[thoughts] negative

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Salam,

A few days ago I found a new female islamic discussion in a mosque close to my place. I was really happy. Partly because I wanted to listen and learn Islamic knowledge, but mainly because I want to find a community, somewhere to belong.

I’ve been a Muslim for four years. During these four years, I’ve wandered a lot around communities. First, I started with the Turkish Muslim community because they read the Risale-i Nur, the collection that I enjoy reading and reflecting on. It was fun at first; people welcomed and showed me a lot about the Turkish culture. I still remember that when I was 18, I was really fascinated with anything Turkish: the tea, the mosque, the baklava.. For me, it was a whole new world that I, who barely knew anything about the Islamic world, was curious to explore. However, soon that fascination died out. I still admire the Turkish culture, but ultimately it’s not what draws me to the group: I joined because I wanted to be with Muslims, because I wanted to become a part of a community that learned, worshipped and loved God. Yet, no matter what I do, I never feel being accepted as a part of the community simply because I am not Turkish. Yes, when I came to the meeting, they smiled and greeted me; they added me on Facebook. But that was all about it. When they hung out, they never thought of me. When they had a gathering, I was not informed.

Then I decided to be more active and be involved in other Islamic community. I started with my university’s islamic society by volunteering to be their media officer. Again, I knew more Muslims: Malay, Sri-Lankan, Arabic, Pakistani, Afghanistani, Syrian, Palestinian, and so forth. I came to most of the committee meetings and did all the works I was required. Yet, when I left the committee this year due to busy schedules, I also lost contact with all of them. They simply ‘removed’ me from the committee page and I didn’t hear anything from them. Only when we saw each other accidentally at university did we have a short chat, or only when they had weddings did they contact me to ask me to be their photographer for a cheap price.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that they trusted my capacity to videograph/photograph their weddings, but it hurt me when I realised that I was never in the invitation list, that in their eyes, I was no more than a person who can take photos well.

I remember that one time when I complained about the ethnic division of the Muslim communities, a friend of mine argued that it was also a revert’s responsibility to be active in the community. I held her words deeply, and thus I decided to be more active: to actually get out there and be involved with Muslims. That’s why I joined my university’s Islamic society; that’s why I looked over the Internet to look for volunteering opportunities or group discussion around my areas. I didnt want to wait; I wanted to actively seek for my community.

Yet, despite the efforts, I am still here, crying and wondering who I should contact to talk and discuss. I have become used to doing things alone: reading alone, thinking alone, listening to podcasts alone.

Probably the problem is me: my cultural difference, my taste, my social awkwardness and my timidity in social settings. Probably I haven’t tried enough; probably I’ve not been friendly enough. But what can I do?

Whatever the reason was, my tears couldn’t help pouring out. I thought of Mum and Dad, but what came to mind was their long sighs and coldness because of my embrace of Islam. I thought of my two best friends in Vietnam, who became distant because each of us had our own life that no longer crossed. Then I thought of my few close friends in Australia, who have moved away either because of marriage and job. You know, it’s not healthy to be overwhelmed by these thoughts. You come to loath yourself so so much.

In the end, the remedy to all these negative thoughts is still God. It hurts to be lonely; it hurts to witness this transient world passing by like a wind. But there is a sense of solace when you know that God is there, and that everything perishes except Him. (What would I be like if I dont have faith?)

That’s why I continue my search for a community.  That’s why when I hear of a new Muslim project, a Muslim group discussion, or anything like that, my heart is filled with hope. When prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said we need communities, it demonstrates the importance of unity, brotherhood and sisterhood. Thus, I am willing to get involved again even if it means one day I might return to this state again – the lonely, confused, pessimistic state.

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[Thoughts] 22

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Photos: Maira Nguyen.

Salam,

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

Maira.

 

[Thoughts] A confused being

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Photo: Maira.

I just happened to bring my camera with me today. And when I saw this flower, I could not help relating to it. Yes, I am very confused now. I just keep asking myself why something like that happens, and if I am the wrong one. My ego claims no, but as usual, I don’t trust my ego much in this kind of matter, as ego usually colours your judgement (no matter how objective you want to be)

I guess that’s a part of growing up – to realise that there’s nothing black and white, and that not always you can find the answers. Well, that’s actually something I’ve learned through all these years of liberal arts education. But still, when it comes to my own life, I feel like I know nothing at all.

I kept asking why, and it got tiring. Now I just want to pray. Pray that everything will be fine for all of us, and that if I have made any mistake, may God forgive me.

Maira

[Photos] My friend’s wedding.

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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.

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[thoughts] Changes

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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.

#1

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.

#2

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).

#3

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).

[thoughts] prayers for the heart

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Photo: Taken at Uni of Melbourne in August 2015.

Salam,

Although I have faced separation several times in my life, it doesn’t mean I have become an expert in saying goodbye. Although I’m aware that this life is “nothing but a quick passing enjoyment” (Quran 40:39), it doesn’t mean my heart has fully accepted that fact. In contrast, it still cries bitterly when seeing the people it loves depart.

