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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

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Destiny

The night of a thousand months

In the name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful
We sent it (the Quran) down on the Night of Destiny
And what will make you comprehend what the Night of Destiny is?
The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months
On that night, the angels and the Spirit come down by the permission of their Lord with His decrees for all matters
It is all peace till the break of dawn
(Quran, The Night of Destiny, Surah 97)

During Ramadan, my perceptions of time somehow become more magnified.

At the onset of the Islamic holy month, the 30 days of fasting that lie ahead look lengthy and daunting, especially now as they coincide with the Summer Solstice and many Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere refrain from food and drink for 18 hours or longer. Yet even as we endure some of longest days of fasting of our lifetimes, Ramadan has once again hurried by and I find myself embarking on the sprint through the final 10 days. As the finish line comes into view, I can’t help but wish that it was further afield to give me more time to extract spiritual benefits from the month.

laylat al qadr foto
Mosque by moonlight, (Photo courtesy of Vicky TH)

With little room to scale back my working hours, I rely on evenings and weekends to dedicate more energy to prayer and reflection, Quranic readings, Sufi remembrance and meditation, and the giving of zakat, a redistribution of 2.5 percent of my wealth to the less fortunate. Carving out the hours needed for these acts of worship means I spend less time resting my head on my pillow and more on my prayer mat. 

There is something pliable about the passage of time while fasting. Every second and minute tends to become more palpable when I’m craving a 10 a.m. caffeine fix to get me through then next wave of conference calls and news story pitches, only to look up at the clock and realize there’s another 11 hours and 24 minutes until Iftar, the meal to break the fast at sunset.
Continue reading “The night of a thousand months”

SubhanAllah moment

I love it when I have a SubhanAllah moment.

It’s one of those defining moments during which you witness a miracle of nature or are reacting to a turn of events that shows the inherent destiny of things. It reminds you of the perfection in all that God ordains, so much so that in the very instant it happens you say, SubhanAllah, meaning “Glorious is God”.

I had one of those moments today. I’ll try to recreate it but I’m certain I won’t really be able to capture its significance because, in the end, it was quite mundane occurrence.

My mom has this jeweller from whom she likes to buy ornaments – earrings, rings, bracelets – from time to time. A couple of years had passed when we last visited this jewellery shop in October. Nonetheless, when we walked in, the same young gentleman who had served us previously was there, and the shop was as it had been: warm and welcoming. Continue reading “SubhanAllah moment”

I’ll Remember, Insha’Allah

The other day I scheduled a long-overdue appointment for a dental cleaning. I had called a few days in advance and arranged for an early-morning slot so that I could arrive in the office before the workload got too heavy. Leaving my apartment about 35 minutes before the appointment, I imagined I left enough time to arrive on schedule.

That is, until I got into a small car accident less than 10 minutes later.

As I waited to turn right at an intersection not far from my apartment, the car behind me abruptly drove into the rear of my small hatchback, suddenly jolting me forward and setting back my initial plans.

I pulled over to the curb just beyond the intersection to assess the damage and the profusely apologetic young woman in the car behind me called the police so that we could file a traffic accident report. Once I knew officers were on the way, I called the dentist to reschedule the appointment for another day. My plans for the morning were swiftly unwritten and rather than visit the dentist, I took the police report to my insurance office to file a claim instead. Continue reading “I’ll Remember, Insha’Allah”

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.

When this bond with the Almighty is the guiding principle, we become more careful and mindful of our interactions. We learn to treat our family members, friends, colleagues, spouses and strangers in the best possible manner so as to embody the assets of a good Muslim human being and thus fulfil a divine commitment prescribed by God. From this vantage point, our desire to form relationships stems not from a need to fill a void because of a deficiency, but rather to further enrich our lives and contribute to our faith.

We learn in Islamic teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that marriage constitutes half of one’s faith. Forming a family is the cornerstone of society and marriage is a bond that can be exceptionally valuable in our development as individuals. It is certainly a bond that I would feel very blessed to be able to build upon and strengthen in the next stage of my life.

