The Perfect Storm

Assalamu Alaikum Everybody,

Thank you to all who continued to read and comment during my unplanned hiatus. I am so sorry for not publishing your comments in a timely manner.

So, why the hiatus you ask? Scholarly studies? Marriage? Travel?

No.

I simply hit a rough patch and did not want every blog to be a depressing complaint. While I appreciate the support from all of you and the encouraging words you have always provided, it simply did not feel productive for me carry on in that manner.

Looking back, it was the perfect storm. A new country, a new job, a new religion, and trying to start building friendships and connections again. But that wasn’t all if it.

I was going through all this change after the two most exhausting years of my life during a long and depressing winter, and with none of my usual crutches – no booze, no partying, no dating. And even when looking for new friends… no more developing social circles around vices.

I felt stuck.

What is a girl – or very young middle-aged woman in this case – to do!

I prayed. A lot. Mostly though, I spent a lot of time just talking to Allah (swt). And with friends. Trying to figure out how to get unstuck.

I’ll be honest, there were times when I did not think I would ever move on. I couldn’t feel the connection with Allah (swt) or anyone in my life. And there were times I felt I was losing the very few people with whom I was still close. I did not feel like my life had a purpose or that I had a future on the path I was currently on.

I thought maybe this was Allah’s way of pushing me to do something radical. Quit my job and move back to California. Give everything away and teach English in some remote part of the world.

And while those are perfectly fine options – it felt like running away. I needed to face… well, face something. I wasn’t sure what it was.

One of my friends told me that a classic part of real change is giving up. Not giving up hope or not making an effort. But rather it is about letting go of old parts of your life so you can move in a different direction. And it is only when you really let go and grieve the loss that you can see the options available to you in the next stage of your life.

Alhamdulilah. Allah seems to not only know what lessons I need to learn but when I need to learn them.

And boy have I learned a lot!

The most important thing?

I am not in control, Allah (swt) is. — Big shock right? Okay …. Perhaps this is a very obvious lesson and one you have already mentioned in your comments, but for a control freak like me – this is VERY challenging.

I was trying to control everything, including outcomes and people – and as I cannot really do that successfully – I was unable to move forward.

Now I am feeling more hopeful than I have in years. Because with Allah (swt), anything is possible. He has no limits. Where I have nothing but limits.

I don’t exactly know what the next stage of my life will be.

I leave that to Allah. (And a LOT of prayer. I will always have some control freak in me.)

A Tale of Two Worlds

As a little bit of background on me, prior to moving to London I worked in a global role in a large company, which means that I worked at the company’s headquarters where I interacted with teams around the world and worked with people who were also far from home like myself. I now work in our London office on a local level. Though the job is still demanding, it does allow me more time than I had in my previous position to focus on my personal life.

Being in a local office is different also in how people interact with each other – friendly at work but as most of the people have lived here their whole lives, they have a very separate existence outside of work. This is good as I have been trying to dig into my studies and trying to meet other Muslims and reverts.

A few weeks ago I went to a work meeting where I ran into so many friends and colleagues that I have lost touch with since I converted or since I moved to London. And while I absolutely do not want to go back to my old job or my old life (that is a whole other story), it was great to catch up my old friends. I have to say I felt like myself again.

I miss my friends a lot, but they primarily socialise around alcohol and everything that goes with that. And they don’t quite understand why I am not dating a nice single banker that I met at my local pub or some bar now that I am in London.

I don’t really have any friends here in London yet, but I really love my Tajweed classes and plan to start taking Arabic in the Autumn. And I am starting to meet people.

Bottom line, it feels very strange to have these two worlds that don’t really connect with each other.

I understand why many Muslims spend most or all of their time in their Muslim community. But I don’t really have that community yet, and with my family, work life and most of my friends being non-Muslim, I have to (and want to) be in this other world too, though following the straight path. And I will keep striving to find my own Muslim community.

It just feels a little schizophrenic to be honest. Do any of you ever feel the same way? How do you manage it?

Starting over….again

About a week ago I watched a short video online giving a summary of the Qur’an in two sentences. The first sentence is “Accept Allah as master and accept yourself as slave.” This is a really tough one for me because I don’t like to think of myself as a slave. Everyone – even in the most dire circumstances – wants to feel they have choice and self determination. But I think this idea of accepting yourself as slave goes beyond our historical concept of the word. For me it is about not just worshipping only Allah, but accepting the tests you are given in life and learning to embrace your own path. Sometimes choice is about how you react to something and how you learn from it. Which is very easy to write, but very hard to do.

Just after I watched that video, I read a blog from a woman describing one of those days where you just want to mourn your losses and shut out the world. However, she ends on a beautifully positive note describing a nice cup of tea and giving it ‘another try.’

