As our first forty days come to an end, I find myself grateful. Grateful to my body for all the changes it endured during my pregnancy, and my womb that worked so hard to grow, to contract in order to birth my baby, and then to contract as it shrunk back down. “He who does not thank people is not thankful to Allah.” Our body has a right over us and our body parts will testify for or against us on the Day of Reckoning, so I believe that we owe our bodies thanks too.
Speaking of pregnancy, birth and wombs, I love that when the Qur’an warns against severing ties of kinship, it refers to said ties as womb ties (silat ar-rahm). I am grateful for my family, those whom I shared the same space with when I was a womb dweller myself, my mother, my grandmother who carried me as an egg inside my womb dwelling mother, my aunts who dwelled inside my grandmother’s womb… I am grateful for the women of my family, and I acknowledge their struggles and the battles they’ve endured, as well as their beautiful attributes. I am ever grateful for my two sisters.
I am grateful that Allah has blessed me with children and with these souls in specific. I want to believe that I am a good mother and that I am good at mothering, and that I have a lot of personal growth in sight through mothering.
Last but not least, I am so grateful that despite living in the city where I can’t see the sunrise and sunset, I can witness the moon from our small kitchen window.
Alhamdulillah, last new moon as we entered Rabi’ al-Thani 1444 a new moon was born. We had a baby girl half past noon and we named her Zahra. Commonly translated as ‘flower’, it also means the exquisite and illuminated one. It was my first home birth and it reminded me of my second birth experience in many ways, from the fact that they were both born on a new moon, the general feelings around the pregnancy especially towards the end, length of pregnancy and how my labor started, how long labor lasted and the very intense, overpowering fetal ejection reflex (which was not as overwhelming with my other two daughters). Of course, this birth was a lot more hands-off having taken place at home (I recognize that’s not always the case even at home births), with no routine protocols set in place. I very much liked and enjoyed my midwife’s company during my pregnancy and while that did not guarantee that I would feel the same way at birth, I really appreciated her demeanor and support at birth too. After birth, everything went as smoothly as I could have wished for. The kids were ecstatic and they’ve been in love since.
As this pregnancy was the most I’ve been away from my family, with only one visit from my sister who had to leave before the birth, I really craved being cared for, something as simple as my mom or my grandmother making me a warming stew. I felt a void and yearned for a somewhat motherly nurturing. This might have been why I didn’t even want to meet a much younger midwife in my area after having met my much older midwife initially. It is also why I so appreciated the compassion I felt from a much older Ayurvedic postpartum doula and massage therapist whom I saw several times for prenatal massage. I almost felt bad getting that care from her and asked her once who cares for her. She said that she feels cared for by caring for others, and that when she gives a massage she has to remain as calm and grounded in her body as possible because tension in her body would translate to more tension in her client’s body.
While it’s been stressful in some ways, realistically speaking, it has also been a smooth transition overall and I have also gained a new appreciation for my husband. While this is not our first child and he’s always been there for each immediate postpartum period (with varying lengths), this is a new experience for him in that he’s had to take on a lot more responsibilities with no one else present to take them on. We also hired a traditional postpartum doula, a wonderful Mexican woman, for 4 days in the first week following birth. That was an invaluable investment and I would have hired her for even more days if it were feasible.
In the meantime I haven’t left the house in 2 weeks and I don’t plan to leave for as many days as possible in the first 40 days, especially not to go grocery shopping. While I miss taking the older kids out myself and getting on with my life as normal, I know that once this sensitive period is over I will be back at it inshaa Allah, so there’s no rush…
Here I am, nearly a year after my last post, and once again shocked at how time has gone by. I remember typing out the last blog post like it was yesterday. A lot has happened during that span, a lot of lessons learned, and thankfully a lot of progress has been made. I don’t really have a particular topic in mind for this post other than just rambling, to refresh things up a bit along with this crisp autumnal transition we are experiencing in Illinois. The scent of autumn breeze feels very nostalgic to me.
Last week at 37 weeks of pregnancy, I washed all the gender-neutral baby clothes. We’ve always kept the sex of the baby hidden until the moment of birth. I had initially planned to wait until at least 38 weeks of pregnancy to wash everything but I felt called to do it last week and get it over with. Or maybe this baby will arrive earlier than my previous three. Who knows? I don’t. I have no particular expectations. Just some ideas, and hopes and prayers. Trust. Some excitement for sure; being blessed with three incredible children, we do wonder what song this soul will sing.
This pregnancy was rough. I never thought I would tell myself that I need to prepare for this baby as our last child. In the past my husband and I have told each other that if we were to not have any other children after our last third, we would still be content, but I never told myself that maybe I should prepare myself in a way as though this is our last. I have just hit rock bottom several times during this pregnancy, not to underestimate that other women have experienced much more difficult situations in their pregnancies. It’s just felt difficult many moments, and I communicated to our baby that they are welcome, and it’s not about the baby in question. Still, with all of that, this has just been a thought and a feeling I haven’t felt before. It would be dumb to assume that there’s definitely not going to be additional team members joining our family after our fourth, maybe unless we did some serious surgical interventions which we aren’t planning on doing. I just can’t really know. However, in the current circumstances, I want to intend that this is our last for a while to come, and be ok with the thought that it may be the last.
