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.

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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.

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Madrassa

The air in the prayer carries the beautiful scent of musk, its essence renewed by the dabbling of worshippers with the oils on the shelf after almost every ablution. Whenever the sun’s rays penetrate the porthole windows beneath the dome, bathing the burgundy carpet in their yellow-orange glow, the odour lifts and causes friends to smile at one another.

Continue reading Madrassa

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