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Time to change

I was inspired while in Turkey this summer to start doing regular exercise. Perhaps inspiration is the wrong word; perhaps I mean shamed, when my companions mocked my skinny frame repeatedly. On my return a month ago, I sent a message to a friend to ask if he might train me. He agreed, but I am yet to start; my fault, not his. This year must mark 20 years since I last did any serious exercise. No, I had a brief spell at university when a friend set out to increase me in strength and stamina. But since then: the only time I run these days is when I’m late for Jummah prayer.

Our experiences in our youth do tend to have long-lasting effects. The perpetual humiliation of every games lesson at school did much to dissuade me from pursuing sport thereafter. My friends are well aware of the allergic reaction I have whenever any of them mentions playing rugby or cricket; it is a true phobia in every sense. But something has to change. I have warned my friend that I will starting from zero — and I mean it — but the task ahead is necessary, if I ever find the motivation to take the first step. Change is always difficult.

I have been reading this wonderful blog on and off for a while now: muslimrunner.wordpress.com. It is very inspiring. I used to quite like running, although I was never very good at it. I might have pursued it had I not had teachers who delighted in putting their less talented students down and eradicating their self-esteem. Blimey: that was over twenty years ago and yet still I bang on about it. It’s time to get out of the rut, I guess. Time to make a change.

Nobody

I guess one mistake we make when we set out upon this road is to assume that we are important, or that the world does or should revolve around us. Very soon we grow despondent because nobody notices us, while we remain oblivious to all the other souls that are thinking just the same thing. In truth, nobody really cares what we have to say, unless it can benefit them in some way. And further, we probably don’t really care what others have to say either. We are just souls brushing shoulders with each other momentarily, wandering on indifferent to each other’s lives.

Nobody cares where you’re from, who you are, what you’ve seen or what you’ve done. You are nobody. Perhaps that realisation is driven home all the more forcefully for those cut off by language, who must sit there not just ignored, but in total ignorance too — not just unheard, but also unhearing — but it is a realisation that must dawn on all of us eventually. We live most of our lives having no influence on the world around us at all. And so it is in the mosque and in our communities: our place is to listen, but not talk, to see but not be seen, to hear but not be heard.

Perhaps this age of the celebrity has warped our expectations: when there are some who are known by millions, perhaps it is only natural that the millions also want to be known. But we are nobody. Perhaps this realisation is driven home all the more forcefully to those who walk upon a different path to their family, for it becomes clear that the brotherhood of faith often extends no further than a family or a clan, or perhaps a group of friends. Mosques bear witness to this reality all too well, where believers are now mean with their salams, withholding them from all except their loved ones. Even a smile or an exchanged glance is a rarity today. For you are nobody.

The ego petitions us constantly, doesn’t it, demanding that others pay attention to our insignificant lives? That’s why I consider our community good training for the nafs. Daily we are reminded that we are nobody, that nobody cares about our thoughts, that nobody in interested in your health, that nobody cares what you have to say, that your life is of no interest or worth. On forums we are those who come and go, who speak but are ignored. We are the ones who send emails that are never answered. We are the ones who wander into the mosque  like a stranger in a crowd of strangers. We are the ones who gives salams that are never returned. We are the ones that Allah has decided to train, whose nafs cry out for reform. Allah loves the slave who is hidden from the people, we once learnt, but it took all of this to make it true.

Yes, it is the truth: we are nobody. Don’t get despondent; take heart. Allah plucked you like a grain of sand from the desert, gave you faith and threw you back into that sea of sand, blown by the wind; without  all those grains there would be no cascading dune. Amongst our companions we are nobody, but before our Lord: so much more.

Unheard Voices

A sobering, harrowing, important read: www.mwnuk.co.uk … UnheardVoices.pdf

Before I go

It is that time once more, when my website domain name comes up for renewal and I force myself to evaluate whether to pay for another two years or not. It is never about the money, but about the tongue — or rather my typing fingers — about words, and the adab due to them as we wander along this path. It is likely I posted an article very similar to this one exactly two years ago, the last time the notification arrived from my web host, so I won’t prolong this (and anyway, I am typing this one-fingered on a virtual keyboard on a tablet computer — hardly conducive to writing).

