WARRIORS + POETS

Category: Prose

take me back

no matter where i am. or how much time has passed. no matter the state of my spirit. or the blackness of my heart. no matter how far i have fallen. or how far i have yet to go.

you always — always — bring me back.

اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ

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 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.

my life will only rise as high as the people i choose to live it with.

i must not choose to spend my days, wandering valleys.

i must choose mountains.
i must choose air.

i must choose the taste of flight.

tell me,

tell me, o heart: in distance – can you ever be at ease again?
tell me, o soul, can anything else ever taste as sweet again?

tell me, o wings of destiny,
when will i smell the fragrance of heaven again?

when will i see my Hussain again?

letters to our daughters

10:01 PM. New York City | Stand clear of the closing doors please. With a leap, I slip through the subway car doors just before they close, grabbing on to the nearest pole for balance. Probably not the smartest idea, but then again, as a student with exams on my mind, the unforgiving bite of the subway doors is the least of my concerns. I fumble with my bags, pulling out my flashcards to study, the endless barrage of information quickly becoming a blur before my eyes. As I go through them, I glance up and catch a man staring in my direction. At my gaze, he looks away, but as I return to my flashcards, I watch as he continues to stare in my peripheral vision.

On the subway, strange glances and occasional stares tend to be a usual occurrence. What with the horrors taking place in the world (every night, it seems, another headline), villains masquerading as ‘Muslims’ (a statement which couldn’t be further from the truth), climates of fear fueled by media furnaces churning out specifically constructed hateful rhetoric…as a Muslim woman who observes Hijaab, such moments have, unfortunately, come to be expected. Such stares are neither justified nor warranted, but they happen…and quite frankly, after years of being on the receiving end, the only thing they really are is getting old.

When I was younger, the reactions of others to my presence used to preoccupy me. I had only been wearing Hijaab for a year when 9/11 happened, and, at a young age, it was difficult for me to understand what it was that made people sneer or mumble under their breath as I walked by. As I got older and the stares become more pronounced, not having the naivety of childhood to protect me, I would be lying if I said they didn’t affect me in some way. There were moments when I stood, staring at my reflection in the mirror, wondering if it would just be easier to let go of it all – if it would be easier dress the way my friends dressed, do my hair the way they did, walk down the street or stroll around the mall without catching a double-take;

…if it would be easier to be like everyone else.

***

It was in the same years when I struggled with observing Hijaab due to the opinions of non-Muslims that I also began to struggle due to the opinions of some Muslims as well. During those teenage years when all is thrown to the wayside beyond one’s physical appearance, it was difficult to navigate the ropes of what I knew Islam taught versus what I would hear some Muslims say. Already grappling with how I was perceived by others at school, I hoped to find refuge within my own community, but unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case.

Instead of watching many elders teach us girls to do and be better than what society expected of us, I watched as they, too, minimized us into the smallness of our physical appearances. At everywhere from weddings to community events, by explicit word or implicit action, we would hear – I’m looking for a girl for my son, but he wants someone who is fairer; Haven’t seen you in a while! Have you put on weight?; You know, you should wear a bit more makeup if you want boys to notice you; Don’t you think you’re taking the whole Hijaab thing a bit to the extreme?

I distinctly remember the first time I was faced with such statements – and it was like a blow to the stomach.

Comments from people unfamiliar with Islam I could handle. Their statements either stemmed from ignorance or pre-planned agendas, and either could be easily dismantled by the proper use of knowledge and intellect. But comments from Muslims themselves? People I had grown up with? Who sat next to me in the Masjid? How could I answer them? How could I dismantle this?

I did not know then, and I pray that Allah guides us all to learn how to address this exceptionally important issue now. But as a young girl, I remember biting my tongue, fighting waves of frustration, tears choking at my throat – thinking one thing: I feel so lost. Sayyida Fatima, I wish you were here.

