Friday, 28 October 2011

God’s answer key for sound decision-making

(A version of this article was carried by the Huffington Post)

The other day I was talking to my sister about an important decision I am on the verge of making. I have had to overcome a good deal of hesitation in trying to reach my final decision, although events have unfolded in a manner that is pushing me more and more in the direction of taking this next step.

Sensing my indecision, my sister replied with only one simple line: “Sometimes, we just have to follow the path God paves for us”. 

At that, the sequence of thoughts in my head paused for a moment and I found myself at ease. While my mind may wander at times in worry and uncertainty, it always comes back to this very simple lesson: God’s will will prevail. Whether we spend time fretting and worrying or not, we will find ourselves both drawn and pushed in directions we perhaps had not expected, and events will unfold exactly as they should.

It is easy to lose sight of this when we are standing at a crossroads, compelled to make important choices that will fundamentally change our lives. They could be decisions on whether to accept a job offer, move ahead with a marriage proposal, relocate, pursue a new business venture, make an investment or buy a home. Very often, these choices are not clear-cut and are weaved in personal sacrifice, loss and gain. Choosing a certain path may seem less desirable than we had expected good decisions would feel, sometimes precarious and fraught with uncertainty.

While weighing the pros and cons of these decisions, we will often do some soul searching and seek advice from family members, friends and colleagues. Yet I have found that as a Muslim, someone who is striving to live in submission to God, it is important not to underestimate the power of turning to the Almighty for guidance in decision-making, big and small.

While using reason and logic in determining what outcome is better for us, we must also involve God in all decisions through careful prayer and supplications. Muslims will often perform a special prayer for guidance, Salat al-Istikhara, to help us reach important decisions. When offering this prayer, we ask God to guide us to the right choice concerning any affair in life.

The prayer requires that I ask God with sincerity if the action I intend to do “is better for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then make it destined for me and make it easy for me and then add blessings in it, for me.”

And alternatively, “if this action is bad for me, bad for my religion and faith, for my life and end, for here (in this world) and the hereafter then turn it away from me and turn me away from it and whatever is better for me, ordain that for me and then make me satisfied with it."

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Being single in good spirits

Sometimes I think about how different my life would be if I had gotten married at 23 years old.

At the time, nine years ago, I was engaged to my first love, and so love-struck that I failed to see in him any flaw and naively dismissed many warning signs of serious potential pitfalls facing our relationship.

While he was perhaps “suitable” within cultural standards, when I look back now he was undoubtedly an improper fit for me for so many reasons, and I am thankful to God that circumstances, however messy and piercingly painful they were, unfolded as they did and our relationship unravelled at the seams. Severing ties completely was a hard blow but a precisely necessary one.

I sincerely believe that if this marriage had proceeded, it would have distracted me from realising my full potential in numerous avenues in my life. With him I was never completely myself. I was constantly adapting to his needs, desires and objectives, playing a role as though it was truly my own. Rather than seeking a comfortable complementary bond with a partner who would support my personal and professional ambitions, I was almost exclusively positioning my life to furnish his own.

Suffering from a glaring wake up call, I faced the broken heart of my life after that relationship ended. Innumerable minutes in months were spent repetitively wondering what had gone wrong and what I could have done differently to have salvaged our relationship from oblivion. Regardless of how inexplicable the moment of departure was, and how many times I tried to rework this failed equation in my mind, it happened as it should have. It was only years later that I realised a good deal of these negative emotions that had arrested me stemmed from a lack of self confidence and deficiencies in my faith.

At that juncture I very quickly moved from the cusp of matrimony to being plunged into singlehood for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t that I was closed off to the idea of marriage, but I did not cross paths with a complementary companion.

So, rather than learning how to live well with another person, I was compelled to learn how to be happy on my own. This has turned out to be one of the most-precious and valuable lessons of my life. Achieving a sense of contentment with being alone has been no easy feat. It is often difficult, for women especially, to feel at ease while being single simply because of the tremendous familial and social pressures that impede the process of finding comfort alone.

Arab societies, like numerous others, glorify marriage as the only means for women to achieve fulfilment and happiness. Women are programmed to focus their happiness on securing and maintaining another person’s affection, regardless of whether they have realised peace within themselves beforehand. No matter what they may have accomplished professionally and socially, Arab women are too often pitied and deemed incomplete without a husband and kids.

What I have found in the past nine years since that ill-fated romance in my early 20s, and especially in the past few years, is that cultivating a deep sense of self is in some ways better realised alone. Developing a quiet, nuanced awareness of who I am has actually been the best way to prepare myself for marriage, if God wills that I find myself in this bond someday.

Spending a lot of time on my own has forced me to really understand my heart, built my confidence, recognise my beauty and talent and, most importantly, fortify my bond with God. The peace of mind that comes with striving to live in Islam, Arabic for submission to God, has tremendously boosted my sense of self and purpose.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Rare friends

Whenever I have a stopover at an airport, I get a sense of just how big the world is. Each is an international intersection where a myriad of people walk to and fro through its overcrowded terminals, wait at countless gates eager to board flights to numerous destinations. The vast majority of these are people I will never cross paths with again.

Perhaps because I have normally travelled alone on business and leisure trips in the past 10 years, these encounters often left me feeling acutely aware of how lonely the world can be. Despite the enormous size of the world population, the number of people who will enter and leave an imprint on our lives is strikingly small.

Starting from this perspective, I often marvel at the miracle of friendship.

Of all the people we meet, interact and work with over the years, only with a rare, select number will we forge sincere, lasting bonds. Even among individuals we identify as friends, there are only a few, if we are lucky, that we will connect with on a deep enough level to feel we can be completely ourselves.

In addition to my two sisters whom I adore, I also have a couple such friends—rare companions who are truly precious gems on the journey of life.

With these true friends we are able to spend every free minute if we had the ability, or we can go months without seeing them at no consequence to the comfort of a bond that springs right back to normal, as though not a moment had passed apart.

These are the friends who will stand by us during those dreadful, lousy periods when we are dealing with difficult workplaces, harrowing heartbreaks, complex family troubles, or are grappling with the surprise death of a parent. 

Such friends will open their homes to us during times of anguish, and somehow intuitively know when we need a boost of inspiration to invigorate our downtrodden spirits. At times they join us in hearty laughter, generously share in wholesome meals and humorous stories, while at times they linger in silence with us following a meaningful conversation. They help us pray, pray for us, and warmly congratulate and share joy in the trivial and exceptional successes that change our lives, even when it means our paths will be divided along the way.

I feel God’s immense blessing at the honour of having such remarkably rare friends in my life. The way we understand our connection is unspoken and subtle. Yet there is a clear mutual sense that although life will surely pull us in different directions, we will always actively seek ways to bridge the space between.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.
–Jalaluddin Rumi, “My Worst Habit”