In short, I don’t think I’m going to renew it. I’m going to let it float away, to be occupied by another soul perhaps. For a while I thought I ought to hang onto it for my publishing ventures, but as I have now turned my back on those too, it hardly seems worthwhile. It is not as if it is sought-after intellectual property; I have resigned to my place in the world, as a person with zero influence. I no longer lament leaving the writing to the learned and the wise; it is time to abandon my pretensions and inflated opinion of myself. So to the hills, I suppose. This website is no longer read much at all anyway, and I rarely have time to sit down to formulate a post, though ideas occasionally occur to me. Alas I have alienated many along the way, and sent the remaining to sleep, bored of my perpetual dreary refrain.

Let this not be a long goodbye, for we have been here before, preparing to withdraw, only to return once more. This is not meant as food for my ego, a ploy to draw out undeserved eulogies. We have been here before, haven’t we? I vowed to disappear last year too, but in time felt guilty for abandoning the little community that seemed to gather here, worrying after the faceless souls that would utter amiable words from time to time. I promised to return then, but it has only really been to leave a repository of writing online.

I rarely contribute anything new, for parenthood leaves me weary, or because too much of life is now too private, too important to be spoken of in public, or because the passing of time reminds me that most of the words I have uttered should never have been uttered at all. I recall years ago writing some post about Real Men, and now I regret almost every word, for back then I had no idea just how hard parenting would be — so how dare I pontificate on the weakness of a father who could not cope and who walked out on his two severely disabled children, leaving his wife to raise them alone. Yes, my sympathy for the mother remains, but still: how arrogant of me. And how many more words did I expend, talking about matters I knew nothing about, without right? So many thoughts occur to me now, but I either cannot articulate them, or choose to remain silent instead. I think it is better this way.

So no long goodbyes then; I am more than happy to stay in touch. No, just a plea. Forgive me for my innumerable shortcomings, for misplaced words, for that novel, for my arrogance, for alienating you, for hurting feelings, and for all the rest. Before I go, forgive me for the bad stuff, and perhaps keep me in your prayers if I am worthy. I think the domain expires in about a month.

Clockwork

Just like clockwork I repeat the same sins over and over; the same mistakes, again and again. For a while I persist in them, until just like clockwork, that unease begins to clamour within, whispering ever so softly that the end is near, that the time to repent has come. I will persist for a while, adamant to go on, until finally that faint trace of goodness forces me to relinquish my unjust desires. Repentance may follow, eventually, once the embers of misdemeanour have finally burnt out. And for a while I may be good again. But soon I will regret turning away from all that which is of no benefit to me at all; soon I will regret turning my back on sin, wishing all over again to return to it, just like clockwork, to repeat the same mistakes over and over. To sin and repent. To reform and deform. To be good and then be bad. To good and evil equal bent, and both a devil and a saint.

What has become of us?

Look. We no longer exchange salams anymore. We no longer ask after each other. We no longer share advice. We are no longer there for each other. What has become of us?

Conquering darkness

In the two years before I first uttered my shahada, I came to fancy myself as a fine writer, although my only real talent was to have the patience to hammer out a million words on a keyboard in the middle of the night for months on end. I had two self-printed novels to show for my efforts, which I shared with friends and family, accidentally revealing my woeful illiteracy.

When I became Muslim, I initially shunned my investment in creative writing, for I feared that the act of fictional storytelling would impact negatively on my efforts to cleanse my heart and soul. Yet over the months and years that followed I would periodically return to this hobby, convincing myself that I could put my supposed abilities to the service of my deen. Over the next few years a number of new works would be born, sometimes competing for my time, but mostly languishing on my computer.