Many things have happened this year, and everyone around me seems to begin a new chapter of their life. Some get married; some go to another country; some welcome the birth of their new baby.

Suddenly when I go home, I realise that I am alone in the apartment. Suddenly I burst into tears when I don’t know who I should call and talk. Suddenly I realise that there’s only One Being who is listening to my cries, who is witnessing my tears, and who’s seeing through my ego and instinctual soul. That Being is nobody but Allah (God).

Oh Allah, please grant my heart peace and hope in this changing time of my life. Oh Allah, please make it understand the inevitability of separation and the transcience of life. Oh Allah, please make my ego accept that the world doesn’t revolve around me, and that nothing is owned by me.

Please enable me to say sincerely like Imam ash-Shafii: “My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me”

“There’s something amazing about this life. The very same worldly attribute that causes us pain is also what gives us relief: Nothing here lasts. What does that mean? It means that the breathtakingly beautiful rose in my vase will wither tomorrow. It means that my youth will neglect me. But it also means that the sadness I feel today will change tomorrow. My pain will die. My laughter won’t last forever but neither will my tears. We say this life isn’t perfect. And it isn’t. It isn’t perfectly good. But, it also isn’t perfectly bad, either.”
Yasmin Mogahed

M.

[Thoughts] O my niece who has not yet been named

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(Photo: M.)

Dear my niece,

At this moment, my sister, or your mother, is struggling to give birth to you in the hospital. Your father is there, too, supporting her with his prayers and words.

I am here in my bedroom, unable to do anything except offering my supplication to God that both you and your mother will be safe and sound. I intended to go to the hospital, but was advised not to. I also think I don’t need to be there: I won’t be of much help. Thus, I stayed at home, did the taraweeh prayer, and had an Islamic discussion with my housemates. We ended our halaqa with a prayer, and I believe everyone was asking God that you would come to this world safe and sound.

O my niece who has not yet been named! I look forward to meeting you. I look forward to watching you enjoying the warmth of the sunlight, the chilliness of the breezes, and the wetness of a water droplet. I look forward to showing you my favorite things in the world – sunflowers, the blue sky, ice-cream, hot chocolate, books and so on. I look forward to watching you exploring this beautiful world, getting to know many Names/Attributes of God.

O my niece who has not yet been named! I can’t wait to tell you that your parents really love you and are willing to do anything for you. One day I will share with you your mum’s messages, which are filled with worry and anxiety about your health. I will tell you how she prays for you every night, how she follows every kind of diet recommended by the doctors to ensure that you will be born healthy and strong, and how she keeps talking about you when she’s with me. I want you to know that you are a blessed child, that you are the hope of your parents, and that you always have a home to return to.

O my niece who has not yet been named! I can’t wait to tell you that life is not always easy. There will be obstacles, difficulties and hardships; some people will oppose and hurt you; and for certain you will have to experience some sort of losses. But don’t be discouraged! Remember that you are a visitor in this guest house, Whose true owner is none but God. Thus, rely on Him, seek help from Him, and say “He is the Lord of the World, and to Him everything returns”.  By doing so, inshaAllah you will stay strong, determined, sincere and patient to overcome all the challenges of your life.

O my niece who has not yet been named! Remember that when you face challenges, pray to God and trust Him. When you are happy, pray to God and thank Him. When you despair, pray to God and ask for His Clemency.

O my niece who has not yet been named! I know that your parents must have a lot of expectations for you. But I also believe what they want most is that you will grow up as a devoted servant of God – a grateful, compassionate and courageous human being. We cannot decide your fate and your journey of faith, but we will try to give you all the knowledge that we have.

But for now, my niece, please come to this world, safe and sound.

M.

[Thoughts] Kibir (ego) and Nafs (instinctual soul)

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IMG_3454 Photo: M.N

Salam,

Today my housemate and I read “The Four Significant Truths” from the Epitome of Light, The Risale-i Nur Collection, written by Said Nursi.

So far we have only covered the two first truths. Here are some of the things I learn from the reading and discussion.

1. The Ego can be a means to understand Allah.

When we talk about the human ego, we usually think of it as a hindrance to belief. The ego has been associated with heedlessness and arrogance, which can cause a person to deny the existence of God. In the first truth, Said Nursi also re-warns of this fatal nature of the ego, which, according to him, misleads people to suppose that they own themselves. To challenge that arrogant claim, Said Nursi powerfully proves that the ego and the bodies neither form themselves nor are the results of chances and randomness.

It is not adverse for me to grasp this point, as I have always been aware that I have little control over the formation and operation of my body. For example, I can’t regulate how my heart beats, how my blood flows, how the particles in my body move. In other words, all the so-called involuntary movements in my body demonstrate that I do not own my body, but it is entrusted to me by God, a gift that I need to look after and treasure.

