Benefits

You can’t put a price on your experiences. Not everything we do leads to some monetary gain or increase in prestige or status.

I don’t feel my undergraduate degree benefitted me in my worldly life, but I found faith midway through, for which I am immensely grateful. I don’t feel my postgraduate degree helped get me ahead in career development, but I made a sincere prayer there, which would be answered one year later.

I don’t feel that my current employment is the best I could do, but it gave me a front-row seat to view the scientific and medical response to the pandemic, enabling me to steer clear of pseudo-scholars spouting their peculiar and dangerous nonsense.

In whatever situation we find ourselves, there is always some kind of benefit: you just have to seek it out. Think beyond that constricted box of wealth and status. What else is important in your life?

Happenstance

I can never resist Persian cuisine, and I definitely can’t resist saffron pistachio bastani. Years ago, we knew a wonderful Persian restaurant in Maida Vale, but neither of us could remember its name. So it was that after our appointment in Knightsbridge on Tuesday, we decided to make do with a Turkish restaurant in Bayswater. But as happenstance would have it, on our arrival — after a leisurely scenic walk through Hyde Park — we discovered there was a Persian restaurant right next door. As I say, I can’t resist, so we went there instead. No regrets.

The return

Everything feels… weird. The house so… small… and quiet. But my workstation… so… biiiggg! My dual-monitor setup… two 24″ monitors side-by-side feels like overkill after a month nodding between laptop display and an ancient 19″ VGA screen.

Of course, in a day or two, I’ll get used to it again and it’ll be as if nothing ever changed. And our house… already my beloved is telling me she’s so glad to be back in her humble home… at peace… calm… her heart at rest.

The light is different… the atmosphere too. I’ve spent the last two hours before work tidying, cleaning and dusting, and brushing away the cobwebs. Soon I’ll feel at home again too. The place just needs a lick of paint and then it’ll be as right as rain. Speaking of rain… we’ve missed that too.

Essential essentials

Much of Friday afternoon was spent organising that modern easential, internet access. It became much more complicated than in needed to be; perhaps that’s because we’re foreigners, or maybe it’s just how it is. Eventually we left with a data contract, of the kind we have always had, suitable for remote working and staying in touch.

But on our return home we were reminded of the real essential essentials. We have built a house fed by a natural spring, providing for all our water needs. Unfortunately, when I went to do the washing up after dinner, I found the tap but a dribble. Exhaustion was partly to blame for me not being able to work out which was hot and which was cold.

Thankfully, by morning, the water supply was back to normal, but we have nevertheless been reminded to consume these precious essentials mindfully and not squander our supply. Water, the source of life.

Resign to the design

Something can seem bad, but it’s good for you. Conversely, you can pursue something you think will be good for you, but it’s bad for you. With hindsight, we see many examples of both throughout our lives. At the time, we may have raged against all that occurred, but in the fullness of time, we recognise that all that came to be was the best design.

Contentment

Be content with what you have. You never know what blessing will come your way, nor when they come, nor where they come from. God will provide, whether through unexpected gifts or self-seeded plants in the garden. Daily, Allah will surprise you. One day you may think to yourself, “I should get myself a something or other.” When, the following day, one is gifted to you, though you mentioned it to no one, how else could you respond than to utter praises of the exalted Lord? Alhamdulilah, alhamdulilah. Be content with what you have, and God will take care of all of your affairs.

Inshallah

Time and again I am reminded that I have no power to affect change in the world, except by the will of the Most Merciful. Plots and plans fail, grand designs founder. Hard work, dedication, patience, obsessive attention to details: none of these can bring about the result you desire on their own. Only the One can decree the end you desire. And if it is not His decree, it cannot possibly be. Take comfort, if you can, that He has a better plan for you, disappointed though you may be. I am trying to; I am trying.

These weights

True repentance is undoubtedly liberating, but that does not make it easy. Sometimes it means letting go of all that you have become attached to, to reject a part of yourself, or to turn away from what you treasure, or desire, or wish for beyond the worlds. But in the end you know that you have no other choice: you let go of everything that holds you back, no matter how much it means to you, because you want to regain the favour of your Lord. In your heart there is a pain; a feeling of alienation. You are distant from faith and all that was once so dear to you. It is clear what is wrong and where the problem lies: you know it is a step you have to take. But it is the most difficult step. To say sorry and to tear down the wall that separates you from your Lord. To replace one set of investments with another better than it. To be patient and sincere and to take that final step, to make everything right. Yes repentance is truly liberating, but it exacts a heavy price from the soul.

Bringing about change

It’s a common lament: we sit there in the mosque, week after week, uninspired and bored. There is nothing for us here, we sigh, listening to the unintelligible oration. But perhaps we are the lucky ones: we have attended the prayer elsewhere in other towns and listened to sermons in English so dreadful and lame that we can only leave in a state of perpetual irritation. Perhaps the sermon in a foreign tongue is a small mercy. Perhaps. This is the lamentable state we find ourselves in. Continue reading “Bringing about change”

Keep your heart alive

You have to nurture your faith to keep it alive. If you let it go, it will go. I have seen too many people leave the deen, steadfast and passionate though once they were. You have to feed your heart and keep good company and close your ears to the nonsense — from outside and within. We’re all taking too much for granted; rejoicing too much for what think we have. In a blink of an eye the light of faith could be removed from us and passed on to a more deserving people. Step back from the maddening clamour of the crowd. Remember to look inward, to renew and reform daily. Remember to keep your faith and heart alive.

