphany that awaited in my decree, which was never planned, was the eye-opening journey of homeschooling.
I have written enough about this before, so I hope you are already aware of it. Suffice to say that our homeschooling journey has been jarringly startling and thought-provoking, to say the very least.
As a Muslim as well as a parent, I have learned tremendously about human learning and the keys to holistic success, by traversing this journey. By specializing into unschooling (for our family), it became even more interesting.
I unschool my children based on the insights I glean (by the guidance and benevolence of Allah) from my reflections upon the Qur’an. I strive hard to relate Qur’anic guidance to real, practical, everyday human life. And I can truly say that the guidance to do this was only from Allah, who guided me through pondering and reflecting upon the Qur’an, on how to unschool, mentor, raise, and morally train my children.
We are still a work-in-progress, though. We are far from perfect, so do not be fooled by appearances. 😛
Nevertheless, despite the perks and pleasantly unexpected surprises that came our way because of unschooling, it was not at all easy for us on the social front.
No, sir, not at all. Because, facing the social front as homeschoolers means, interacting with Pakistani’s. And they, like I’ve described above, possess the bona fide, hardcore “poverty mindset”.
In fact, without going into the details, I would say that our choice to unschool our children revealed most people’s true thoughts, opinions, and hearts to us. We saw those who opposed us, for who they really are.
And the picture was not very nice.
You see, coming back to the slave/poverty mindset of most Pakistani’s: they believe, with all their hearts, that having no school/college degree means no education, and no education means no money.
Even in today’s world of instant global connectivity, online learning, and technological tools and learning aides, most Pakistani’s still believe that the stamp (tthappa) of a college degree (once again, preferably one from a university in a gora country) is a must-have for someone to get anywhere in life.
So they strive hard, worry, lose sleep, and make every possible worldly effort to admit their children into good institutions, particularly foreign ones. So that, when these children emerge from their educational lives as young, 20-something adults with zero practical life/job experience, they are employed as servants of a company, on a very short leash — doing as they’re told to, and slaving away at a desk doing what they do not enjoy doing, in the hopes of the next promotion (and the next, and the next, and the next…); waiting to pounce on the first available housing loan that will noose their necks (even more tightly than the job leash) into a mortgage for the next 20-30 years.
Ah, the corporate dream that we all should strive for, eh?
Being the educational “dissident” that I am, I still make dua to Allah to grant everyone guidance & fruition in their efforts to raise & educate their children.
But I still disagree — completely and utterly — with this fallacious belief — that admission into a prestigious school/university is a must-have for any kind of future financial success. If that were the case, then most of the successful, financially well-off and/or otherwise influential “movers & shakers” & leaders around the world would all possess higher degrees from prestigious universities.
But many of them don’t.
I cringe at the mere thought of forcing non-beneficial knowledge down my child’s throat, so that he or she can eventually get employed by someone without an educational degree who runs a multinational company, working at a job on an extremely short leash, secretly loathing their boss’ absolute authority over them (no matter how nice s/he is); stringently budgeting/saving money from paycheck to paycheck; hoping, apple-polishing, networking, and slogging away extra hours of un-enjoyable work in pursuit of that next elusive promotion; waiting for their annual 10-20 days off to go off on an expensive foreign vacation to Dubai/Thailand/USA/UK, only to return to the same drudgery afterwards.
Instead, I pray for my children to be financially independent, earning exponentially increasing income through entrepreneurship/business, and having their own individual roof over their heads, very soon in life — without taking a single paisa in loan (ever).
Go on. Here is when you burst out laughing, at me and my vision.
By the way, I fully expect you to do that, because of the self-imposed limits of your vision, your fixed mindset about money, and your culturally-ingrained beliefs about financial freedom (or lack thereof).
You can go ahead and guffaw away, because your mind is probably still under the heavy influence of your school and college education, combined with the typical Pakistani poverty mindset, both of which (combined) make you believe that no one can ever be financially well-off unless they work for someone else on a short leash — preferably as a minority society member living under a 25-year home-loan debt, in a gora country– from age 22 till 60 (which is when they get the retirement “kick” and are sent home with a consolatory, take-home ‘package’).
No sir, this is not what I envision for my children at all.
