بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
I awaken gradually, the metallic leg of the steel bench next to my head feeling cold against it. I spot sneaker-clad feet go by. The airport terminal seems to finally be very quiet. I blink several times as sleep leaves my eyes. I sit up. The medicinal tablets seem to have worked. My fever is gone.
It is between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. My other half sits on a nearby bench, forcing his eyes open, and struggling to keep his head upright. He sacrificed his sleep to guard us while we slept. We gesture silently at each other as I glance over at our 3 children. All of them are sound asleep around us on the carpeted floor, behind the metallic benches. I whisper something to him about being very hungry. He nods and tells me to go on. I pick up my handbag and start walking. I spot another abaya-clad lady who apparently went to sleep near me after I had nodded off. I smile instinctively. We hijabi’s seem to find moral support in each other’s proximity, even as absolute strangers in a strange land.
The airport terminal that was bustling with immense noise and crowds just 3 hours ago, has become very silent and vacant. Alhamdulillah. I thank Allah for the rejuvenating sleep and the caring husband, as I spot the Starbucks sign appear in the distance.
The pop-up cafe kiosk is almost empty. A desi guy stands behind the counter. I order regular chai and a bagel with cream cheese. An older “gora” man with salt-n-pepper hair appears and stands in line behind me. I look over my shoulder at him. He smiles and nods at me, all the while looking down, as if to say “take your time, I will wait”.
“Wow, so much respect,” I think.
I take my very-early breakfast of hot beverage and bagel, and select a bar stool for perching myself, which overlooks the terminal walkway. As I open my notebook to get some work done whilst sipping on the refreshing Starbucks tea and munching on the soft cream cheese bagel, I feel so much at peace.
Sitting in a foreign land, amid strangers, alone in a cafe, in the middle of the night, doing my work.
How did I get here?
Have you ever sat somewhere, lost in a daze, wishing you were like someone you admired and looked up to….someone whom you thought was very successful?
Did you wish to become just like them — to have their life, their blessings, their achievements, and to be similarly talented? Maybe even popular and famous, just the way you thought they were?
If your answer to the above questions is yes, then I ask you: Why? Why do you feel this way?
Depending on who we admire and what our criterion for success is, most of us can find ourselves feeling similarly wistful when beholding our role-models, especially when we are younger.
However, we feel this way because of what appears to us. How we perceive the apparent reality of the other person. And, like I have said many times before, reality is not always what it appears to be.
A Rocky Road
If you were to scratch the surface and dig a little deeper, you would find rather harsh events and the endurance of hardship behind every success story. You will see pain, and great fortitude in the face of that pain.
Whatever you define success to be, it takes hard work and resilience. Basically, you need to keep going in the face of adversity, seeking the help of and trusting in Allah, in order to achieve something of value in life.
In lieu of this, nothing beats analyzing and reflecting upon the stories of the Prophets in the Qurán. Despite having read much modern-day self-help literature, these stories remain my main go-to source of inspiration.
Nevertheless, it becomes apparent very quickly that in order to achieve or create anything of value in life, and to sustain it, you need to overcome many challenges. And much of those challenges involve difficulties caused by other people.
The Effect of Success
When I started writing, I chose to do it because it was something that came to me naturally. But more so, since I began homeschooling, because it was something I could do at home.
When I started out, I analyzed my intentions: why am I writing about what I have chosen to write on? Is it to convey something of benefit to people? To make a positive difference to their lives? To create a name for myself…a personal brand? To become famous and popular?
Or was I writing in order to benefit mankind by conveying the message of Allah to them, through a medium that was becoming increasingly accessible?
I asked Allah to bless my efforts, and I hope and pray that the discernible results in this world are just a mere sliver of an indication of His acceptance of my work over the past many years.
But what has struck me the most about being where I am today, is the effect it has caused on my relationships with people.
You see, nobody tells you about this when you are younger and aspiring to get somewhere; to become something. Nobody tells you that your achievements or any degree of success change the relationships in your life in an irreversible way. Or maybe they do tell others, its just that nobody told me.
You see, I really didn’t know.