Letter to myself

Dear Younger Self,

Salam alaikum!

I am writing to you from the future. In a couple of years I will be 40; you have just passed 20. The year is 2015 and while it only vaguely resembles to world of 1989’s Back to the Future II, it is shaping up to mirror the dystopian nightmares of other works of contemporary fiction: ours is an advanced technological society, supported by wars without end overseas.

The Internet, which you have recently discovered, has grown exponentially and has had a vast impact on our lives, both for good and bad. That brick of a mobile phone in your pocket has evolved into a handheld computer, vastly more powerful than that huge beige machine on your desk.  Your 100MB Zip disks are long obsolete; today we can store 128GB of data on a slither of plastic smaller than your fingernails. As for your dreams: instead of working in International Development, you work in a new-fangled field called Web Development. I’m not sure how that happened, but I blame you! Continue reading “Letter to myself”

Ode to my shoes

My dear noble friends, my humble servants, my trusty companions: alas, the time has come to part ways.

We have been through thick and thin together, through rainstorm, snow and searing heat, on hillside and lowland, on soft verge and hard road. You have served me well.

Two years ago I might have had cause to fling you in the bin, but I am a fool for comfort and fondness. Though water soaked my socks in a downpour, I could not let you go. Though I felt pavement instead of sole beneath my foot, I shunned all talk of the shoe shop. O, what comfort didst thou provide!

But alas, alas, the time has come to part ways. A new pair awaits me in the hall. But, lo, perhaps we will walk together in the garden yet.

Directions

An oft-repeated phrase during our short-lived English khutbahs was, “May Allah give us the tawfiq to know Islam,” and every time I heard it I wished he had said, “May Allah give us the tawfiq to know Him.” The emphasis is always on the transport, never on the destination.

Investment opportunity

I don’t understand the contemporary concern that charities have become businesses.

I expect an international relief organisation to have governance in place to comply with legal and statutory requirements. I expect it to have a board of trustees and directors, and specialist staff. I expect it to have HR, finance and IT responsibilities, to have to manage its facilities. I would be worried if it didn’t.

I also expect it to pay its workers on the ground, to put diesel in their vehicles, to arrange flights, visas and security. I expect it to recruit doctors, nurses, engineers and educationalists who have the necessary skills to make a difference on the ground. I expect it to make strategic decisions as to which type of tent to buy and which type of wheat; I expect it to invest in research to ensure the solutions they put in place are the right ones. And yes, I expect it to have an army of volunteers too.

Not every charity has to be run like a global corporation, but to be effective, all charities have to run like a business to some degree. The alternative is running yourself into the ground.

I once worked with a national helpline charity, which worked on a completely voluntary basis. All staff and trustees were volunteers. Income came solely from a small band of concerned donors, and was spent solely on rent for the office and telephone bills. Nothing was spent on stationery or on marketing the charity, except for a small website.

Unsurprisingly, although the need of the community remained for a helpline of this kind, the charity eventually wound up, because it could no longer sustain itself. Had it been run more like a business, making key investments to carry it forward, I am almost certain it would have survived and thrived.

Charity in itself is an investment:

“those who spend their wealth in Allah’s cause are like grains of corn which produce seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains” — Quran 2:261

It will be the believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection, and so I have not issue donating to charities which are transparent and accountable in the way my money is spent. If only 90% of my donation is spent on relief and development and what is left is used to support delivery and future fundraising, so be it. I trust that God will reward me and them for our combined efforts.

The way of truth

To me, it is remarkable that the progeny of a community which invested so heavily in the sciences of verification and authenticity to preserve the teachings of our religion will nowadays forward and repost every piece of unverified nonsense, malicious junk and political propaganda that appears before us on a slab of glass, without a second’s thought.

In the age of the internet everything and nothing is true. Whatever serves a purpose will be true for the moment. A lie become insignificant; it is all part of the push for truth.

We have forgotten, or are ignorant of, a verse of guidance: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.” –Quran 2:42.

But as we have discovered, it has always been so. Political machinations will trump even the sacred if it serves the agendas of the greedy and untruthful. Cruel and corrupt men often set us upon a path of their own design, heedless of the demands of truth, goodness and light.

We must resist. We must return to the way of truth. That is the true rebellion of our age.

Don’t be surprised

If you hold everyone in contempt, don’t be surprised if everyone holds you in contempt too. If you can see no good in those around you, don’t be surprised if those around you see no good in you. If you have concluded that you are always right and everybody else is always wrong, don’t be surprised if people always turn away repulsed.

Be grateful for the blessing of you Lord and walk humbly on the earth with patience.

Good trees

I have no issue with sufism that is founded on and grounded in Islam. Many (though by no means all) of the Muslims I find most inspiring are students of that path. Furthermore, it is nigh on impossible to learn any Islamic science without the chain of transmission having passed through scholars of the tradition. One of my favourite books is described by some as a manual of sufism, though I would simply describe it as a guide to Islamic devotions, prayer and practical ethics. Continue reading “Good trees”