WARRIORS + POETS

this is not about you

when i think of the great artists of old, i lower my hat to them in respect. in their musings, sculptures, paintings, and art — there was a craft. what made the Greats great was their desire to create at the upper threshold of their ability, despite knowing that such an endeavor would require time, perseverance, discipline, and accuracy. create exquisitely, or do not create at all, was the mantra. this art is not about you – it is about something bigger.

these days, however, the desire to dedicate oneself to a single skill, to work on it in seclusion, day by day, slowly, precisely, carving, cutting – hammering away at marble from twilight to dusk until a visible form begins to emerge – this craft has somehow stretched beyond our ability.

the motivation now is not to spend time creating something which will add enduring beauty or thought to our world, but to create something quick, flashy, or trendy, which will garner the most amount of likes or comments. public victories no longer follow private ones, but have altogether replaced them.

for a society raised on the fodder of social media, instant appreciation has been conflated with intrinsic worth. if you curate your “feed” so your “aesthetic” is “on point” then it is assumed that your life is on point as well. the notion is that your persona – the online personality you create to be perceived by others in a certain way – is the same thing as your identity. whether you actually are the person you have created doesn’t matter – what does, however, is that others think you are.

so much so that every person who owns an eye shadow palette is suddenly a makeup artist. every person who has access to a mall, a fashion blogger. every person who has cleaned out their closet once, a minimalist-lifestyle-influencer. and every person who can string together a few words on heartbreak or betrayal or don’t-let-a-man-do-this-to-you is an acclaimed poet laureate.

but the truth is, one poem, especially not one which is simply

a sentence
broken into
three lines

does not a poet make.

art is not created in an afternoon, much as Rome was not built in a day. and no amount of self-promotion, self-glamorization, or self-worship can earn us that place in infinity which is reserved solely for those who work in humility, knowing that the Hand which guides their pen, brush, or chisel is not their own.

once, a girl introduced herself and followed with: “you might already know me, i’m famous on instagram.”

as i stood there, utterly baffled and suddenly clued-in to the truth — “no insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity” — i began to wonder: just as we proclaim our fame in a virtual world to those in our physical world, will we do the same when we move on to the next? when we rise from our graves will we, with firmness and candor, present our self-given merits from our earthly realm?

“hey, you might already know me. i was pretty famous on earth.”

i wonder . . . might not the angels lower their brows in disdain, looking upon us with grave faces: “you are not here. you are not here, at all…”

 

“Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story—just like the typewriter was mine.”
— Flannery O’Connor —

thoreau, on social media

“Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with respect to my freedom. […] When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

[…] Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often perceive how near I had come to admitting into my mind the details of some trivial affair — the news of the street; and I am astonished to observe how willing men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish — to permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself […]? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation.

[…] By all kinds of traps and signboards, threatening the extreme penalty of the divine law, exclude such trespassers from the only ground which can be sacred to you. It is so hard to forget what it is worse than useless to remember! […] I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality. […] If we have thus desecrated ourselves — as who has not? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind.

[…] How many things there are concerning which we might well deliberate whether we had better know them — had better let their peddling-carts be driven, even at the slowest trot or walk, over that bride of glorious span by which we trust to pass at last from the farthest brink of time to the nearest shore of eternity! Have we no culture, no refinement — but skill only to live coarsely and serve the Devil? — to acquire a little worldly wealth, or fame, or liberty, and make a false show with it, as if we were all husk and shell, with no tender and living kernel to us?”

there is a tale

there is a tale that aches the heart
whose telling tears its seams apart
a thousand years
of flowing tears
which call: ya Hussain

there was a band of noble few
who left behind all that they knew
to fight the fight
of dark and light
their chief, al-Hussain

of young and old their party made
both valiant men and women brave
with noble brows
this noble vow
til death! ya Hussain

with scorching days and bitter nights
the barren desert marked their plight
the wound struck first —
the children’s thirst
their cry, ya Hussain

the enemy in thousands came
crooked their cause, lowly their aim
blinded by greed
prepared their steeds
to kill… ya Hussain…

when every friend and brother fell
came then the time for this farewell
a sister’s cry
pierced through the sky
my life, my Hussain…

in grief, one lion, head unbowed
army of wolves, trembled aloud
one man of God
facing such odds
no man, like Hussain

they came to butcher, came to maim
to end Islam, to kill Hussain
yet through your line
Islam survived
deen ast, ya Hussain

arrows were struck, your body bled
a sword was raised, severed your head
yet who lived on?
in hist’ry’s dawn?
your name, ya Hussain

yours is the tale that soothes the soul
that turns the broken spirit whole
no earthly pain
nor grief remain
with you, ya Hussain

and yours, the tale that heals the heart
whose telling is a saving art
for all my years
for you, my tears

