Photos: Maira Nguyen.
At 22, I said goodbye to my undergraduate years. Although I still study for my masters, it’s different. The biggest change is perhaps how I see myself. During my undergraduate years, I was confident. I didn’t care how others perceive me and only focused on performing my best with my assignments. However, the master of teaching crushed me as it lay bare my weak speaking skill, my awkwardness in social conversations, and my insensitivity to the workplace politics. After all, I’ve always been an introvert, who prefers keeping thoughts to herself, who struggles in an alien environment and who hardly cares what people think. Yet, suddenly I am placed in situations where I actually have to care about how I appear to other people, how I control my expression, how I act and behave. Suddenly I begin to ask myself: “Does this person like me?”; “Am I acting appropriately?”, “how can I fit in?”; “am i dumb?” The result is that I lost my confidence and began to hate myself, including my islamic identity. I became a slave of the world even without me realising it, and when I looked at my mirror asking myself who I am, I was at the state of loss. Therefore, at the age of 22, I understand why Bendiuzzaman Said Nurse said: “Know, O Friend, that we forget, and the worst kind of forgetting is forgetting one’s self.”
At 22, I said goodbye to some of my dear friends. Only when they departed did I comprehend why they were so important to me. To be honest, we are not so compatible in terms of our tastes and personalities. However, what connects us is our love for Islam. I miss those times when we read Quran, praised God, and learned Islam together. I miss those times when we shared our reflections on the universe, the Quran, and the prophets. These discussions helped us to remind ourselves in the midst of assignments, work schedules and relationships of why we embrace this beautiful religion and of why we have to be patient, sincere and compassionate. When they left, the discussion also stopped. I continued to read and study Islam myself, but still there was something missing, something that was irreplaceable. For the first time in my life, I felt thirsty of a community – or a group of Muslims learning Islam together. Thus, at the age of 22, I recognise Allah’s Mercy when He has given me so many sincere Muslim sisters to assist me throughout this journey. I also realise that nobody can be an island by him/herself, especially those follow Islam, because Islam is about collaboration and mutual assistance.
At 22, I learn to deal with solitude and free time. Being alone is not fun, and I have tried to distract myself with entertainment, social media and projects to make me avoid the ’time for myself’. However, yesterday I came to realise that i need to stop running around to avoid solitude. Most prophets at some point face solitude, and they use it effectively to reflect on God. That’s what I should do… I have always made excuses to NOT learn Arabic properly. Now it’s time to learn. I have always made excuses to NOT read the history, literature and Islamic books scattered on my bookshelves. Now it’s time to read them. It’s time to leave the world and focus on myself. It’s time to embrace solitude, struggle with the naifs and inshAllah employ it as a vehicle to reach closer to The Creator.
At 22, I know I have changed. I’m no longer the crazy, ambitious idealistic girl who were so fascinated with ideals and dreams. I have become more practical, more vulnerable and more skeptical. Things that I used to believe are no longer what I hold true. Things that I find obvious are no longer valid. I even wonder if my thoughts at the moment are ‘enlightenment’ or actually the whispers of my ego (naifs). I get used to saying “I don’t know” more often.
At 22, amid the changes, losses and several ups and downs of my faith, there is one thing I still believe firmly. That there is a God who is Omnipresent, Merciful and Compassionate. That He wants me to grow up, strengthen my Faith, do righteous deeds and remain hopeful and patient. Thus, when Islam still touches my heart, when difficulties are still present , I know that God is still giving me a chance. And for that, I want to say Alhamdulilah.
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth,
and of Patience and Constancy.
Sura Al-Asr. The Quran. Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
A few weeks ago my friend asked me if I could take photographs of her nikah (Islamic wedding). Of course I agreed and felt deeply honored that she would trust me, an amateur photographer, to capture the precious moments of her wedding.
It was an enjoyable experience, although I was quite stressed and exhausted because of following people around to get good shots. But I loved watching my friend, her husband and their families at the moment they exchanged vows. There was a mix of emotions – happiness, sadness and even awkwardness, which then melt into laughter, smiles and tears.
To be honest, watching them made me feel a bit jealous. I bet they didn’t realise how lucky they were to have their parents being Muslims and fully supporting the marriage. I really wonder if my wedding (if I ever marry) would be this cheerful and moving. I mean, I can totally imagine my dad refusing to attend if I wear the headscarf, or my parents feeling annoyed because the guy I (will) choose is not accepted to their standard. Yes, that’s what happens when you are a Muslim revert: sometimes family gathering and reunions bring more anger, annoyance and arguments than laughter.