My reason for wanting to consider that this be our last is because I want to be able to mother the children that I have in the ways that I believe are best without overburdening myself and thus not being able to put into practice those ideals as much as possible. I can only give so much, and given that we have such strange family structures in this modern time as well as a lack of community where we currently live, I have felt depleted too many times in the recent months. I envision mothering as being the earth from which plants grow and are nurtured, and if the earth is in a small limited container, or if it is not nourished as a part of a larger, healthy environment, it can only nurture so many plants.
Around the time we were having our third, my mother has voiced her concern about how the world is no longer safe enough to bring additional children to, and life is hard and children get more difficult as they grow and their problems grow with them and that maybe three was a good stop. I am paraphrasing. But the emphasis was on how the world is less safe now. I didn’t resonate with that and I still don’t. Not that the world is not safe but that it is less safe now. There always was danger, except that dangers have only shifted in form. This is where conscious parenting comes into place, to be on guard and better protect our family and ourselves. I don’t think there ever was a good time to not be parenting consciously, or simply living life consciously anyway. I am lucky that my husband and I are frequently assessing how we are doing in terms of parenting, how we can improve and what’s working well. We see each of our children as a unique individual, with their own set of talents and special qualities that enrich our family as a whole. We are frequently discussing and trying to make sense of challenges related to the surrounding society and how that relates to our family. We don’t hesitate to express love and admiration in the presence of our children, and our children know that they are safe with us.
Having said all of this, my heart has ached many times knowing what lies ahead of my children; heart break, hurt, pain, loss. All that life naturally brings. And then worrying over their safety and all the potential dangers and craziness out there. Each comes with their own journey, and I can only do so much. Love, pray and surrender. Recognize that there is a greater Protector than me, One who loves them more than me.
A few weeks ago as we were leaving the farmer’s market, Zaynab (6.5) asked me if Allah has secrets, and I told her He did. She then proceeded to ask if prophets had secrets and I said, yes they do, between them and Allah. And then she said she wished she had secrets too. I told her that while we believe prophecy has come to an end with the message of Sayyidina Muhammad, there are friends of Allah, awliyah, who also have secrets and that the Qur’an says about them, no fear nor sadness befalls them, and that they could also aspire to be of the awliyah of Allah. As we continued our drive home, Zaynab asked me if I were from the awliyah. I chuckled and as I tried to answer her question in an appropriate manner, I overheard Abubakr (4.5) tell her “No, she isn’t, because she has fear that we will get hurt.”
Grateful for motherhood and its beautiful lessons in moments of presence.
We left Cyprus nearly 6 months ago and this has been an interesting and difficult transition, going from spending 2020 very close to my family (ironically) to being away from everyone back home for nearly half a year. I miss my mom so I am going to dedicate a few words for her as this is also something I have been pondering on. A while back I listened to Sajah Popham having a beautiful discussion with Kami McBride, my first introduction to her which thereafter led me to now stay up-to-date with all her news and wisdom. She referred to how she is gathering loose threads from her family line in order to weave them into her personal journey. It made me think about what I could gather myself, from my grandmother and great grandmothers, but then I realized… I have gathered so much from my own mother, who already did so much of the work in bridging her gap and who allowed me to have a jumpstart in my own journey of discovering healing modalities, and more importantly, in the way I am rearing my own family. It has given me a whole new layer of gratitude. I am so proud of what she has accomplished despite her circumstances in different phases of life, and anyone who has spent enough time delving into herbal medicine knows that it is also a spiritual quest in its own right.
I am still curious what I can gather from my great grandmothers in regards to herbal wisdom. I already have some insight in regards to other aspects, and often when I am carrying out certain tasks, I think of my great grandmothers who might have done those very things. My great-grandmothers are not alive. So whatever I can gather further will be from my mother’s, my father’s and my grandmothers’ memories. I also have a maternal great uncle who is still living and who spent the most time with my Iraqi great grandmother so I think that he would enjoy sharing some memories if I send him an e-mail soon. I only ‘met’ my Iraqi great grandmother as a baby. I don’t think I was even a year old, but I’ve had several vivid dreams of her and felt so close to her, and one of my sisters (who has never met her as she’s younger than me) has also dreamt of us two together. Sometimes I feel that perhaps what connects us so deeply to some of our ancestors is a prayer of theirs that has touched our lives.
As I am reflecting on this, I feel challenged in one aspect: trying to think of what I can gather from my paternal grandmother, who is still alive, but whom I feel for more as another human being than close kin whose blood I carry. I don’t want to get into too many details out of respect for her but it will suffice to say that she carries some seriously narcissistic qualities which have been very hurtful for my father, and probably for my late grandfather too in different ways, and obviously my mother. My father is her main caretaker, and currently she is diagnosed with cancer and so, that coupled with her psychological state, it’s been a tough ride. Still, I do want to think about what thread I could gather from her. It’s a tough one. I think of her mother when I drink rosemary tea, or when I think the strength of a woman during childbirth, but not so much of her. A few years ago, she said something which I will never forget. She is someone who complains a lot and will always find something pessimistic to say, but occasionally something good and genuine (as I like to believe) will come out of her mouth. I went to pick her up and it started drizzling, and usually she’ll lament about how this will impact her laundry schedule, but this time with a little sense of surprise, she simply said, ”oh! it’s raining.” And then she continued to say, ”that’s ok, we always do what we want. Let Allah do what He wants too.” If I had to really think of something valuable to carry and appreciate, the fact that some medical errors left her in very bad health following two C-sections, a luxury at her time, made her very cautious of pharmaceuticals for a long time, and ever since I’ve known her, she would also always brew a combination of aromatic herbs for her breakfast tea. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom had a role to play in this to be honest. I don’t know how far back it dates. Maybe, even the simple fact that she birthed my father into this world should be enough for me to appreciate, and I wouldn’t ever choose a different father if I could, with all his positives and negatives; he has not been anything short of loving.