To elaborate…first up, you get many haters: the seething, envious lot who dislike how much you are blessed, and would love to see you lose some of your blessings. They love to look for blemishes in the rosy picture of your life, because it makes them feel better about themselves. So they never give up trying to “dig for dirt” on you whenever they get the chance. On your face, however, they are sweet and nice. They have to be, in order to get closer to you, so that you let your guard down, then divulge details about yourself in front of them, which they can use against you to hate on you again. Rinse and repeat.
Second, you get many admirers too; those who deem you to be this perfect, larger-than-life, uber-talented “superhero” kind of a person who seemingly has everything in control, and who always does only good things. They seem to have a veil over their eyes that blinds them to your many faults and shortcomings. This lot gets very shocked and scandalized when you make a mistake, or at least show your human side at some point, which happens to be full of normalcy, ordinariness, and shortcomings.
With both these groups, you can never win.
Because you are a mere human; just someone who is trying their best. 🙂
Anyhow, the bottom-line is that, with a degree of success, you become more and more distant from normal, everyday kind of casual relationships. Even if you try very hard for things to go back to the way they were, it doesn’t happen. There is some level of awe and awkwardness in the air.
And often it is so thick, that you could cut it with a knife.
Protecting Your Legacy
It is kind of obvious, really, but many of us perhaps do not realize that another price that someone has to pay for success is to not just give up normalcy, but to also build up higher walls of privacy around themselves.
This is because, simply put, anything that is of value in life, must be protected. If it is left unguarded, it will lose its value, because of those who wish to snatch it away.
Simple as that.
My life experience of the past decade or so has taught me lessons that I can never, ever unlearn. They are here to stay. One of these is that the greater the blessing, the greater is the risk to it of being lost.
This means that you have to protect what you cherish/value the most, even if this means losing other things that you might love.
Top of the list for me is my faith in Allah, and my relationship with Him. In order to protect this relationship, everything else must fall in second.
A close second come those blessings for which Allah has made me highly responsible and (rather solely) accountable.
You see, when a believer asks Allah for a blessing, and Allah gives it to him, he should strive to give the Islamic due of that blessing, as this is a form of showing gratitude to Allah for receiving that blessing (having their dua’s granted).
I mean, the examples are right there in front of our eyes, aren’t they?
We keep precious gemstones inside small little closed boxes, and jewelry inside guarded vaults. We never share our passwords or ATM PIN’s with anyone else. We buy covers for our cell phones. We apply sunblocks on our skin. We wear gloves when handling dangerous chemicals. We keep utensils that contain food, covered with their lids on. And we invest in door-locks and gates for our rooms and homes. Don’t we?
Yet, when it comes to intangible blessings, such as our religious faith and the love/harmony/unity in our families, we become extremely careless.
We do and say things that erode these blessings until they have withered away into nothingness, leaving a large, gaping hollow that stares back at us sullenly. Instead of being humbled and repentant, though, if we instead become defiant and unapologetic, this hole in our lives can make us act arrogantly in order to keep up our social appearances. We then attempt to manipulate others in order to prevent our carefully crafted, superficial world of social make-believe from crumbling and collapsing before our very eyes.
“Oh but, what will people think!? What will I say to them?”
The most unwise and immature of people are those who make the mistake of not cherishing the blessings that Allah has given to them. Then they sit crying with tears of regret when they have lost those blessings due to their heedless lack of gratitude.
Even more unwise are those who do not regret the damage that they have done to their own selves, and instead blame others entirely, for the loss of their worthy blessings in life.
Now, for an exercise in humility. Let us think back in time! If you are old enough, go back ten or twenty years in your life, and try to recall what you used to wish to Allah for, back then.
Now think. Did Allah give it to you?
And do you still have that blessing today? Or is it gone?
And if the blessing is there, is it growing and improving? Or is it rotting away/getting spoiled?
Now look at your own actions! What did you do over the years, after receiving that blessing, which could have made you lose what Allah had bestowed upon you?
Be honest now. Don’t be defiant, defensive, angry, and willfully blind to reality. Do not turn away from your own past mistakes and sins.
Face them, then hasten to repent!
Anyhow, I do not intend to be like such ungrateful people, inshaÁllah. Call me paranoid, over-sensitive, psychologically troubled, weird or whatever.
The boundaries in my life are here to stay.
And well, now I have realized why famous people have so many bodyguards and security teams.