I highlight these pieces as I feel a little bit like the rug has been pulled out from under me, that the bottom has fallen out of my life. The specifics of what has happened are not important, and to be fair it is something I probably knew in my heart to be true and even right. But it is different to think something might be the truth compared to actually confirming it.

Bottom line, I feel like I am starting my life from scratch again. I have absolutely no idea where my life is headed, personally or professionally. And I don’t know where to start. Honestly, I am just too old for this.

But I know I have a choice. I can choose to accept that this is the path that Allah (swt) has given me and embrace it. I can choose to give it another try. I can choose not to be angry at my situation, and not to throw people out of my life because they are not going to play the role in my life that I wanted them.

So, where to I begin?

Little me at London Fashion Week

I was absolutely thrilled when I received the invitation. Imagine, little me going to London Fashion Week! I am somebody who loves fashion and had put together quite a closet full of designer clothes before I became Muslim.

After I converted, I really struggled. What would I wear? How would I look? What was I going to do with all my clothes? And how could someone so shallow as to love fashion be a good Muslimah!

Well, I adjusted much more easily and quickly than I could have imagined. But the real first step for me was the discovery of a brilliant Muslim designer – Barjis. Once I found her web site, I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I would be able to find clothes that were beautiful, comfortable and modest.

And a few weeks ago I received an invitation to her first showing at London Fashion Week. What an honour.

For the event, I  mixed and matched pieces from my old and new life: a dress by Alexander McQueen, a skirt by Barjis, a black shrug by Temperley, and I turned one of my Hermes scarves into a hijab.

I was ready for the night!

And I have to say it was better than I imagined.

The people attending the event were a fantastic mix – very artsy progressive men and women and stylish sisters and brothers. The sisters were in hijab and niqab – and I am sure many who did not cover. And one brother had the most amazing multi-coloured dress socks to go with his elegant black suit. Children running around excited for the show to begin added the perfect energy to the evening. So fun!

Of course, the best part was the show itself.

The collection included modest dresses, tops and trousers in wearable colours, including muted greys and browns with splashes of vibrant orange and soft pink. These are beautiful elegant clothes that can be worn by anybody. Appropriate in the work place or out for an evening. Women who wear hijab can feel just as comfortable in these pieces as those who don’t.

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The collection also included ethereal abayas and long dresses. Her abayas have a simple elegance yet always with an unexpected twist – an unusual cut of the neck line that is still modest, and fake fur or colourful decorations that are fun but still chic.

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After the show, winding her way through the crowd in the simplest black abaya and blue hijab was Barjis. About my height (i.e. very short), she is stunning and spent her time talking to everyone who came to the show. (I met her brother too! He was so happy for his sister and so appreciative of all those who came to the event. As well as having an adorable daughter and niece!)

It was a memorable evening and I cannot wait for the clothes to be available for purchase.

Thank you Barjis!

(PS, I found out later that some of the children at the show were there as a result of a contest Barjis ran at her old primary school in order to encourage working-class ethnic children to experience the arts. They were asked to design a print and two of the winners attended the event. Wow. Amazing!)

 

Sharing the load, bit by bit

I have never been someone who was comfortable letting people do things for me. For whatever reason, I felt like it was not okay to rely on anybody else. I believed that I had to take care of myself by myself. And this is pretty much how I have lived my entire adult life. Not that there have not been moments when people have helped and supported me, but not very often.

To be honest this had been something that had made me proud – being very independent and self sufficient. Knowing that no matter what happens I can take care of myself. It has also sometimes made me feel lonely. If there is nobody around to help, sometimes that means there is nobody around.

Even before I became a Muslim I realised that I was not really alone or in control. I knew that there was something bigger than me in God. But upon making the decision to follow Islam, I realised the importance of submitting to Allah (swt).

But what does submission mean practically? Why are we tested and challenged? How does he support us through difficult times? I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I still often feel overwhelmed with the changes in my life.

It is not about doubting Allah (swt) or my decision to follow Islam. It is the day-to-day of ordinary life that I have been struggling with.

I’ve been reading a bit on why we are tested in this life and two things have really resonated.

First is that Allah does not give us anything we cannot handle. If we think we are doing this by ourselves and if we approach a situation with dread and reservation, then we very likely will fail. It will be painful. But if we know that Allah is always with us and is our support, then everything is doable. Perhaps the outcome will not be what we initially want, but Allah always supports us and knows what is best. He will bring ease to those who believe and submit.

Second is that in some respects the question of ‘Why?’ with Allah (swt) is irrelevant. He is not like us so does not have the same needs and motivations that push us to ask the question of ‘Why?’ Thus, our concept of a rationale behind a decision does not make sense with Allah (swt). Simple submission to the straight path is a blessing. Obligations on this path should be viewed with joy and bring us closer to Allah (swt) and to Jannah, in shaa Allah.