The same can’t be said about my maternal grandmother whom I am forever grateful and indebted for, my second mother and my rock. I love her so much. I don’t know where I’d be right now without her prayers throughout the years. A lady with class, always beautiful and adorning herself with rose & oud and kohl even as she approaches 90 years of age, and with so much wisdom. She also came a long way after many experiences that shook her to the core, albeit more in the spiritual sense without as much of the herbal aspect in comparison to my mom.
In short, I’ve got some digging in to do, and in the meanwhile I am so grateful for my new level of appreciation for my mother whom I miss and love dearly. It just makes me feel even closer to her.
If you have Instagram, you can follow her work here.
On many occasions I have de-activated, then re-activated or deleted my accounts & started anew across several social media platforms. The final straw that broke the camels back for me and led me to delete all my accounts without any intention of returning took place after the events of 2020. Recognizing the possible harms of social media was not new to me. I also recognize the benefits, if the person knows how to utilize the tools in a healthy way. Personally, I have gone through different phases, using my time on social media more wisely, and sharing less of my personal opinion over time.
First, before getting straight into why I left social media, I want to reflect on why I may be wanting to share this post on my blog. I don’t think it would be correct to say that my intention is to dissuade others from using social media. My main message is not to tell my reader to delete all their accounts and many beneficial & insightful posts they might have shared, or to lose access to other beneficial accounts. I’ve benefited greatly from many account holders myself and it pleases me that they continue to be there to help many others too.
I think part of why I am writing this post is to:
1. Clarify for myself the reasons why
2. Clarify to others who may have been wondering
3. Share some points to think about for those who are involved in social media, again, not to delete their accounts necessarily but maybe to re-evaluate how they are using it and how it may be impacting them.
Prior to deleting my last Instagram account, I had moved from a private, personal account to a public, slightly less personal account connected to the concept of my blog. At this point I was using Facebook only from time to time but I was checking out what my ‘friends’ were sharing more often than posting things myself. My hope was that I would be sharing beneficial posts such as nutritional advice, recipes, non-toxic cleaning tips as well as short reflections etc. on my Instagram regularly. I would designate a reasonable time of the day where I wouldn’t have to ignore the needs of my kids, and it would not be extremely frequent but it would be consistent.
Well, overall I don’t think it was working very well but I was trying — then lockdown happened. Social media was all over the place, I had an overwhelming surge of feelings in response to the abrupt changes that were taking place in the world as well as my personal life. I am not going into details about what I think about what, but let’s just say I started to feel resentment towards people I personally know, even though we may have never been extremely close in the first place. Nevertheless, these feelings didn’t sit right because I would rather have a good opinion of my sisters in faith and I would rather not know everything that others think. Another issue was that I was now sharing my personal opinion more often than I liked, but I was being too vulnerable in an environment that is not made for that. Sharing many of my posts on social media had me constantly second-guessing what some others may think or misunderstand, whom I might offend and many times leaving me with that icky, heavy feeling of regret. Social media is not made for that. Now I do think I got better at reserving my thoughts and feelings to myself more prior to deleting my account. (Eventually, if I ever found myself overwhelmed with something I want to write, either in direct response to an individual or indirectly as a new post, I found it very helpful to write it out on my private notes, and then delete it without sharing.)
I found that most of the time, social media led me to post as a reaction and led to my thoughts being mostly made up of reactions rather than allowing me to reflect and get creative without a lot of outside influence. At some point, I unfollowed a ton of accounts even if I agreed with their general content depending on how negative or meaningless I felt the content was and how it impacted my heart and thoughts.
Many times I told myself that there are considerable amounts of posts and accounts I am benefiting from, which was true, but I came to realize that the amount and frequency of information being shared was so overwhelming that I didn’t even have the chance to truly fathom and absorb much of it but only make a mental note that I’d get back to it without ever doing so. I came to realize that I don’t need social media to increase in beneficial knowledge, that beneficial knowledge (and more importantly, wisdom) would come to me through other means, and realized how many righteous people who have an incredible impact on the world do so despite not using social media. I think this was the main realization I had to come to accept.
Finally, thanks to Instagram’s creepy new regulations including access to what you view through your cam ‘to suggest filters or masks’ (which yes I heard that in theory our computer and phone cams can be easily accessed anyway, but why in the world would I willingly accept if I am being asked to agree to it?) I was able to say goodbye to Instagram and then got rid of my FB too shortly after when I realized I was still getting annoyed at too many people. From time to time, I feel the same on WhatsApp groups, but I am working on not getting emotionally involved about expressed opinions that don’t impact me.
Leaving social media has allowed me to read a ton of more books – not just because of freed up time but also because of a renewed interest and curiosity in reading books which leads to further curiosity and further readings – and to form really exciting ideas, questions & tap deeper into my inner creative world, and write quite a bit more too; more from my heart rather than from a place of increased cortisol as a response to external stimuli i.e. social media and other people’s opinions that don’t resonate with me.
