wintery shadows chase each other,

flying across my bedroom wall.

All they do is remind me of green grass,

roads, and hands entwined.

When once the moonlight caused such awe,

and the sunlight such excitement,

I retreat into dreams of day and night,

there, at least, I have not lost you,

and memories are sweet.

Nesha Usmani

Cairo is Dying

is life worth the carnage in the street?

the corner where the children played

drips with blood, black with gore.

Broken glass and broken hearts

This is not the country of your father,

that kills its men and women and babies.

this is not the language of your mother,

that screams in rage, in hate, in oppression,

Here, they target your religion.

Your politics. These brothers you may have

served or salaam-ed?

You can no longer call them your own.

The ones on the rooftops,

in the street,

in the crowd,

the ones sending you to your grave,

peering through their crosshairs.

Nesha Usmani

Wartime Jewel

rwanda genocide children

i’d like to see the jewels of war and genocide.

the wounded children lying broken, bleeding

liquid red ruby into the earth and the street.

Dying in puddles and ditches and rubble,

their shining diamond eyes searching, searching.

Their little fingernails like pearls,

clutching, gripping, grasping

holding on to something.

And their bones, white like ivory.

Their hair in silken strands of obsidian, gold, and citrine.

So precious and pure

these little wartime jewels.

So costly, so dear,

their loss turns hearts to stone.

Fathers into shadows.

Mothers into skeletons.

Murderers into victors.

Evil into power.

And the blood never dries.

Nesha Usmani.

Fasting in Ramadan; Answering the Question ‘Why?’

Bismillahi Ar Rahmani Ar Rahim

Assalaamu Alaikum & Ramadan Kareem

I think every Muslim blogger at some point has a ‘why do Muslims fast’ post. So I’m just fulfilling my duty, but in a different way. I won’t go into the hows’ and the whens’ and the whats’. My question is posed to myself…why do I fast? Is it habit? After so many years of practicing Islam and taking part in Ramadan? Have I lost the reasoning or have I never noticed until now?

I’ve made so many mistakes this year, subhanAllah. So many errors and misjudgements. May Allah forgive me,  Ameen. But I have also grown closer to Islam. Alhamdulillah. There was a time in my life not very long ago that the mention of seeking Islamic knowledge would give me anxiety and a sense of severe insecurity.  One of the biggest blessings Allah has ever given me, as far as I can understand, is the ability to move beyond this problem, and connect me to my Deen emotionally and mentally, which, Alhamdulillah, is now connecting me to my Deen physically. Allahu Akbar!

If you practice Islam then you are familiar with the Dunya vs Akhira conflict. How do we find balance in getting what we want in Dunya as well as in the Afterlife? This is a crucial concept in Islam. In declaring your belief in Allah (SWT), Master of the Day of Judgement, Lord of the Worlds, and Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him) as Messenger of Allah. you MUST place your entire trust in Allah and you MUST relinquish your grip on this world, and everything that distracts you from seeing your true purpose. Live in this world as a traveler or stranger! (Quote from the Prophet (PBUH) as narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar).

Does that mean we cannot achieve success in this world? Does that mean we cannot pursue our worldly dreams of become a doctor, engineer, a famous writer or artist?  Allah does not want us to be miserable and lazy in this world. In my opinion, all this means is that whatever you do, do for Allah. Whatever you pursue, make sure the cause is halal, and the intention is pure and for Allah’s sake. If Allah gives you success in this world, give back with your duty. Your zakat. Your salah. Your nafl and sunnah. Your belief and your time. And most importantly, do not make your success your home. Do not make your gifts from Allah into attachments that will take you away from Allah (because they will).

So…let’s cycle back to our original topic. How does all of this relate to the Holy month of Ramadan?  How does this relate to refraining from food, water, sexual activity, rude behavior and wasting time, as well as refraining from negativity, such as anger, impatience, and ignorance? In other words, why do we, as Muslims, do this, and not something else?

I’m not a scholar. Nor do I have extensive knowledge, but based on what I do know, a thought sort of  hit me square in the face the other day. And it wasn’t from the angle of Dunya. It was from the angle of Jannah. From what I know of Jannah, it is our true home. Our real existence that is promised to us should we succeed in our duties in this life. It is a place with no death, hunger, disease, poverty, anger, jealousy, or injustice. The things that are harmful here are not harmful there, such as wine and excess (you won’t become greedy). The things that distracted us won’t distract us there, rather they will be gifts for us made even more pleasing. such as the love, beauty, and intimacy of our spouses.

In Ramadan, we let go of the Dunya’s version of all these things (and what a poor version it is, when you look at Jannah). Allah is testing you with hunger, thirst, desire, control over your actions and emotions, how you treat your fellow Muslim, your spouses, your children. He, Allahu Akbar, is asking you what you want. Do you want this world and its food that does not satisfy? Its wealth that will lead you astray, that you cannot take with you when you die? Do you want this world, where the objects of your love, desire and affection are never guaranteed to stay, no matter how much you love them?

Or do you want JANNAH? Where our problems cease to exist. Where our greatest mercy from Allah (SWT) becomes our home.