***

Many years later, I would like to hope that Sayyida Fatima heard my cry, because now, all praise belongs to Allah, my Hijaab is still with me. And not just as a cloth or an obligation to be upheld, but as the dearest piece of my identity; the very life force that breathes within me. Getting here has, by no means, been an easy road, and I am still far from my destination; I am still far from understanding its true worth and perfecting it in the manner of Sayyida Fatima and her daughters.

But now, learning how to carry this flag is no longer a struggle; it is the greatest honor.

Despite this fact, I still wish that when I had been struggling, when I had been looking into bloodshot eyes reflected back at me in the still hours of night questioning this integral aspect of my identity…I wish someone had told me what I wish to share with my sisters now.

I wish someone had said: my daughter, there is a great secret to your inner dimension. Seek it. Do not fall prey to ideas of what this world wants you to become. Look to your role models – to women like Sayyida Fatima – to know who you were created to be.

My daughter, do not define yourself by your level of external desirability. Do not consent to this public consumption of your soul. The journey of being a woman in this society – Muslim or otherwise – is one that requires extreme perseverance. And the obstacles designed against you have been structured specifically so that you are kept from discovering the divine destiny you have been created for. Do not let them keep you from discovering yourself.

My daughter, do not abandon the revolution that is stirring in your soul – the one that this society will attempt to quiet by degrading you into nothing more than an object to be whistled at by passersby. By taking you, beautiful from the moment you are born, and spending every moment afterward trying to strip you of your beauty. Telling you: your words are not enough, your mind is not enough; that to be given an ounce of respect, to be allowed to carry the mantle of “liberation,” you must consent to being dissected by the scalpel of corporate desire. Forcing you to seek their approval on how to dress or talk or laugh; trying to meet their impossible demands to be all at once the nerdy girl sporty girl curvy girl skinny girl funny girl cool girl beauty-queen-girl-next-door girl – the everything girl as long as its anything but your true self. Do not accept this grave injustice to your soul.

My daughter, after bearing so many years of misogyny, do not do what the system would wish you to do and internalize the inferiority that has been forced upon you. Do not let it be that now, instead of others oppressing you, you learn to do it yourself – cutting other women down, so that even you – as a woman – take doing things ‘like a girl’ as an insult.

My daughter, do not accept the oppression of culture and tradition that says women are inferior to men – but at the same time, do not run into the arms of a more modern oppression that wants you to compete with men either. Your standard has never been men, but always your own soul – because Allah (swt) has never defined your value in relation to a man, but only in relation to Himself.

My daughter, the greatest woman that ever lived showed us that we must resist when our societies try to bury us alive. She showed us that a daughter is not a burden, but the greatest honor. A wife is not a servant, but a partner to spiritual ascension. A mother is not separate from society, but the very shaper of society. And this womb, this vehicle of creation, is not a hindrance to a woman’s potential, but the very source of her power – so that when a woman’s hand reaches out to rock the cradle of her child, she is in essence rocking the very cradle of humanity.

My daughter, there is so much to being a woman. This journey requires an immense amount of struggle, but if you allow it to, it can become a thing of beauty. Whatever stage you are on, keep with it; no one is perfect at first. Begin where you are comfortable and work your way from there. If you stumble or fall or get lost on the way, know that God’s forgiveness is greater than we can imagine – He forgives, so do not bind yourself to your mistakes. Learn to forgive yourself. Keep moving forward. It does not matter whether you run, walk, or crawl – all that matters is that you keep moving.

My daughter, allow your strength to stem from your modesty, both in dress and demeanor. But remember, this strength will not be strength if you use it to push others to the ground. The worst thing you can do for your soul is use your modesty as a means of looking down upon others. If you have embraced the physical covering, do not push away those who are not there yet. Do not walk the earth with an arrogant heart. Do not judge the modesty that you can see on another woman, because the modesty that is less visible – the one of her words, actions, thoughts – may far exceed yours. The woman who today does not observe Hijaab completely may one day observe it more deeply than you. But even if she never does, that does not give you the right to consider yourself better than her. Each woman is on her own spiritual journey – and your place is not to judge or outcast, but to uplift and help your fellow sister.