But still, my parents are awesome people, who love me dearly and whom I respect and cherish wholeheartedly. InshaAllah, they will get used to my faith and understand for me. InshaAllah I can wear hijab in front of them one day.
Anyway, I go off track again. Here are the photos of my friend’s wedding.
Some flowers near my apartment… How beautifully they have been made!
A lot of things have happened since the last time I wrote here. A lot of changes have happened to my life. I guess I will summarise them here in this post.
My niece, Ayah, was born and is already 3 months old. I still remember that the day she came into this world was a chilly day of Ramadan. I still remember sitting my room, typing a letter to my unborn niece, and sincerely praying that she would come out safe and sound. I still remember bursting into tears when my niece was sent to a special unit due to some issues with her body, and I still remember how I fell in love with her right at first sight.
Now Ayah is already 3 months old – healthy and chubby. She has become the apple of my eyes, the source of my happiness, hope and love. When I see her smiling at me, my heart melts. When I watch her sleeping, my heart prays that I would be able to be with her when she grows up. I imagine myself teaching her about the world, playing with her and listening to her sweet and innocent voice. To be honest, I find these feelings strange because I never thought I loved babies, or was able to care for others. I considered myself self-centered, whose main worries revolved around myself. However, when I met Ayah, I discovered what it meant to place hope on someone else, to care about somebody’s future even more than my own one’s. Thus, with the birth of Ayah Nur and me becoming an aunty for the first time, I think I have understood a little more about the attributes of Compassion and Mercy, that is, the capacity to love and care for somebody else unconditionally. This further increases my gratitude to God, because by ‘experiencing’ the names of God, I also understand (more) how Merciful and Compassionate God is to all creatures, how everything He does to us indeed is to facilitate us to reach our potentials, and how He would continue to assist us no matter how we respond to His provision and Mercy.
For the last few months, I also had to say goodbye to two of my housemates, who were also my friends. They moved out to begin their new life with their partners, and I was left with many memories. The new tenant has come, and although she’s super nice, sweet and amicable, I cannot help comparing the present with the ‘idealised’ past, when the apartment is not only a shared house, but a place of learning, sharing and laughters. This again shows me that no matter how life has prepared me, I am still slow in adapting to changes. It always takes me a while to get used to the new pace of life, and I am often in nostalgic mode for months. But as my experience has shown, I would eventually get used to the the new life, and everything would be fine (inshAllah).
I am doing a secondary teaching course and have finished placements at 2 high schools.
I still love the idea of teaching, but the course has really pushed me to confront many of my weaknesses. One of them is my stuttering, which is worsened by my accent and my soft voice. Although I know the content well, I never felt confident to speak in front of the local kids. My students, however, had been supportive, and they generally told me that they understood me. However, my mentor was frank: “Your soft voice and then the accent … can make it difficult to hear”. I really don’t know what to do. I cried a lot in the first semester, and in the second, I told myself everyday that I would improve with time and thus I must be patient.
Can I really improve, though? Can I really become a good teacher who inspires students, or will I become somebody who just lectures and the students just sleep off? Will somebody even hire me as a humanities teacher?
I don’t know. As usual, my future is uncertain and scary, and all I can do is striving and relying on God. For now, ahamduilah that Allah gave me decent students who respected me despite my incompetence, that my mentors were supportive and kind, and that I had learned a lot of theories on education, some of which were beautiful and inspiring.
Although I tremble at the pace of changes and the arrival of new obstacles, I am also deeply grateful to God. I’m grateful because I know that all these changes are designed to help me learn, or to overcome my weakness and thereby grow up.
And thus, from the bottom of my heart, I want to say ‘alhamdulilah.’
“Your short and limited lifespan, which lasts only until the hour appointed for it, is neither antedated or postponed. So do not grieve for it, be anxious about it, or burden it with worldly ambitions that cannot be achieved while you are live” (Said Nursi, “The Sixth Treatise”, in Al-Mathnawi Al-Nursi: Seedbed of Light).
I first came to Melbourne when I was 13. I was here for a week to visit my sister, who was studying at uni here at that time. I didn’t have much impression of Melbourne, except that it was cold (in July) and had awesome hot chocolate (koko black).
I came to Melbourne again in 2010, this time, as an international student. For me, Melbourne was intimidating and scary – the environment, the people, the high school (VCE) curriculum. Several times I questioned myself if it was the right choice to come here. Many times I regreted and wanted to return to Hanoi.
Then, I started getting used to the life here. I got improved in my study, knew the ways around the city, met new people and made more friends. Before I realise, when I think of Melbourne, it has become a place filled with memories, emotions and stories.
Who knows what the future holds for me? Who knows how long I would stay in this city? Who knows if I would make Melbourne my home?