However, I think what I find most interesting about the first truth is Nursi’s explanation of the function of the ego:

‘the Almighty has given [man] ego so that, taking as a measure or means of comparison, he might comprehend the attributes of Divinity’ (Nursi 1999, 99).

Here, Nursi suggests that the ego is also actually a ‘gift’ from God to human beings. It is one of the keys for us to understand our Creator; it is a ‘measure’ that through which we can have a glimpse of our Creator’s attributes.

The ego is all about ownership and independence. When we say things like “This is my house”; “I draw this painting”, “this is my body”, we are manifesting the essence of the ego. When two countries are fighting over the territory of a land, we are also manifesting the attribute of the ego. And when we are hurt by the fact that something we do or make is not acknowledge or recognised, we are also manifesting the nature of the ego. In short, the desire for ownership and independence is there because God gives us the ego.

But why?The answer lies in the word ‘a measure’ in the above quote. God gives us a sense of ownership and independence so that we can comprehend God’s Names as The Absolute Ruler, The Absolute Owner, The Absolute Independent Lord of the worlds.

How can we understand what it means to be the Absolute Ruler if we do not even know what it is like to own, control and govern something?

How can we understand kingship if we do not desire to be the kings? How can understand the Most Powerful, the Most Independent if we don’t even know what it is like to have power and to be independent?

Just as God creates the world to reflect His attributes such as Mercy and Wisdom, He gives human beings the faculty of ‘ego’ to taste the attribute of Lordship and understand the humiliation a King faces when His works are not acknowledged and appraised. Think about if somebody steals your painting and claims it’s hers/his, how would you feel? Angry and disappointed? Then you would have a sense of how disappointed the Lord of the Worlds must have felt when his glorious works were denied and treated without appreciation.

The ego therefore is not an obstacle. It is actually a great tool to comprehend the attributes of God. It only becomes dangerous when we, believing that we are powerful and independent, oppose God’s commandments and His decree.

2. To silence the nafs, remember the transience of life.

In the second truth, Said Nursi addresses the ‘evil commanding soul’ (the nafs). He emphasises the fact that ‘our world is unsound and subject to decay’ (p.101), whist our bodies are not ever-lasting, because they are composed of ‘transitory’ elements themselves. Thus, in a sense, our life can be seen as being ‘between two graves’ (p.101) – the graves of our ancestors, and the graves of our ‘future self’.

Reading that, I do feel that my nafs has been slapped. The desire for worldly recognition, and the worries about livelihood, permanent residency and marriage suddenly dissipate, and instead I see the reality: I have endless needs, but my doom’s day (death) is closer than ever. I don’t have time to be distracted and to wait for another day.

The nafs likes immediate pleasures and passion. It loathes patience, disciplines and submission to God. To distract us, the nafs often persuades us that we have a lot of time.

Thus, to silence the nafs, we must prove that this is not the case. And that’s when the unexpected and creeping nature of death is a great reminder. It reminds us that our hearts love eternal pleasures that this transient and decaying world cannot satisfy, so it’s better to invest in the eternal happiness of the Hereafter.

M.

[thoughts] Letters to Ramadan

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(credit: Mai Nguyen)
Salam,
A week ago, I launched a project called Letters to Ramadan. The purpose is to encourage people to reflect more on Ramadan and share their reflections with others through a collaborative online platform. Letters to Ramadan is inspired by Letters to July, a project of Emily Ruth, one of my favorite young filmmakers.
I posted the first letter last monday, a video called “Letters to Ramadan #1”. The video is a visualisation of my brother-in-law’s written reflection on the arrival of Ramadan. So far this video has attracted around 500 views on Youtube, whilst the Facebook page has got around 400 likes.
To be honest, during the past week, I have doubted whether or not I should continue the project. I am confused where the project is leading. Initially I just wanted it to be a personal project, with me posting my video letters like what Emily did in her youtube channel. However, after I shared the idea with my sister, we decided to make it a collaborative project where everyone could submit their letters.
And now the problem is that I haven’t received much submission. It’s probably because the project is not interesting enough; or probably because people are too busy and tired with their works, fasting and praying to write sometime. Or it’s probably because people are unclear about the project itself
Whatever it is, it makes me wonder if I should turn this into a personal project again. Should I just post my thoughts there instead?
Honestly, I don’t know. I am not even sure what kind of effects this project can have.
But I guess I will continue. I don’t want to think of the results too much, because it’s up to Allah. I will just continue to think and share my thoughts. If people can be benefited from them, that’s great. If no, at least I have tried to push myself to think more about Allah this Ramadan.
Be sincere.
Narrated Abdullah bin Masud:
The prophet (pbuh) said, “Do not wish to be like anyone except in 2 cases. The first is a person whom Allah has given wealth and spends it righteously. The second is the one whom Allah has given Al-Hikmah (wisdom) and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.
(Salih Al-Bukhari, p. 88).