Here’s hoping for conscious decisions that are of more benefit than of harm to our bodies, hearts & minds, always.
My first elimination diet of sorts was the Whole30 method. Even though I felt great for the most part while it lasted – except for the occasional and unusual tingling in my hands and feet possibly from oxalate overload from all that spinach – I can’t say it was a very successful endeavor because it fell apart after Day 17 (I attended an Iftar invitation and ate literally everything that was on the ”no” list in one evening), and once I cheated I couldn’t get back on the bandwagon. However, my terrible migraines and joint pain for the next few days left me with a lot of questions.
At this point, I didn’t know much about Prophetic nutrition (I still don’t) but I knew that Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ liked and ate barley. So I decided that I was going to try some homemade barley flat breads without yeast for the next few days. My joint pain continued. I wanted to eat wheat bread again. Did he eat wheat? An article I found online said he did, but only occasionally. I couldn’t really verify. Another shaykh I respect said he never ate wheat. Possibly – perhaps barley was the staple food in their region at the time, and maybe Harissa, a dish that was suggested to the Prophet by Gabriel, was also prepared with barley grains rather than wheat grains. So why was my body responding with inflammation not just to wheat but also barley? Everything I bought was labeled organic. At least barley was a Prophetic food, and as far as I knew up until that point, I didn’t have any intolerance to grains, so what was the deal? I was mostly concerned with the grains at this point (I will get to milk in a bit) and I found many of the answers in Nourishing Traditions, as well as a little later in life through experience and other discoveries.
I had bought the book Nourishing Traditions after hearing someone I admired mention it as a cherished book of theirs, but as you may know from personal experience, some things have to be learned at a particular time in life. So when I first bought this book, a while before trying out Whole30, it was overwhelming to me (maybe because I was adjusting to married life and a whole new country, trying to crochet multiple projects, trying to catch up with my herbal studies, educating myself about childbirth, and taking lots of naps with my cat all at once).
This was the right time to dig into the book. Parts of the book described what methods ancient traditions used to prepare as well as to preserve food and coincidentally or not, these methods also increased the bioavailability of the nutrients and made it easier on digestion. This made a lot of sense. With our fast-paced modern lifestyles, we were no longer preparing our foods in the same ways. I was excited to incorporate some of these teachings, especially soaking my grains including brown rice & oats for long periods of times before cooking in order to reduce the phytic acid content. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that inhibits the absorption of important nutrients. There is a misconception that whatever nutrients there are on a food label, our body actually absorbs in entirety. This is not true. A lot of that depends on the way the food is prepared, as well as your body (whether your microbiome is balanced as well as diverse.) A little off-topic, but much of our soils are depleted, not just from modern conventional agriculture that uses monocultures, poisons and synthetic fertilizers, but also from some organic farming as there is a lot more taking than giving back to the soil in the process of harvesting. Regenerative forms of agriculture on the other hand do not leave the soil depleted; regenerative agriculture enriches the soil (and mitigates climate change). This in turn yields produce that is of much higher nutritional content. In summary, not all e.g. tomatoes are created equal. (I highly recommend you watch the documentary Kiss the Ground on Netflix).
Fast forward, some other experiences after changing countries also taught me that not all wheat is the same. Nourishing Traditions does cover some older and superior wheat varieties, but I never gave it much thought until going off of wheat after having my second baby, and then wanting to re-introduce it. This re-introduction came after discovering einkorn which is the oldest type of wheat, and a re-emerging variety in Anatolia. I had tried cultivating a sourdough starter many years ago, before I even knew what sourdough was just because it sounded cool and it was supposed to be healthier, and gave up on it after my brother asked what that rotten sock smell was in the kitchen and I remembered that I had left it in a bowl on top of the fridge for way too long. Like I said, some things are better learned at the right time. I was ready to give it a second shot this time. I was thrilled watching the bubbles develop after each feeding every day, and my first sourdough einkorn bread was a delightful success. This bread was filling in small quantities, and did not cause bloating or any other digestive issues I experienced from other types of bread. My husband was also on the same page which made life a million times easier. Eventually I started incorporating other types of flour, but almost always heritage varieties, as well as barley and rye. And always sourdough.
Around the same time, a friend of mine introduced me to the teachings of Aidin Salih, a pious Ukranian woman with a medical background who converted to Islam after studying Greco-Islamic Medicine. I can’t do her teachings justice in a few words but if I had to summarize it, her philosophy revolves around improving and protecting our health as well as our fitra (innate disposition) by choosing pure, nourishing foods and following sensible guidelines inspired from Prophetic and Qur’anic teachings. Despite the simplistic nature of her advice, it may seem very difficult to implement in our age, because of tainted food sources but mostly because of cultural beliefs and practices. Spending hours in the kitchen preparing a dish that has many steps and many ingredients is not prophetic in any sense and yet this is the case in most Muslim cultures.