Will you fast in a manner that counts the minutes until the next Iftar? Or will you take advantage of the hours and use them to supplicate, thank, worship, repent, and humble yourself, seeking knowledge and forgiveness from your Lord? Will you be impatient with those around you, your friends and family? Or will you love them and cherish them, and even improve your relations with them for the sake of Allah (SWT)?

Know that Allah is your Master. Only He can correct your affairs. And this is why we let go of Dunya, in the month and hours that Allah has prescribed, in a kind of annual dosage, that, Alhamdulillah, if we live to see it and use it correctly, we reap rewards innumerable,  are brought closer to Allah, and pulled further from Dunya, inshAllah.

We fast to regain sight of the blessings already given to us. We fast to remove ourselves from Dunya and to show Allah that despite our empty stomachs, our greater fear is an empty Emaan. An empty spot in Jannah where we could be, and the fiery realm where we might be. We fast to take advantage of every salah, taraweeh, and every moment  to worship, thank, repent, and supplicate to Allah. Allah, without Whom, we’d be nothing, could be nothing, and with Whom, could have everything He deems best for us. All we need to do is ask sincerely, with a heart full of Emaan. SubhanAllah!

Allahu Akbar.

If I’ve said anything wrong, please correct me, inshAllah.

And Allah knows best.

May Allah give you a Ramadan filled with ease, mercy, rewards, and opportunities to gain His infinite reward.  May Allah correct your affairs for you, and bring you closer to Him. Ameen

A Rant on the Make-Up Aisle

I don’t like this culture.

Hate is a strong word.

But, you know what?

I hate it.

I hate this culture,

And the way I feel ugly,

all the time, when I walk past

the shiny, white, reflecting, colorful

make-up section in front of the main mall.

Why is it there anyway?

Right before I leave the quiet, department store atmosphere

and cross-over into the wide, spacious, bustling mall…

Why does it have to be there?

All of those perfect, pretty, female attendants

with their flawless skin and rouge and perfect eye make-up.

I look at them from the corner of my eye,

hating the way I feel almost ashamed

to go up and inquire about blushes and liners

and lipsticks and mascara and whatnot.

I hate the way I feel inadequate and kind of guilty

at having avoided this quicksand of femininity.

Looking at the magnified mirrors…

I see an exaggerated reflection of my features.

Too many blemishes to count.

Scars built up over the years.

I even see the beginnings of some wrinkles.

My nose looks strange.

My lips, chin, cheeks…

I can’t even look.

My eyebrows. Lord.

But then I wonder what those women look like

under all of that foundation, all of that color.

(It’s called make-up because it’s made up)

I imagine this one woman.

She’s Asian. Gorgeous.

She’s picked a beautiful melon-colored blush

it fades beautifully at the edges.

Her lips are red and plump

and her eyes are dark and smoky.

She looks like she’s done this billions of times

before finding the right look, and just maybe

she’s going to do it a billion more times.

I compare my own face.

No blush, no foundation, no lipstick,

Heck, I even forgot my Chapstick.

But I did remember to put some eyeliner on

and I sort of let my hijab handle the rest (even though it doesn’t).

I wonder what this woman thought

what started her routine

why she feels the need to look that pretty,

why I feel like a completely different species

when I see her.

I wonder what she looks like when she washes it off,

I wonder if under all of that stuff she’s actually

really tired, really imperfect,

and not so dewy.

I wonder what her husband is like

if he prefers her looking like a Singaporean airline hostess,

or if he loves it when she dresses down and makes gooey mac-and-cheese,

Her hair tied up like she doesn’t care one way or another,

her face free of made-up make-up,

And when she puts her arms around him to give him a hug,

Maybe her shirt rides up and reveals something

that surprises us all: a belly.

Not flat, not muscular, but,

you know, a belly.

Her husband wraps his arms around her so tightly and lowers

his nose to her hair, and inhales like his wife is his breath of life.

She smiles so brightly that the crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes

appear, and the happiness is so evident in her face

that you don’t even want to look

and you don’t even remember the mall-version of her.

And it’s so beautiful, it makes me want to shut down that

make-up aisle forever.

Don’t worry, ladies! I’ll say, don’t worry.

When you see that love overcomes

all of this stuff…this made-up make-up,

I’ll re-open this place,

And you can buy lipstick with the right intentions.

Nesha Usmani

As I Try to Describe Happiness

Assalamu Alaikum

Bismillahi Ar Rahmani Ar Rahim

You’ve probably noticed by now that a lot of the content on my blog is a bit melancholy. Whether that turns you off or not isn’t the point; it’s just that this blog picked up speed during a time in my life where…well…due to a lot of circumstances, I guess I lost the meaning of the emotion.

I’m not emo! Please, don’t think that. I’m just one of those people who thinks too much, over-analyzes, and then analyzes the analyzations (why does this word look weird).

Happiness.

Sometimes, I think that there really isn’t such a feeling. I suppose, I feel that that it’s sort of a morsel, something tasty, tied at the end of a fishing pole and attached to our heads. We follow it, chase it, like one of those cartoons of dogs who are forever chasing a bone, but never actually getting it.