But no matter what social pressures are exerted upon us, marriage cannot be rushed, uncritically expected or forced. When God wills for us to find a partner, it will happen, whether we are 23, in our mid-30s, well above 40 or not at all.

I genuinely hope to find a virtuous partner and build a good, happy marriage that enhances my life. But I find that this reflective time alone has given me a clear sense of self and faith that is of incalculable worth. I wouldn’t trade a day of my singlehood in the past nine years because of the sense of personal fulfilment and peace I uncovered along the way. It is precisely by building this foundation of harmony with self that, I believe, will bring us independent single ladies greater contentment in marriage when it does come to pass.

Calling home

Our home, photo by Mandy Merzaban

This is our family home in Richmond, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, captured in a photo my younger sister shared with me yesterday upon arriving home with our mom. My sisters and I have not been home for almost two years, the 24-hour travel time and 12-hour time difference discouraging frequent visits. This was among the first images I saw of the fresh coat of paint, new front door and outdoor lamps my mother picked out last year. Celebrating the fact that we had paid off the mortgage for this house a year prior, she decided to renovate the exterior, which had become rundown after more than two decades with limited repair.

How we came to own this house was a something of a miracle, one of those events in life that enhances your faith in God-granted destiny.
It was, initially, the home of a close high school friend of my older sister. Her family had rented the house for years. I remember visiting it the day of my sister’s high school graduation party. Before heading downtown for the banquet, my sister, dressed in an elegant fuchsia-coloured party dress, and her girlfriends had assembled in the backyard of this friend’s home decked in their gowns to take some photographs on a sunny afternoon in June 1996, two years after we had moved to Richmond.
At the time, we were renting a small bungalow about a 15-minute drive away and I recall that day my mom admiring the two-storey house with its well-groomed backyard and rose bushes, quaint wooden kitchen, modest-yet-charming family room, and pleasing separate living and dining rooms. She wished to God she could own such a home someday.
Renting properties was a nuisance we had gotten all too used to. The houses were typically over-priced and poorly maintained. Leasing a house often places you at the whim of a landlord who could decide at any time he wanted to sell the unit for a profit, leaving a parent scrambling to find a new abode in the middle of the school year. Yet buying a property in the mid-1990s in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia was a bit like seeking a castle in Spain for the average middle-class family. Property prices were soaring and supply was sparse.
My mom, tenacious as she is, must have gone through five or six real estate agents trying to find the perfect home to buy: the right place for the right price was her motto. I recall once we made an offer on a recently renovated 30-year-old traditional house with a flat roof on “Mortfield Road” in Richmond. The home’s new decor was impressive and the price, while slightly above our range, was reasonable enough to warrant consideration. In the end, we backed out because of the roof – the rationale being that in a city that rains for what feels like two-thirds of the year, it is probably better to live in a house with a slanted roof so the water does not accumulate on top. I have no idea if any architectural justification supports that assumption. Personally, I was more uneasy about the French word for “death” (Mort) embedded in the name of the street. I did not want to live on ‘death field’.
The neighbourhood at a distance

We had several other near hits in the following years, but circumstances were consistently not in our favour, and transactions would not go through sometimes for the oddest reasons. One house we quite liked until we learned there was an easement on the property which gave the municipality the right of use over part of the land. That made us uneasy. Another time we found a lovely, almost-brand-new and spacious house in a new neighbourhood a ways out of the city centre. On the verge of sealing the deal, we decided against it after a property assessor examined it to find the home was erected at a slant, not horizontal as it should be. We couldn’t very well buy a crooked house now could we?