To give a few examples, she advises that we should consume fruits before the main meal on an empty stomach as fruits are digested quicker than other foods such as grains and meats (very contradictory to the fruit platter that arrives right after dinner in a Turkish or Arab household). She also suggests that dairy and meats are not combined, very Kosher in practice, not obligatory in Islam but nevertheless a Sunnah. She suggests that different meats are also not combined, like chicken and lamb for example, as different foods require different enzymes, and this is burdensome on the digestion. She emphasized the importance of drinking living water. She is a strong advocate of frequent fasting, especially for those experiencing health issues. We have a fear that revolves around hunger. It seems contradictory to ‘starve’ an ailing person, but even recent findings or I prefer to call them re-discoveries are concluding the benefits of fasts on a body that needs a break from constantly digesting foods, and harmful inflammatory foods at that, in order to direct energy at healing. Unless you live alone most of the time or your entire family is on board, her advice is difficult to implement all the time. However, starting somewhere is better than nothing and I was very thankful to be introduced to her teachings. Sadly, she passed away several years ago. Nevertheless, her guidance continues to bear fruit and benefit many people.
I will never forget an experience I had many years ago. I attended a Mawlid event with a fundraiser, and there was a section of potluck dishes that were supposed to represent ‘foods that the Prophet liked’. With all due respect to everyone who contributed, no doubt with good intentions, nearly the entire table consisted of junk sugary products, because the Prophet liked ‘sweet foods’. It was disappointing as well as shocking to a degree. It made me wonder if these were truly fit to offer to the Prophet had he been amongst us. If I knew better then, I would have prepared something different, but my contribution to the potluck was couscous salad with dates and cucumbers. Initially I planned to prepare it with pearl barley but I was at a different event prior to the potluck, and cooking couscous was quicker than barley.
In cattle too, there is a lesson for you. We provide you from what lies in their bellies, between waste matter and blood, pure milk, palatable to those who drink it.
The Chapter of the Bee, 16:66
Amongst other foods that were liked by the Prophet is milk. Prior to deleting all of my social media, I came across a couple of accounts promoting in simple words the drinking of milk as a Sunnah and the benefits of milk. Going back to not all tomatoes (or wheat) being equal, similarly not all milk is equal, and not all cows are equal. There is a world of difference between the milk that comes from a heritage cow that happily grazes on green, living pasture and lives its life in a way that befits its innate nature with limited physiological and psychological stressors, and milk that comes from a hybrid cow that lives, or rather, tries to survive a torturous lifestyle under the oppression of human workers who treat them as a milk making machine, feeding them all sorts of garbage from GMO corn & soy to pesticide laden grains, pumping them with antibiotics and sometimes growth hormones. These cows never step a foot on grass. They live and die a sad life. Their milk is so lacking in nutrients that are otherwise found in real milk that it is then ‘enriched’ (just as refined wheat is) with synthetic vitamins. This milk doesn’t reach our tables in ways that befit prophetic conduct, it is not the milk the Prophet drank and it will not yield the same benefits, not physically nor spiritually. I could discuss honey as well, and why honey bought from conventional stores is best avoided as well as the large scale damage the honey industry is causing, but this will suffice for now.
Living in an urban area for the last few years with the convenience of grocery delivery, I asked my daughter not too long ago where the food came from, to which she responded ”Migros.” Initially I laughed, but then found it alarming. If you asked her a few more questions, she’d recall that food actually comes from seed and the soil, but it made me think of how our lifestyle made it very hard to experience that first hand. Our state as grown ups isn’t much different. We may be aware that milk comes from a mammal, but we should dig a little deeper when making decisions if we want to reap true benefit as well as cause the least amount of harm possible, to ourselves but also to animals and the earth, especially when we are claiming to follow in the footsteps of our Prophet ﷺ.
As my husband and I approach 7 years of marriage, I have been reflecting on some important lessons from our union. I also asked my husband a few nights ago what he has learned and what he values about our marriage. It’s nearly impossible to not mention the kids during our conversations, they are just a part of us now, but I am mainly going to stick to what concerns us two for this post.
A few years ago, I met an old friend for coffee. I can’t quite remember the exact question, but she asked me something on the lines of how to tell if someone is right for you. And I can’t quite remember my exact answer, but I remember not being content with it. I think I said something like… discussing some core expectations and values and see if they align. My husband and I did discuss core values and sort of what we pictured married life and raising kids to be like in the first couple of e-mails that we exchanged before moving onto phone calls, but that’s not the main way you can tell if someone is right for you. The truth is, no matter how certain you may think you are, marriage is a risk. There is even a possibility that if the marriage is wonderful the first few years, things can change at some point down the line and your paths may separate. There’s just no guarantee. You just have to make a mindful decision, and then pray for the best. So a few years later, I found myself still reflecting on what I would have answered this sister if instead, and here’s what I think (in addition to your world paradigm):
Gut feeling is important. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents and/or other family members, their gut feeling is important. How they treat you is important, but what is more important is how they treat others, so observation is key. A prospective spouse will most likely treat you well, at least at first, even if they are not genuine, but the way they treat others and especially their close kin will be a good window to their true nature. Asking some trustworthy community members, maybe some teachers, mutual friends or colleagues about their experience with the individual in question is a good consideration. You may think that you want someone who is God-fearing, and that them telling you they do their ‘rituals’, them dressing a certain way is a good way of knowing that but it is not. And if they use their supposed religiosity as a way to manipulate you, to make you feel like they are better than you, to make you question your self-worth, to make you feel bad about doing certain things while they get away with it (i.e. not for Allah’s pleasure but for themselves) or to act like you are already husband and wife before they even meet your family, you better turn around and run. Nip it in the bud.