My daughter, this cloth is more than a covering – it is, in its essence, a stronghold. Protect yourself and others through its understanding. When the stares of strangers and the comments of friends become too much to bear, call on your Leader, Sayyida Fatima, and take strength from her name. Do not let them make you believe that if you walk in her light, you will be less beautiful. Do not let them prevent you from entering – or scare you into abandoning – this fortress.

Raise your voice with her strength and declare:

“The demand of society from a woman, the demand of a woman from herself, and the demand of a man from a woman all revolve around physical beauty. But the real beauty lies in the moment the society, man, and woman herself should demand from woman the beauty of the soul and the spirit and human qualities and talents…Islam does not demand beauty from a woman. It does not ask for an illusive appearance. In society, it does not demand physical, sensual, feminine features. No! No! Rather…Islam demands from you your existential value, and not sensual value…”

Because in the early days of your wearing this Hijaab –

“You may have accepted it without being aware of the responsibility of wearing this vitalizing dress, without having endeavored to realize the aims and message of this dress, without ever having tried to refine and reform yourself in order to deserve this dress, this attire. In all such circumstances, your Hijaab can never be Islam personified…It shall never be a revolutionary stronghold…except when you should have learnt Islam as a deen (a system of life), a comprehensive ideology, recognized it as such, and linked it truly and boldly with all your existence, your being, your life, your traits of character, your aims and objects, as well as your ambitions.”

But now that you are beginning to understand:

“Rise and revolt…with the help of your Hijaab, the depth of which you have now fully realized, which has bestowed upon you the infinite capacity of being human.”

Rise and declare:

“…I am free. I am released…With my Hijaab, with the heavy social responsibility of the commands to do what is good and forbid what is wrong…I enter the stage of society and conquer all its planes…The type of woman who you had yourself forged, had yourself trained, had yourself taught ideals – the way of talking, laughing, wishing, longing…you have now lost such a woman, such a stronghold…this stronghold shall never fall into your hands.”

Beauty of Concealment and Concealment of Beauty

***

To my dear sisters who are struggling. To those constantly being made to feel like they don’t belong. To those living under the constant threat of harm because of the religion they most publicly represent. To those standing, like the young girl I once knew many years ago, looking into the mirror, wondering if it would be easier to let it all go and be like everyone else…

Yes. It would be easier – to look like, speak like, talk like, everyone else.

For a while.

But believe me when I say that though it might seem easy at first, the most difficult thing in the world is spending the years to come watching your identity be chipped into pieces; standing there as you are sculpted and moulded by the hands of others, losing the very core of your self – and looking the other way.

It might seem difficult now. In fact, it most definitely is. But you are not alone. Your fellow travelers on this journey stand behind you; Allah (swt) is close by your side.

And if you want to know if it gets better? If it gets easier learning how to live life as your authentic and truest self?

It does. And it will.

“Verily, with every hardship, there is relief.” (94:6)

Relief will come. But in the meantime, we must master this hardship, reminding ourselves and the generations of our daughters –

You are beautiful because you were made beautiful. Not because another person says, ‘You are beautiful.’ You have the universe inside you, so a) do not wait for another to look into your eyes and tell you they see cosmos dancing there for you to believe it, or b) allow another to say that they see nothing there so much that you stop believing as well.

Do not insult your existence by seeking its validation from others. Your worth is not scribbled in pencil, a second-hand appraisal of an outer form. It is written in gold by the First Hand who sang the love song of your inner existence.

Your life is one—count it: one. Do not allow another to live two lives by means of subjugating yours. Your mind is your homeland. Do not allow it to be colonized into thinking that beautiful is ‘everyone else’s beautiful’ and not your own beautiful.

You—your journey—has never been about them: what they think of how you dress/talk/sit/stand/walk/laugh. Your journey has always been, and will forever be, only about you.

You are a bird that was created to sing in the freedom of the skies; not to trill in the cage of the opinions of others. The majority of birds sit with wings clipped—and, missing the taste of flight, would do anything to keep you, too, on the ground.

But you have wings, my daughter.

You have wings . . . fly.