May Allah guide and help us to achieve any and all noble goals for our children, short-term as well as long-term. Ameen.
Marriage Book & Online Marital Counseling
The next life-altering event that happened in my life, not long after starting the journey of homeschooling, one that (once again) I had not planned earlier in life, was that my first book got published by an Islamic publishing house, and it was about Muslim marriage.
I mean, me guide others about marriage, in the light of Islam?
Now I am the one laughing out loud! Hahahahahahahaha!
Seriously, I am. 😀
Talk about Allah giving His benevolence to whom He wills. You see, I never considered myself (and still don’t) “good wife material”. I am loud, blunt, upfront, assertive, and a total loser at two-facedness, hypocrisy, hiding my true feelings in front of people, controlling my facial expressions, stroking the male ego, and in general being a servile doormat (a.k.a a man’s “paaon ki jooti“, as tacitly referred to, in our local culture). Growing up, I thought that this list of qualities made what is known in Pakistan as the “ideal wife”, based on the emphatically expressed opinions, comments, and observations of sari-wearing, paan-chewing, chai-sipping older aunties.
Anyhow, it was the benevolence of Allah that I was able to start publishing my articles & writings as books, after my first marriage book was published by a traditional Islamic publisher. I do not mean to be ungrateful to Allah by expressing how I don’t think I deserve to advise others about Muslim marriage; quite the opposite, in fact. I am merely astounded at whatever work Allah has taken from me. I just find it incredible to believe, at times. That is all.
Like I said, up until even age 28 (the year 2006), if anyone had told me that I would end up publishing Islamic advice books during the next decade of my life, I would not have believed them.
But, like homeschooling, writing & publishing Islamic advice non-fiction turned out to be, once again, a true benevolence & surprise “gift” from Allah to me, as a result of my pondering upon His Glorious book, the Qur’an, in the seclusion of my home.
Ditching Culture When it Undermines Religiosity
Last, but definitely not the least: one of the greatest blessings, as well as one of the biggest challenges, that I have unexpectedly attained in my life as a result of my personal quests into the Qur’an, is a complete and utter disdain for, and discard of, any cultural belief, habit, or practice that undermines or completely clashes with a superlative level of my personal Islamic practice.
Or perhaps you are utterly scandalized?
You see, as the roots of my hair slowly turned grey, and my age increased, a gnawing but undeniable realization hit me extremely hard in the face: most of the exhausting burdens that we (especially Pakistani women) carry upon our shoulders, are nothing but cultural.
Sometimes, these burdens make our lives utterly difficult, but we still cling to them stubbornly, because we are resilient people-pleasers who are too cowardly to go against the majority. We cannot take a stand and be different from others, or feel adequate and self-confident about ourselves without doing what we see everyone else doing.
In the long run, these cultural burdens do not really matter that much, and they certainly do not make a big difference to our Hereafter, but we think they do. That is why, we stick so stringently to them, and spend so many resources upon their maintenance, and refuse to allow anyone else from our close kith and kin to relinquish them either.
Whether it is the amount of time we choose to spend in front of the stove (or oven) cooking multiple dishes every day; or in the markets and malls making/buying things that do not matter or get used that much; or on our phones watching useless videos/playing games/forwarding baseless messages; or in front of the television watching ‘breaking news’, cricket matches, & sappy dramas (ones that often perpetuate the same cultural myths and gender biases that we harbor); or in excessive socializing with other thumb-twiddling cultural conformists, engaging in gossipy conversations with them just to pass away our idle time — the choices that we make today, heavily influence not just our present, but also our future.
Taking loans to build elaborate houses that remain empty for most part of the day/year; taking pains to decorate a “drawing room” that will welcome maximum only 10-20 people per year (those whom we might not even like, but strive to please anyway, in order to acquire social benefits & perks); making countless trips to the shops for a single family wedding or party; spending lakhs of rupees to fly halfway across the world biannually to ‘visit’ relatives in other countries (in whose homes we engage in the same cultural activities to alleviate our boredom) — WHY?
Were all these things meant to be the necessities of life? Do they constitute our purpose in life? Are they meant to be our major pastimes that take up almost all of our time, resources, and energies?
Or were we created for a better, higher purpose?
My slow “divorce” with culture began some time after the birth of my third child, Amatullah.