My 14th Book: The Successful Muslim
Late last year, 2018, I self-published my 14th book, titled “The Successful Muslim: Overcoming Hardships to Reach New Heights“.
This book encapsulates what I have learned from my struggles in life during the past decade or so, detailing the lessons in 3 broad categories: hardship, wisdom, and growth. It was very exciting (not to mention, engaging) to work on this project almost all of last year! The artist in me really came out this time as I put together this book. I sought to include relevant photographs in it, full-color ones, which would make it look more like a “bookazine” (<– yes, that is now actually a word!). Sort of similar to my previous picture book, “My Hijab, My Identity“, which also contains full-color photographs, but that one has a much lower word count.
You see, I personally now prefer reading material that has pops of color in it. Maybe because I have become so used to reading articles online, which almost always have a photograph popping up every few paragraphs or so.
Anyhow, the results came out great! I was so happy when I first laid my hands on the final result of my latest physical content-curation. Alhamdulillah. Take a look:
Now for the biggest con of self-publishing a book that has high-quality, full-color photographs in it: the printing cost of publishing goes up.
So, this books costs a whopping USD $50 (in addition to standard, international shipping rates).
Even if I wanted to, I can not lower its price beyond a certain point, due to printing costs associated with full-color photos.
For You, What Defines Value?
In my opinion, despite the age of digitization and round-the-clock content creation, paperback and hardback books continue to retain their own value. They still remain worthy investments. All of the good books that I like, which I have had in my possession, remain valuable to me even after the passage of decades. In fact, some editions of dated books actually gain value over time, especially if they go out of print.
This is because a book is unarguably timeless. For bibliophiles, or anyone else who cherishes knowledge, a book is totally worth the investment of their money, which lasts for years, if not decades, and adds value as an asset to their personal library even beyond this time.
For what its worth, my 14th book costs (just for the sake of comparison) the same amount as the “party makeup” some ladies like to get done by local Pakistani salons before attending a social event. They happily pay for this makeup simply because it makes them look good, even though they then willingly wash it off themselves less than 12 hours later.
Money gone, quite literally, down the drain. 🙂
But hey, the photographs turn out great and we get so0o0oo many compliments for how we look in the makeup, so this investment of PKR 10,000 that we make for our ego boost is so0o0o worth it, isn’t it?! 🙂
Sure, sure. It is.
As far as comparisons go, we also spend the same amount of money on a single formal outfit, which we know that we probably won’t be wearing anymore, after 10 years.
Yet, a non-fiction book will probably remain in our possession, without diminishing in value (depending on who is perceiving the issue), after even two decades.
So, it is all a matter of perspective, really, i.e. what we consider to be a worthy investment or not, depending upon our personal perceptions of worth and value related to money.
For some, it can be superficial things such as clothing and makeup.
For others, it can be books of knowledge.
To each their own.
Conclusion: Age Makes Sage
To all of my sincere well-wishers who want to know why I have become so private, so quiet: jazakum Allahu khairan for your love and continued support!
I think its just perhaps a part of coming of (middle) age: you stop yakking immaturely without thinking, and become more subdued, calm, and observant instead. Maybe perhaps because, at this age, you have begun to realize the impact and effect of your words?
Secondly, in a world where every social media account is a soundbox creating a
sound loud noise every few minutes or seconds, and all kinds of media portals scramble and struggle to gain the exclusive attention of their viewers/readers through the real-time creation of a cacophony of different voices, I do not think it is such a loss if just one voice has quieted down a bit.
There are tons of great people doing great work out there, especially when it comes to Islamic Da’wah. Not everyone is cut out to be an activist in the public eye.
I have now come to love solitude. I love not being the center of attention. I love being quiet: reading, contemplating, writing, reflecting, repenting, learning.
I actually struggle to guard my sincerity of intention, and in lieu of this, my aversion to attention has only increased with time over the past decade.
It is actually quite challenging: this struggle between guarding oneself from riya/fame, striving to increase in doing good deeds, and yet, continuing to convey (with purity of intention and sincerity) what is good and beneficial to mankind.
As I strive to seek cover for my deeds, blessings, future plans, and sins, I also ask Allah for His continued guidance and taufeeq to do good deeds for His sake, until my last breath. Aameen.
I have a lot more to say, but I think I will save it for later, insha’Allah.
The struggle, my readers, is real.