Now, I believe I need to be an active participant in my life. I don’t believe that submitting to Allah (swt) means being passive. And I don’t believe the straight path is always black and white. But Allah (swt) has and knows the greater plan. And if you really think about it and believe he is with you…. it is both empowering and a great relief. Finally, I don’t always have to take care of myself by myself.

And with this notion, I have even begun to let people help me. I am still wary about trusting and relying on others. However, in the past months I have been in positions where I had to rely on others for help and support. I never thought it was smart to rely on someone because — well — what happens when they disappear? What happens when they are not there for you anymore? Allah (swt) will always be there. But people? People have a way of disappointing.

But, never-the-less, I have begun to rely on certain people in the past months more than I ever have before.

And you know what? So far it has been okay.

Its funny. I thought that I could only really love someone if I could be sure I was independent of them. That somehow it would make the love more pure if I was not reliant on them.

It turns out that is not the case at all. Be it Allah or particular people in my life, giving up some of my self-reliance has actually made me love them more. Scary. Terrifying even. But amazing.

Now, I have not undergone some Hollywood-movie style change in how I relate to others. But I think I am headed in the right direction. Bit by bit.

Let there be noor

I have been thinking about the concept of noor —- light, and what it means for people to have noor. My understanding is that it is a certain light that emanates from a person when they have a close connection to Allah (swt).

I am not sure I have seen exactly that, but certainly the person who introduced me to Islam has a certain presence. That something that makes you know there is something more to that person than meets the eye – and it is different from simply charisma.

I would never presume to say I emanate light, especially as I am struggling with so many things just now, but I had a very strange experience the other day. I had an all day work meeting with a colleague in London, visiting various customers. I had never met this person and would not normally work with him. I was having the meeting in order to learn more about this particular part of the business.

My colleague was clearly a Sikh. Not an uncommon sight in London. What was strange is that he almost immediately began speaking to me about more spiritual matters rather than work.

As a reminder, I do not wear hijab at work. I am covered otherwise, but no hijab. I look like any other Western career woman and am quite senior in my organisation.

Though I was a bit surprised, I had no problem talking to him about such things. I learned about the personal crisis he went through that made him realise the importance of God in his life and his decision to become an orthodox Sikh. I learned how that led to meeting his wife and getting this job. It was a wonderful story.

At the end of it he stopped suddenly to say that he had not really told anybody else in the company that story, and did not tell that many people about the personal crisis he went through. He did not understand why he decided to tell me, other than I seemed to him like a woman of faith. And then he asked me if that was true… was I a woman of faith.

I told him that I was a Muslim.

He was thrilled and began to tell me about the similarities between Sikhs and Muslims. (I must admit, for all the reading I do on religion, I do not know much about Sikhism.)

It was a very enjoyable day.

But I wondered, what made him begin that conversation with me?

Has that ever happened to you? Has someone simply known you were a person of faith without any external signal? Do you think he would have told anyone that story that day and I just happened to be there?

Do you do think a relationship with Allah (swt) can visibly transform a person? (Beyond simply a change in personal style.)

If so, what does that mean?

The Beautiful Qur’an

And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a Surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful (Qur’an 2:23)

All I can say is that anybody who listens to and recites the Qur’an cannot believe this was anything that came from man. It is beautiful, soothing….. transcendent. Amazing.

When I first reverted, however, I did not think I needed to or would ever be able to read the Qur’an in Arabic. There were English interpretations available and I did not grow up reciting the Qur’an. So how – at my age and with my busy schedule – could I ever learn how to read the Qur’an.

However, as I learned a few prayers in Arabic and downloaded an electronic version of the Qur’an where I could listen to people reciting it, I knew I had to learn.

At first I tried to teach myself using apps but I was completely lost. I did not even know where to begin. Then I found an Arabic alphabet app.  But even as I learned the symbols for the letters, when I saw a word, I did not recognise anything! I finally found an app that showed me how the letters alone differed from letters in word. (Alhamdulilah! I was not crazy!)

But the turning point was when I moved to London. A close friend helped me find a place where I could study the Qur’an. I completed the introductory course where I learned the alphabet and the basics of recitation. I passed the class! And now I am taking the next level.

If I am honest, I have to admit that my recitation is complete rubbish. But as with everything….I keep trying.

My goal after recitation classes is to begin to learn the meaning of the words and perhaps some of the subtleties  of the linguistics. I realise this may be a bit too ambitious, but the beauty of the Qur’an compels me. I want to learn everything I can. In Sha Allah. It may take quite some time and perhaps I will not get as far as I would like… but who knows. :-)

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