We even looked at several new town-homes and condominiums that were built in the early- to mid-1990s. My mom was never convinced: they were too pricey for the size and quality of finishing, she would say. Her hesitation proved to be a colossal blessing in the end. In the following years, as a result of poor design and shoddy building, many of these units came to suffer from what became known as “leaky condo syndrome”: a catastrophic failure of the building envelope that enables rainwater to penetrate the envelope and cause rot and mould. Many people lost their savings and their health as they endeavoured to repair the damage.
Welcome in, photo by Mandy Merzaban

So yes, amid all of these mishaps, when my mom saw this charming home of her daughter’s friend in 1996 she was enamoured. Across the street was a gigantic grass field with an elementary and high school just a few minutes walk apart. The neighbourhood was well-manicured, each house was unique yet complementary in its design, and area was quiet, albeit for the ringing of the school bells to indicate the start of the school day, recess, lunch and the end of the day. The street was called “Sapphire Place” in a neighbourhood full of culdesacs named after jewels. It was a 10-minute walk to the river. The home of my mom’s dreams so to speak, and the place that became her benchmark for what to look for in her house hunt.

In the following year, our own bungalow was starting to show signs of mould on and around the ceiling, leading us to start passively searching for something new to rent, having all but given up on the prospect of buying as property prices continued to mount.
Then it happened as these things often do, quite out of the blue. My sister learned that the family of her friend with the charming house on Sapphire Place was moving to another nearby suburb. Their landlord was about to start looking for a new tenant. Needless to say, my mom jumped at the chance to move into the place she had fallen in love with about two years prior. The landlord did not even raise the rent.
It was, however, still a rental – and leasing was far from owning. The carpets were in dire need of changing, as were the bathrooms, tiles, roof, etc. But we were pleased. It became the place that drew us closer together. My younger sister went to the schools across the street, my father worked nearby, and myself and my elder sister went to and fro to university each day.
Migratory rest spot, photo by Mandy Merzaban, Nov. 2007
A couple of years later we came to the moment that every tenant dreads. Our landlord was liquidating some of his real estate holdings in the Vancouver area and decided to sell the house on Sapphire Place. His asking price was $50,000 more than the top price we could afford. Money was a bit tight at the time as my father was between jobs. So, yet again, we found ourselves in a quandary. We were finally in the perfect home for us, yet unable to stay.
Or so we thought.
Photo by Mandy Merzaban

Several potential buyers came and went in early 2001, not too impressed with the lack of renovations on the 22-year-old home. As the months went by, property prices declined, fast approaching their lowest level in years. The landlord kept reducing the asking price, first by $10,000, then $20,000. Meanwhile, the municipality’s valuation of the home was spot on with what we were able to pay — $50,000 below the landlord’s initial asking price.

In the end, he caved and sold it to us for exactly that. When I look back, all I can say is subhan’Allah (glorious is God). Property prices in the Vancouver area have risen by leaps and bounds since that trough of 2001. Shortly after, we changed the carpets and tiles, painted the walls, replaced the roof, renovated the bathrooms and it became exactly as my mom had pictured it several years before.
When something is destined for you, you may attempt to go down other routes and alternate pathways – but you will find yourself circling right back to that road, standing before a home you had only dreamt of a few years before. And this time around the “sold” sign positioned on the front lawn is for you and not someone else.
Photo by Mandy Merzaban

We still had a substantial mortgage to worry about. But that’s the thing with destiny, God facilitates a way to make it work out. With God’s blessings and a good deal of hard work, we were able to pool together enough money in the following eight years to pay off the mortgage two summers ago, a year before my father passed away (God bless his soul). He treasured our home immensely. I know when I next visit, God willing this summer, I will feel remnants of his presence in every room, despite the redecorations.

We laboured, searched and waited patiently for our house, but now all of us work literally on the other side of the world, packaging a bit of home with us everywhere we go. Very little ties us to Canada’s West Coast except for this property. We have on occasion entertained thoughts of selling our house. But something always stops us. I guess it’s that feeling of security, that feeling that this house was a gift placed in our possession so that in the years to come we always have a base where we truly feel, well, at home.

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Look forward to your comments!

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