However, as uncertain as the future is, I guess it’s safe to say that Melbourne holds an important position in my heart. It’s my second home.
Several things happened this week that really put me down. But this morning has been peaceful. My housemates and I went to a nearby coffee shop called Ruby’s. The shop was small, but bright, fresh and cosy. There were not many people, which made me feel comfortable and serene.
Lately I have been very impatient lately. I worry so much about the future that I no longer can enjoy life, like a fool who grieves wastes her energy on something that has not yet existed.
But today, I feel really calm. I realise that there is no point in worrying about the unknown future. Whatever happens, I believe it is for good. I put my trust in God because He is the Lord, the Creator and the Best Disposer of Affairs. For now, I want to appreciate little moments like this – moments of the present, moments granted by God, the Merciful of the Merciful.
They say today is the start of winter in Australia. Although I should have focused on my assignments, I am driven to write this entry. I guess I have delayed this post for too long, and now, it’s time to write otherwise my thoughts will disappear quickly like the short autumn that has just passed by.
The reason I have been thinking about death lately is because of the autumn in Melbourne. Because the autumn here is so glamorous, I cannot help wondering: ‘how can the time of leaves falling onto the ground be beautiful? How can seeing something in the process of dying touch my heart and give me peace? How can a departure be so beautiful?’
Death should be scary. It should make me tremble and weep; it should leave me with a sense of nostalgia and regret; it should vex me when its name is heard.
Yet, it is not what I feel towards the death this time. Rather, I feel a sense of sweetness and pleasantness when thinking of death. Or more precisely, the angel of death – Arzail (Islam). I find him glamorous and beautiful – like this autumn that I have been blessed to experience.
Death is beautiful because I know when I meet death, it means that I have finished my exam and completed my duty in this world. I know that it’s time to take a break, to leave everything behind temporarily and get them back in a much better form in a much better place.
Death is beautiful because I know it is not annihilation or nothingness. Rather, it is the door that will lead me to the hereafter, where I will be judged, where I will see the truth of everything that I did, where justice will be manifested. It is freaky to imagine yourself being interrogated and judged for every action that you take, but at the same time, the Judgement day gives me a sense of sweetness when I feel certain that nothing will be left unjust and without consequences.
Death is beautiful also because it is the door that guides me to everlasting happiness (God’s willing). Only passing through the gate of death, can I meet my God, reunite with people I treasure and things I love, and stop the pain that is caused by separation and loss.
Death is beautiful because for a believer, in death, there is an indication of resurrection, future, hope, progress, happiness and peace. Death is not an escape, an ending, an evil that opposes life. Rather, it is a gate, a temporary platform, a transition period that will guide us to a better life.
Death is also beautiful because as Ustad Nursi beautifully states, it ‘is a veil …to the dignity of dominicality so that the dignity and holiness of divine power and comprehensiveness will be preserved‘ (The Staff of Moses, 80). That is because ‘not everyone can see the aspects of wisdom, mercy and beauty in death, but only see its apparent face and start to object and complain‘. Thus, the function of death is to act as a cause, a veil, and a target of objections, so that ‘in the superficial view divine power does not appear to be in contact with base, trivial or cruel things’ (The Staff of Moses, 80). In that sense, death is created to save human beings, who are fragile, emotional and short-sighted, from insulting their Lord in moments of desperation and sadness – instead, they will focus and attack death. This not only demonstrates God’s mercy and understanding of human nature but also makes me adore angel Azrail even more. He is like a misunderstood character who, in the name of God, receives unjust attacks, who patiently waits for the day when everything will be made clear, when he will be free of all the bad myths and social stigma.
Death is beautiful because life is beautiful. Those who live their life to the fullest, who never give up, who are resilient and patient, are those whose death is most noble and heroic. That’s why autumn is glamorous. Those leaves on the trees – before falling on the ground – have lived a life to the best of their capacities, have praised God with all their tongues. They may be unnoticed by us, but their acts are recorded, and echo through eternity.
Finally, death (Azrail) is beautiful because I have faith in God. If I don’t believe in Him, all of the above things make no sense, just as creation appears so meaningless. But because I believe and trust Him, I understand that everything will be preserved and recorded, that because God exists, everything exists
And so I say: ‘All praise be to God’ (Ahamdulilah).
Joy in Death (my favorite poem)
If tolling bell I ask the cause,
‘A soul has gone to God,’
I’m answered in a lonesome tone;
Is heaven then so sad?
That bell should joyful ring to tell
A soul had gone to heaven,
Would seems to me the proper way
A good news should be given
Written by Emily Dickson in “The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson”, pg 188.
All the photos in the picture are taken by me. For more photos, you can visit my Flickr