My grandmother used to tell me that ‘akhlaaq’ (manners) comes before anything, and without manners, someone is not truly Muslim. That really stuck with me. I had the privilege of observing my husband before even meeting him, so I got a feel of some important behavioral habits he had (you might consider this a form of stalking but so be it!)
Of course we all have room for improvement, and to me life is an ongoing journey of becoming the best version of ourselves. So I am not saying that the individual in question will be perfect once you move in together if you feel that they may be the right person. However, some core manners and values, including being receptive to improvement will lay a strong foundation from which you can both grow together. I can see that both my husband and I have grown in many ways since we got married. We are not perfect, I don’t think we ever will be, but that’s OK because that’s not the point; we are perceptive of the ongoing journey. We value communication, and we practice self-evaluation. We have disagreements and we sometimes rub against each other in the wrong way, but we are mindful of respect, we are comfortable with apologizing if necessary, and we learned not to discuss anything until our minds have cooled down. Often when my mind is busy with something that is bothering me, or I am actually trying to pinpoint what it is that is bothering me, and my husband picks up on that, I affirm that I am indeed upset but I need some time before I can talk about it. He respects that, gives me space, and eventually we do talk about it.
Something that my husband stressed on for what marriage has taught him was that marriage, and having kids, changed his perception of the world and this life to a great extent. Having a wife and children made him recognize the value of family and connection. It also gave him an opportunity to see himself in a different light, that he would not have otherwise discovered had he not gotten married. This allows for further reflection and change.
I described to my husband that for me our union meant safety, not just physically but also spiritually. He told me that for him it was feeling supported. I also feel supported by my husband, and I am sure he would agree he feels safety through our marriage too, but with varying emphasis because of the nature of our relationship.
Life is often full of trials, from trivial every day things — requiring us to think twice before reacting — to much more significant events. I wouldn’t have wanted my marriage to be my main trial in life, but rather to be the safe haven from those trials and I believe that is what is intended for marriage by our Lord Most High. I am not trying to encourage divorce here before emphasizing on the importance of trying to sort things out with your spouse through healthy and honest dialogue and even therapy if there is some work that needs to be done (except for cases of abuse and manipulation which shouldn’t be tolerated) but divorce is halal in Islam for a reason. Sometimes couples just do not click, even if both sides are good people, and sometimes the issue at hand is more grand. Marriage should be a means of growth, elevation, comfort and serenity, not suffering, and you should be able to experience the pleasures of life together with your spouse. Alhamdulillah, I feel just that through my marriage that began with simplicity and with honesty, not just towards each other but towards Allah.
As a final note, this is by no means a message to my single brothers and sisters that to have any self-worth, growth or valid aim in life they must be married. I recognize this is a sensitive issue, especially because of cultural pressure on single people to get married (usually for the wrong reasons) so I don’t want to add salt to injury.
Actually, this reminds me of something that I want to add… one time my brother asked my mom if I ever regret marrying and having children so early, and my answer is: no, not at all. However, I do regret all the time I wasted before marriage. So all you singles out there, enjoy all the time and freedom you have, but be mindful of it!
It is a waste to use food to drive cars. It is a waste to use 10 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of meat. A food system that focuses on profits, rather than the health and wellbeing of people or the planet, will waste not only food, but also people and the planet. Indeed, half of India’s children are so severely malnourished that they are technically described as wasted. And, according to the FAO, the 70 percent of food not wasted but doused in pesticides costs $350 billion in health treatment every year: a waste of money.
— Vandana Shiva, Who Really Feeds the World?
When it was time for the annual payment for my domain name this year, I realized how I had wasted so much time instead of putting down some of my many thoughts on this blog, and I wondered if I was going to make a commitment this year and if it was going to be worth making the payment again. I decided to give it another shot.
Earlier today was Black Friday, which is related to the topic of today’s post: it is a day that was anticipated in the US in the last few weeks, but turns out to be just as popular here now that I am back in Istanbul. On my personal social media feed, there is just as much talk about the nature of consumerism & capitalism on Black Friday, sometimes referred to as Just Friday or Green Friday to encourage less wastefulness and mindless shopping. I am definitely in favor of not being an unconscious consumerist but I am not going to lie: I have bought two things today, one definitely on offer due to the big sale, and a second item that I tried to purchase through one of the main websites offering sales, then somehow ended up on a website that was not offering a sale but happened to have just that item on sale. The first one is something I have used and liked before — an eyeliner, from a brand that doesn’t test on animals and is mostly plant-based so there’s a win there at least — and I am happier paying less for it, and the second item is a cast-iron stove top toaster. Our toaster has been broken for months and I was happy to find this healthier & more reasonable alternative to the non-stick PTFE coated electronic one we had.
