I’m not very good at making du’a, for I never really know what to ask for other than forgiveness and guidance. My wife is always exhorting me to make more supplications, for she sees me arise quickly after my prayers, her own hands still lifted towards the heavens. It may be that I am ashamed of the way I conversed with Him as an agnostic, often lying on my bed on my side. Perhaps now I am awestruck and lost for words.
Anyway, a thought occurs to me as I browse some photos that my wife has sent to me from Turkey, where she’s staying with her family. A few weeks ago, following more encouragement to ask of Him, my du’a went something like this: ‘O Allah, I don’t know what to ask for, but You know my heart better than I do, so grant me what my heart desires.’
Now, sitting here, glancing at these photos, it occurs to me that what seemed like a rather non-committal supplication has borne fruit.
I don’t really have great dreams—to be an astronaut, millionaire or warrior—and lack the drive and determination of those I love. My dreams are usually limited to how I will fix some shelves, improve the garden or decorate the spare room. I sometimes wish I could finish my writing projects, but the realist in me fears that it is a lost cause.
But here we have these photos and all of a sudden I recall past dreams and obsessions. I remember the notebook into which I used to sketch my plans as a child. I have noted elsewhere how—when my friends were directing their efforts towards Bay Watch, Gladiators, GameBoy and mountain bikes—I spent my days dreaming of a self-build Tudor house, set amidst a cottage garden, fed by natural spring waters. I did not have any great vision of riches to come and so I spent hours pondering what a pauper’s building materials should be. Bales of straw, pinned together with metal rods and rendered in cement seemed a good solution to me at the time. Ironically, some architects now consider this a serious contender for modern living.
My favourite book was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, which I must have read several times. My creative writing in English classes almost always revolved around a farming theme, and my teachers became convinced that I lived on a farm. I went through a phase in which I tried to convince my parents that I would be a farmer when I grew up, looking forward to a spell at Bishop Burton College of Agriculture rather than university. I once even asked my parents if I could keep a pet sheep in the garden; I got a guinea pig instead, which I failed to look after properly abysmally.
There were two iterations to my plans for the future. The first was the fairly straight-forward timber framed house on a small-holding out in the hills, away from modernity, somewhere. The other was a cottage amidst great forests and rivers, all encased within a massive glass dome to provide a piece of the tropics in chilly, damp England. But in both cases the unifying factor was the pursuit of self-sufficiency, of a kind of romantic past, of living off the land, of seeking refuge in another age, even if imagined. It was, perhaps, the strongest dream I have ever had.
And so to the photos. Here, a piece of hilly land overlooking the Black Sea, clothed in fields of tea, decorated with fruit trees and crowned with a gushing spring. On a fold on the hill stands a tiny house, with just two rooms and a wood burning stove. It is neither imposing nor homely, but it is the start of something. For this wee house and this land now—suddenly—belongs to us.
I dreamed and dreamed throughout my misspent youth of the house on the hill, between its garden and fields, fed by a gushing spring, but I never, ever imagined it would once become a reality. They were sketches on paper, stories for homework and etchings on my heart. They were yearnings for something beyond my grasp, almost forgotten now amidst the normal pursuits of life.
‘O Allah, I don’t know what to ask for, but You know my heart better than I do, so grant me what my heart desires.’
Yes, I am humbled. I could have asked for the DIY to do it itself or for my project at work to resolve itself, but my prayers are often weak, my mind often blank. So I asked Him who knows my heart to grant me its desire, and He emptied my heart on a hill, reminding me of this pillar of our deen and this light of the heavens and the earth. O Allah, grant me a tongue that remembers You and asks of You constantly, and grant it du’as that please You. Ameen.