Once again, it just happened gradually, over time, without my realizing or intending it. It was not planned.
As I pondered more and more deeply upon the Qur’an, over the years, my subconscious self started shedding away each unnecessary, time-wasting, cultural activity that took up my time, energy, & resources. It happened slowly and ubiquitously.
Until hardly any were left in my life.
A Global Vision
So, what exactly lies ahead, at the other end of this bridge that I am currently standing upon, and taking my time to cross?
What is my destination? My vision?
I am not stupid. 🙂
I am not going to announce it here, because I have realized one more important thing: any kind of success (no matter how small or big it might be) brings with it two detrimental things:
(i) the over-the-top love and admiration of those who idealize/look up to you, and
(ii) the envy of hidden haters, who would love to see you go down.
Both of these feelings/vibes from people can be extremely detrimental for a believer’s faith, work, productivity, and spirituality. So, they need to be very careful.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ gave us Muslims some very sincere advice about this, which I have incorporated more and more into my life, since the past few years:
Narrated Mu’adh, the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Resort to secrecy for the fulfillment & success of your needs; for verily, everyone who has a blessing is envied.”
Therefore, I will only say this: my vision is global, and it is dedicated to the full-time, practical implementation and service of Islam.
I am definitely not going to be chasing those things that most others around me are after (things that I’ve already mentioned) viz.: foreign nationalities, socialite connections and upgrades, lavish homes acquired via decades-long housing loans, elitist college degrees & job titles, neck-shackling corporate jobs, marriage proposals aimed at garnering maximum material/social benefits, and boring cultural activities and occupations.
Insha’Allah, I hope and intend to sporadically meet & have meaningful interactions only with sincere, humble & Allah-loving people, whose taqwa shines clearly through their outward actions and truthful tongues. Those who do not intend to use me for some personal gain and then turn their backs to me the minute that that gain is achieved.
So help me, O Allah, my benevolent Master, Who has brought me till this point in my life.
Help me to see things as they are, and guide me to do the best that I can beyond this point, with myself as well as my family, to ultimately gain Your eternal pleasure. Ameen.
Conclusion: My Children’s Future
To conclude (….finally), the other side of the bridge will probably be nothing like the side I crossed over from.
Time does fly. Now, as I approach age 40, I am seeing the firstborn babies of my friends, who seemed to have been born just yesterday, hitting and passing puberty. I can so clearly see the effect of their typical, cultural upbringing upon them.
Their mothers (as well as grandmothers and aunts) have studied the Qur’an in-depth; their mahrum women regularly attended, taught, as well as enrolled their children in part-time Qur’an/religious education courses. Yet, the family’s style of living, habits, occupations, priorities, and goals in life all seem to remain the same as those of the common masses viz. those who have not studied the Qur’an at all.
They seem to engage in spiritual/religious pursuits as an after-thought, “on the side”, in order to “stay in touch” with Allah’s book after their oh-so-binding worldly commitments are taken care of. The attitude is to not lose contact with the Qur’an amid their more important worldly pursuits. The Qur’an is the peripheral interest, not the nucleus.
But is this the way it was supposed to be?
That is, when we study the Qur’an, is it meant to be a “part-time” interest or “extra-curricular” engagement for the rest of our lives?
Should Allah’s Divine writ be a passion/interest that we turn to merely once, on the weekends; or in times of grief or loss, when we want something from Allah; or after the big, boisterous, two-week-long family wedding is over & our meddling relatives (who pull off our abaya’s and hijabs at the wedding dinners) have all flown back home; or when we return from our exotic vacations; or when we have leisure time left on our hands after we have given the prime of it to our jobs/relatives/schools/social “obligations”?
Your answer to the above questions might be, “yes”. But mine is a flat, resounding, and very loud “NO!”.
Therefore, let it be clear: it is not my intention for my children to have future lives in which our religion (i.e. the Qur’an), its practice, and its propagation takes a backseat, or is treated as an after-thought. This means that we will probably be even more different from the majority then, than we are now.
Like I said, I am not going to share my vision for my family with the world.
But I just want you to know this: if you think that we are weird, different, out-of-it, radical, seclusive, unusual, socially selective, and intensely private right now…
Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!