Before I get more into the matter, which is going to be more of a reflection and self-assessment than solid advice to anyone, I want to mention a quick story. Over a month ago, while in Michigan following my mother-in-law’s passing, we had several close relatives visit us and after they left, there was an abundance of food, most of it takeaway, that I was not going to be able to finish. So instead of waiting for them to spoil, or throwing them in the trash as is, once again reminded of the amount of waste that occurs in a city, I decided that I was going to leave it out for the squirrels. They had come and eaten the leftover kalamari I had left out the other day without anyone noticing, so surely they’d do the same this time. Except when I came home later in the evening the food was still there, and at 1 a.m. in the morning, I started to smell skunk and hear funky noises. I was petrified of looking outside the terrace door. When I took a quick peek, I definitely saw a skunk around the food but I was confused as to why it didn’t sound happy. When I gathered up the courage to take a second look, there was a possum circling the skunk and it was like watching a horror movie. Now you might be wondering why I was so scared of wild animals fighting right outside our terrace. Actually, I was panicking more at the footsteps I could hear from our upstairs neighbor who kept opening and closing her terrace door, clearly aware of what was occurring. I was so embarrassed, I kept praying that God would ‘inspire’ the animals to go away immediately! Of course that didn’t happen until the food was finished, and according to my husband who stayed up after me, that lasted at least another hour of battling (he said two hours but I am assuming he was exaggerating). The first thing I did in the early morning was to get rid of any remaining evidence and vow that I would never leave out food again. Oh, and just a note on the kalamari from the first time — it might not have been an innocent squirrel after all because there was a souvenir of poop right next to the finished food tray, and do squirrels even eat kalamari? I guess not. Hey, I am from Cyprus after all and we don’t have squirrels over there.
Anyway, back to the topic of wastefulness. I guess I’ve been aware of the concept of wastefulness from my upbringing. My parents’ Shaykh was very big on finishing what is in our plate, which might seem contradictory to the discouragement of over-eating but may teach the person to take only as much as they’ll be able to finish in the first place. Composting is not an issue in our large garden back in my family’s home; something I struggle with in the city and have yet to find a solution for. My family have had cats forever and they help with leftover food, and the chicken help with the food scraps from the compost. Most of the contents of my trash bin are food scraps i.e. vegetable peels, inedible leaves etc., mostly from pesticide-free sources and it makes me sad to waste them when they could turn into such beautiful soil. There is actually a plot of empty land near my house, but I am hesitant to compost anything there even if in a discreet corner in case I am accused of emptying trash which has happened before when I tried to tell my neighbor who has chicken that her animals might make use of them; they like bulgur better apparently. (Yes, we have chicken roaming our in-the-middle-of-the-city neighborhood but I still can’t compost or garden here because I don’t have the guts and the courage/time to put up with defending my cause especially somewhere that isn’t my personal property).
Wastefulness is strongly discouraged in the Islamic Tradition and from many examples set by the Final Prophet ﷺ. We are encouraged to not waste water during ablution, just like when we are brushing our teeth and we are told not to leave the water running, even if we were to be by a running stream of water.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this excess?” Sa’d said, “Is there excess with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.”
— Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 425
This teaching doesn’t stem from fear of exhausting resources, but rather it is based on respecting resources, the blessings that have been favored upon us as partakers on Earth with many other creatures, and not as the owners whose greed, disrespect and wastefulness has lead to the depletion of resources as well as our own oppression.
I like to think throughout my day, what the impact of my actions will be, and that includes what I am about to throw in the trash. At times it teaches me that I didn’t make good use of something that I could have dedicated more time and appreciation to before they spoiled, (maybe some excess veggies that I could have fermented or greens that I could have bothered to include in the salad) and that maybe next time I need to order less produce, or I need to waste less time procrastinating. At most other times, I am hopeless and just hope that they end up somewhere good. Whatever that means. Hopefully just in the landfill in the country I live in, or do they burn them and how much does that impact air pollution? — and I realize that that is not ideal, but maybe better than ending up in another country, or in the sea. I do separate my recyclables, and even though I see the local ‘çekçekçi’ picking them up, I still wonder what happens to everything. I’ve asked one of them if my separating them from the rest of the trash is helpful to their job at all, and he said it was.
Earlier today, I sorted through my kids’ clothes and I put together a couple of boxes; one for clothes that are now too small on my oldest as well as middle, and that my youngest will eventually be able to wear, and another set of clothes that are too small on my youngest and that I could make use of for our next baby (not expecting at the moment) or can pass onto a friend with a new baby. I would like to think this was one way of pushing back against wastefulness.
Another important consideration is where that blessing (food, clothing, toy, water, air) came from in the first place; first and foremost from the Most Generous, the Sustainer, the Provider, and then from a seed, from hardworking farmers, sewers, maybe not so fortunate factory workers… This type of consideration ought to make you think twice before you decide to waste something. It also leads to feelings of gratitude.
I am not satisfied with this level of wastefulness though, and even referring back to the quote from Vandana Shiva, whom I admire and who made me think of wastefulness even more, I get a lot of my food in Istanbul via delivery because that’s the only way I can access organic, wholesome and real produce in the middle of Istanbul. (No, I can’t just grow tomatoes on my windowsill. I have tried.) If I had to be kinder to myself, I could argue that it comes from one farm. I know the source, I know the workers are treated ethically, and I am not supporting large scale agriculture. I guess I am trying to find a balance in an imbalanced world. Ideally I would be growing my own food and having my own animals, both for agriculture as well as a food source, and I would have a clean water source near by, and I would use my own physical strength to obtain it all, or at least team up with a few others. If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I can’t live in a city for much longer. I might not be able to pursue a full-on off-grid lifestyle, but we need to live a more sustainable lifestyle, which is not only more safe and secure, but also less wasteful and better for our physical and spiritual health. I would say that as a family we are heading in that direction, at least in intention which is the first and most important step in any given task, but for now I will have to do with conscious decisions from a set of limited options in a metropolis.