Or like this cat.

Poor cat. What happens to her moment of thrill when she tackles the thing, yanks it away from her human’s hand? The process starts all over again. The chasing and the endless jumping and snatching. Bloody flipping hell. Is that happiness?

Setting our sights on what we like … be it a career or status or cheeseburger, and then once we have it…what then? What happens next?

When I was younger, it was so much easier to be “happy”. I was so carefree back then, you could have put a smiley face on a french fry and I would have made it into something to laugh about.

But now, everything seems so devoid of meaning. I don’t want to say “pointless”, because that makes it sound like I’m two minutes away from jumping off a cliff (thankfully, not the case).

When I think of happiness now, true, real, honest-to-Allah happiness…well, I think of Allah.

And I think of children, having a family. I think of a time in the not so distant future (inshAllah) when I’ll most likely still be struggling, but I’ll have someone to struggle with. Someone who will wipe my eyes and kiss them, and I’ll do the same for them. Someone to share my beliefs and my hopes.

Happiness, now, is not instant gratification, anymore. For me, I think it used to be. It’s not getting what you want when you want it. It’s not an elevated level of emotion or excitement. It’s not bright, sunny days or cold glasses of lemonade. A day off or a good movie.

While I might still like those things…none of then mean anything to me, anymore.

No. I can’t even describe my definition of happiness to you.

Or, maybe I can.  Your mind doesn’t just store memories of events. It also stores memories of emotions and sensations. Things you felt, tasted. SubhanAllah.

Somewhere along in my life, my definition of happiness went from instant gratification to remembering a sunrise from years ago.

It was 2005. My family and I were on vacation in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. We had rented a little house on the beach during spring break.

I think I was 16 at the time, but I could be wrong. The days were cloudy, just the way I like it (no joke). In the afternoons, dark thunder clouds would roll in and the ocean and the space between it and the sky would melt together, forming this ethereal gray-blue-black-white of impending stormy weather. Combined with the hot smell of sand and the caress of gentle, sea-infused humidity, it was intoxicating.

Lightening would strike in the distance and it was all I could do not to run out onto the beach and just stare.

One morning, my mother woke me up to watch the sunrise. I remember the sheer, exploding whiteness of it.

It was like the entire ocean had turned to silver, or gold, or some weird combination of both. My brain couldn’t really comprehend it. I took pictures, but I’ve lost them.

They wouldn’t have done it justice, anyway.

The edges of my vision seemed to darken; blotting out all but the sun. It rose like it has done in all of the memories of the earth, but, witnessing it from the beach was like watching some once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event. The entire sky seemed to be the sun, the ocean as well. Everything became one and the same. I actually started to worry I might go blind. My eyes were watering even though I kept them in a tight squint, blinking away the tears, or shielding my eyes from it altogether in intervals, like a panicky vampire.

I remember it now and I feel a rising in my heart. But, I don’t really remember the actual sunrise when I think of being “happy”. I just see a explosion of bright, white light over a molten ocean of silver. There’s a lump in my throat.Tears come to my eyes and I don’t feel excitement or thrill. I just feel content, at peace. Some mixture of longing and love threaded through with a ribbon of sadness, fear, and awe. 

Is that my definition of happiness? A perfect balance of emotion?

Could be.

Happiness.

Once something all about instant gratification, turned into what I feel when I see something so much bigger than I could ever be.

My mother likes to say this one thing a lot. I don’t remember it verbatim, but the gist of it goes something like:

“Human beings are so arrogant. We’re surrounded by things so much bigger than ourselves, so much more powerful and out of our controls, and yet, we are the most arrogant of beings.”

She’s right. In our arrogance we’ve taken granted of so many things, including each other. Chased after meaningless, fruitless things thinking we’ll find satisfaction, when all we ever find is more temptation, more emptiness, and a hunger for “more” (whatever that is).

I’m reminded of the simple lifestyle of our beloved Prophet (SAW). Who lived and died a simple man, and yet the greatest who has ever lived subhanAllah.

I am reminded of the hadith, according to Bukhari & Tirmidhi, in which the Prophet (SAW) held the shoulder of Abdullah Ibn Umar and said 

Live in this world as (if you are) a wayfarer or a stranger.

Travel light. Don’t live in excess. Don’t chase worldly things. All it will get you, as it’s only ever gotten me, is greed and suffering. Don’t plant roots in the dunya, for the dunya will not keep you. Inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’oon! From Allah we came, and to Allah is our return.

I just finished a book (which I enjoyed a lot) and in it, the author makes a lot of references to the Dicken’s character Jacob Marley (from A Christmas Carol). One line in particular, in which Marley supposedly said:

“I wear the chain I forged in life.”

::Shudder:: Isn’t that the damn truth? Doesn’t what we do in our lives bind us or free us in the next, depending on Allah’s mercy? SubhanAllah.

Well, I’ve done my best, describing happiness. Happiness according to a 24-yr old Muslim romantic. anyway.

If you decide to comment, which I hope you do, what’s happiness to you?

Sources

http://dailyreminders.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/live-in-this-world-as-a-traveller-or-a-stranger/