Five years after that blessed day which opened up this new world to me, I would shun my writing once more, this time taking steps to finalise it by physically destroying my work. It was part of my repentance; the embodiment of my mission to overcome the darkness of my soul. Weeks later I would regret my hasty actions, lamenting the loss of a novel I had invested so much in. I procured a piece of data recovery software, restored whatever I could from the hidden depths of my computer’s hard disk, and spent the rest of the decade deriding my puritanical rage. Indeed, five years after my decision to eradicate the last vestiges of my novel, I made the opposite decision to revisit it and ultimately publish it. I thought I was ready to embrace a piece of my being from my days before faith.

And so it was that at the beginning of this year, I finally set it free, releasing it into the wilds. I published it as a brick of a paperback and as an eBook, momentarily confident of its prospects. It survived out there for two months before I had a change of heart. Now, as with everything I write, I cannot bear to read it back to myself. I have shunned it once more, writing off my time spent editing it as a lesson learned and my financial investment as cutting my losses. Now I look back on that day in 2003 when I sought to destroy the work for good, no longer with that derision of mine; instead I tell myself that it was probably the right decision. I had a chance a decade ago to escape the darkness of my soul, but I was not prepared back then to commit to the hard road ahead.

Now I stand at the same juncture once more, having that same conversation within: whether to purify my soul of all that holds it back, or to try to reconcile my darkness to my light. I am in a better place to succeed today, perhaps, in that I have a better understanding of the world of the writer: that most writers are never read, that most writers expend an incredible effort that is never rewarded, that for the most part it is a waste of time and energy. A decade ago I probably believed that I was an excellent writer, destined to succeed. Today I recognise that I am a mediocre writer, possessor of mixed reviews, some quite positive, but most very negative indeed. To give up writing against such a backdrop no longer seems a hideous, insurmountable sacrifice; rather, it feels like the right thing to do.

True, I lament the unfinished drafts on my computer. I lament that they may never see the light of day. But now I ask myself another question: will I really be questioned on that Awesome Day about those stories I decided not to set free, or about the obligations and prohibitions of our deen? Only a small part of me yearns to write fiction now. Mostly I have resigned to turning my back on that world, for the redemption of my soul. This time around it is less puritanical rage than resignation. The time has come to conquer the darkness of my soul.

Taksim Square

Two weeks ago the big news was that Turkey had paid off its IMF debt and had pledged a $5 billion loan to the IMF to help alleviate the European debt crisis. Turkey seemed to have an air of confidence. And yet today the Prime Minister, democratically elected with 49.83% of the Popular Vote in 2011, is presented as an autocratic dictator. Is this the real mood of the nation, or outside provocation?

Words I forgot to utter

I wish I had planted these words firmly in my mind and on the tip of my tongue when I first set out on this path: A’uzu billahi min ash shaitani r rajimi. Still I fail to recall them when the whispers come, and before I know it I have succumbed to the same old plots all over again, which then take an age to unravel and untangle.

Advice to those new to the path, whether converts or those returning to the faith of their family: hand over your affairs to Allah completely and do not rely on yourself. Remember that you are a child in your religion, so be humble. Don’t try to run before you can crawl. Don’t arrogate to yourself what is not yours. Be patient and realise that your success lies with your Lord alone.

Be with those you’re with

Are we smartphone gageteers addicted? Do we not realise we’re neglecting the companions sitting beside us just to be with the lines of text on our screen? I have just returned from my evening class—one that I cherish greatly—pondering, were we really all with each other tonight? Alhamdulilah, they’ve set a rule: turn off phones in class. But before class: eyes are glued to pieces of glass. Trying to make eye contact in order to exchange salams appears impossible. I accept we may all be shy and that the LED glow might be our refuge, but it is tiresome for those in search of community. No sooner has the lesson drawn to a halt for a half-time break, then those alluring screens are back. And so we never get to meet those we’re with, to know anything about the one who sits next to us, to learn how they are or how their day was, to discover if we have anything to learn from one another. For presumably Twitter calls, or a Facebook status needs updating, or someone, somewhere out there just needs to know you’re still there. What an age to live in: we’re more connected than ever before and yet so absolutely disconnected from each other.

Page 49 of 59

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