In the Qur’an, in Surah Luqman verse 14, we are enjoined to give thanks to God, and to give thanks to our parents immediately thereafter. It is as though they go hand in hand.
Some of us are blessed with supportive, truly loving parents who tried, to the best of their ability and knowledge at the time, to raise us as balanced, righteous individuals. We felt their genuine love & protection and no amount of due thanks is sufficient. On the other hand, some others may not have felt the same amount of love and support, while others are neglected, guilt tripped, black mailed, manipulated, and even abused, emotionally or physically, by the very people who were responsible for their protection & nurturing. I can’t speak for those individuals as I can’t understand their pain, nor am I a counsellor. All I can say is that one thing is clear; they were not in any way responsible for their mistreatment.
Even with parents, we have to set boundaries if there is harm involved. In Islam, respect to parents and their good pleasure is invaluable but this does not include obedience in things that are forbidden in the religion and therefore displeasing to God, and it does not include unhealthy relationship dynamics that hurt you in any shape or form. It has to be solved, either through honest dialogue or through distancing and protecting yourself if there is no other alternative. For people who have had severely hurtful experiences, I pray to God that He nurtures your heart with His love and care and fills it with serenity. Some things you may consider doing is reading His 99 Names and reflecting on their meanings. He is our true Guardian, Giver of Peace, Bestower of Favours, the Most Appreciative, the Most Loving and Gentle, our Guide. Send abundant salawat (prayers) on the Prophet Muhammad, who cared about us before he could meet us more than anyone you can imagine, and reflect on how with every salawat we draw nearer to him & we receive tons of blessings. Reflect on what those blessings could be.. protection, healing, peace. Our Prophet cares deeply for each and every one of us. He prayed for us at each prayer. Your salawat on him is a means of prayer for him and just like praying for anyone else brings you closer to that person, praying on the Prophet brings you closer to him.
Going back to most relationships with parents, even with healthier dynamics, we’ll have clashes from time to time. We are unique individuals from different generations. There may be generational trauma that your parents carried with them and things they may have gone through that will inevitably reflect on you. In the Book of Assistance, Imam al-Haddad cautions parents to be easy on their children. If we are parents ourselves, we need to reflect on how we can form a healthier, safer bond with our children without driving them away and without abusing our rights over them. Reflect on your upbringing and use it as a tool to do better yourself, to improve yourself, and to break the cycle instead of putting all your energy towards blaming your parents for their shortcomings and the impacts of those shortcomings on you. This will come in handy even if you are not a parent and don’t plan to be because –v whether we like it or not – we are impactful individuals, and even if our time here is temporary, our impact will carry on for longer after we have passed on. We have relationships outside of our families with other people, and most importantly we have our inner personal relationship that dictates our own happiness & felicity.
When we shift focus to our parents’ sacrifices, praiseworthy aspects and give thanks as the Qur’an orders the believers to do, we’ll experience a lot more tranquility. Remaining patient in the face of some disagreements or disagreeing respectfully, trying to maintain close ties with them and even helping our parents (physically as well as spiritually) is not always easy but it’s not necessarily meant to be. If not physically, it can take a mental toll but remember Allah’s pleasure and that this is a means of drawing nearer to Him. Attaining their pleasure is attaining the pleasure of God, and even when we have tried really hard and they do not seem appreciative, remember ash-Shakur, the Most Appreciative.
This was supposed to be my second post of a 30-day writing challenge, inspired from an e-mail I got from Discover Praxis. After deciding to commit myself to the challenge, my second day proved to me that it wasn’t a realistic goal – my little Fatima experienced colic which is unusual for us, wouldn’t sleep at her usual time and wanted to be held for a few hour until we went to bed together. I decided I could still commit to writing more frequently than I do, but just not every single day for the next 30 days, hoping to still reap the benefits of writing frequently. At least I’m grateful for the encouraging e-mail, so thank you Praxis.
Back in high school, nearly 8 years ago, one of my three A level classes was in Biology and my teacher had suggested a book called ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. I went ahead and ordered the book. I started reading it, or at least I must have because I found a bookmark at page one-hundred-and-something but I never finished it. A week ago, I was looking for a book in my mom’s library and I found this uncompleted book of mine. I decided to give it a go and I am really enjoying it to say the least. There was a section on supernovae (plural of supernova; a powerful and luminious stellar explosion) and the author was comparing the size of the closest supernova candidate in our galaxy to the size of our Sun (it takes a massive star, much larger than our Sun, to produce a supernova). I took a moment to absorb that, to fathom the overwhelming magnitude of what surrounds us and I literally felt my body quiver. We tend to think of the Milky Way as so wide and complex, yet we’re only a tiny part of an entire galaxy of solar systems which is also a small part of many other galaxies, and who knows what else beyond those.
While reading the chapter on the Cosmos, theories on how it came to be, what keeps entire bodies of planets and stars ‘hanging’ and allows them to move in an orderly manner, I kept recalling the verse from the Qur’an:
Islam is a religion that regards reflection as highly esteemed and encourages mankind to reflect on the creation in order to come to know God, the Creator of the Cosmos and everything within it and beyond it.
What I find even more interesting is that despite how tiny we are amidst all this enormous creation, there is still so much detail in our small world: the many different satisfying tastes of herbs and fruits that we sense with our tongue, the beautiful colours and scents of flowers, the cellular structures, the strong impact of our complex emotions, to name a very few.