Imam,

ya Hussain

“the letters” by bint Ali

nearly two years ago, a friend shared a collection titled “The Letters” by bint Ali — a series of blog posts put together by an Anonymous Compiler.

one evening, The Letters arrived, bright and shiny my inbox, waiting to be read. but, as other pieces of mail began to pile in — reminders, school projects, deadlines — they were slowly pushed to the bottom of the screen, to the following page, and, eventually, to the abyss of the archives, where they gathered dust, untouched and unread . . . until tonight, when, having been struck with the sudden urge to clean out my inbox, i stumbled upon them once again.

from the moment i opened them, i read feverishly; from the first page til the end.

i do not have the words to describe how i feel upon finishing. it has been a long time since any piece of writing has broken my heart open in such a deep, honest way. and i find myself wanting to share it with others.

the first of the letters can be found here (and the rest can be read chronologically through the author’s blog). i am unable to attach the EPUB compilation to this post, but for any who are interested, please send me an email and i will be happy to forward it to you.

i regret that it took so long for these Letters to find their way to me, but what matters is that they did. and at a time when i needed them — more than i knew. to the author, thank you. and to those who may read, i pray that her words speak to you, as they did to me, in the way you need most. please keep the author in your duaas.

what matters most

there is a surrender that happens at the peak of life, and another at the edge of death, and the two do not weigh the same. there is an abdication when the first glimmer of light is seen on the horizon, and another when the last glimmer is about to fade, and the day between them is not the same.

and how you spend the day matters.

it is said, “to be pious in one’s youth is the style of prophets; in old age even the cruel wolf gives up his cruelty.”

what matters most is what you choose to do when you have everything to lose. what you choose to give up when it means the most to do so. when you decide, when you are young and beautiful and full of youth and life, what matters most to you and what doesn’t.

when you have the riches of Sulayman yet you set your face to the sky –  saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord. when you have the beauty of Yusuf yet you turn from temptation – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord. when you have the strength and position of Hurr yet you race to Hussain’s side – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord! when you have the youth of Qasim yet you ready your sword for battle – saying this is all from you and for you, my Lord…

when i examine my life and weigh the years in the balance – have i utilized my riches, my beauty, my strength, the way God meant me to –  or did i not value their worth enough? have i put my head to the ground enough? have i spoken to my Lord enough?

have i squandered my youth in desire and play? have i kept my Lord for my old age? have i understood the frailty of this world enough?

. . . there is a surrender that happens at the peak of life, and another at the edge of death. and there is a lifetime in between. and how we choose to spend that lifetime – how we choose to spend each day – matters.

make it matter.

everyone except us

hugo writes, “curiosity is a form of gluttony. to see is to devour.”

few exist the cannibals of the flesh, but many the cannibals of the soul. many, who spend their evenings by the fireside, slavering over the slabs of a fellow man’s spirit, the blood of a fellow man’s struggle dripping from their lips. many, for whom the call – “will any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother?” (49:12) is drowned out by the gnawing of their teeth – persistent, searching ever more and more, consuming with frenzy the appetite of who dids and what dids; eyes wild, mouth gaping, ingesting, feasting, destroying.

what is it in us that is so drawn to the destruction of another human being? what is it, that makes us gather as if in mobs around the guillotine, ready to point! shout! condemn! the man we have dragged to his knees on the stage? is it, perhaps, the hope that the louder our voice and angrier our snarl, the more hidden our own slips and errors will become? that the more unforgiving our face, the less likely anyone will discover the chink in our own armor – the ugliness which creeps, the darkness that sneaks, the monsters who sleep in the depth of our souls?

how merciless we are – we who sniff out the misdeeds of others solely to uncover and expose them; to drag them from their beds and display them naked in the streets; to show the world with pride, and a ‘praise be to God!’ the impenetrable depth of our purity.

how foolish we are – we who do not know that when we have had our way, when the tears have wracked and broken our victim’s body; when all the fight has left his skin and the crowds disperse; when this creature of God’s remains in the loneliness of the street with no one but the moon to hear the fractures of his sighs; when he reaches down to grasp a handful of dust, and with a pang cries out— ah! this, is what I am! — in that moment, the fallen man becomes more beloved to God than the man who stands on the pedestal: the worshipper made of marble who looks at his figure and thinks: Ah, This Is What I Am.

what a carnival, that we, imperfect creatures, should try each other on the scale of perfection – when God, the Most Perfect, the Most Majestic, the Most Wise, tries us on His scale: with power and with might declaring His wrath; but with such sweetness declaring greater, always greater, His mercy.

oh Lord! it is good that man was not made to be god – for with what a weighty hand would we punish our fellow creation.

we, who do not forgive each other our lapses. we, who shrink from an outstretched hand, a brother caught in the grasp of struggle, trying to extricate himself from its roots. we, who turn away in disdain, afraid the dust on his hands might dirty the hems of our robes. we, who fix our stares on the flaws of others, thinking ourselves immune to their sins. we, who have never been offered the Pharaoh’s kingdom, yet think we would have turned it away; who have never heard the siren’s song, yet think we would have saved our ships from crashing on rocky shores.

we, who think so highly of ourselves, and so little of God, that we think: this world is a test for everyone except us, pride will fall every king except us, Satan’s deceit will trick every worshipper except us, the fire’s flames will touch everyone, except us.

my dear self, for too long has the spyglass of your heart been focused on others, yet never have you turned it inward to the stormy seas of your own soul. leave this charade – this thing of play whose theatre rests on the chests of your fellow man. when the curtain rises and the dialogue shifts to the conversation, the actions, the secrets of your brother – cry out as if their words were knives, stabbing into your very heart. clasp your hands over your ears and flee!

run, like one whose head is caught on fire. let them jeer. let them mock. let them call you the madman, the one who, by one word was made insane.

let them. for there is another world to come. and a greater Judge who waits. and a court whose jury no man will escape . . . where no tongue will remain silent except that it will shudder and tremble, revealing all that it used to do.

“Two men entered a mosque – one, a devoted worshipper, and the other a sinner. When they left the mosque, the worshipper had become a sinner, and the sinner had become sincere. This is because the worshipper entered the mosque while he felt proud of his acts of worship, and his thoughts were preoccupied with that. However, the sinner was thinking remorsefully about his sins, and so he sought forgiveness from Allah from what he had done.” -Imam al-Baqir (a)

burn the dead wood

one of the most important lessons i have learned in the past few years is this: do not make yourself small for anyone else. whether it is with friends, family, or in a romantic relationship – anyone who asks you to fold yourself into a smaller version of you so that they feel more comfortable, is not someone who has your best interests in mind. anyone who asks you to sacrifice pieces of yourself, your principles, or your values, is not someone who hopes for your success. do not minimize your desire for growth to keep someone who feels threatened by that growth a part of your life.

each soul is made for greatness. each human is linked at his or her core to the infinite. the task given: to rediscover that core. to come upon the divine. to live the lessons. to try to be the best at everything you do.

the time given: one life.

one.

in your personal quest, you must always remain humble. you must never consider yourself to be better than anyone else. but at the same time, you must always remember that you are not less than anyone else either.

unfortunately, there are many people who have either given up on their own growth or feel stuck where they are – and because they don’t know how to or don’t want to move forward, they don’t want anyone else to either. may God guide all of us and inspire each of us to break free of this kind of cycle, and help each and every one of us (especially those of us who are struggling) to do and be better.

it is important to help others see the light in themselves, but in the process, you must not forget to foster your own inner light – by pushing your limits, elevating your thoughts, challenging yourself, exploring every cavern of your being, your talent, and your ability – until you set your life ablaze in brilliant flames and watch as the dead wood burns away… and emerges from the ashes the phoenix your life has been waiting for you to become.