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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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Everyday miracles

The Heart-Breaking Work of a Dervish

A section of the Wisconsin River winds through towering, 500 million-year-old rock formations composed layer upon layer of honey-coloured sandstone. Called the Upper Dells, the cliffs were cut by ancient glaciers. They’re remnants of a time when the continent was covered in desert.

Upper Dells, Wisconsin river. Photo by Dailah Merzaban
Upper Dells, Wisconsin River

During a boat tour meandering around the imposing cliffs and traversing dazzling river narrows, a few dear friends and I marvelled at the protruding rocks that cradle a several-mile stretch of the river. Our guide described how these Cambrian-period rocks are some of the oldest exposed bedrock on Earth, a testament to their strength and endurance. And yet the Dells are essentially created from sand, making them also among the softest rocks in existence. Being incredibly porous, they let water penetrate into them. This enables lush clusters of pine trees to grow supported by deeply embedded roots. The surface is also soft enough for swallows to burrow nests into the sides of the sandstone.

The incredible robustness of the Dells paradoxically relies on their delicacy and receptivity, a fitting analogy as I reflect on my journey as a dervish, or disciple, of Mevlevi sufism.

It’s been just over a year since I made a public commitment to the path that traces back to Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the greatest mystics and poets the world has ever known. This period has marked the most rigorous and transforming spiritual and psychological training I’ve ever undertaken. It’s complicated to describe the subtle realisations that unfold on a personal journey to attain nearness to God. What I can put into words is that, above all else, my heart has become more porous, receptive and tender.

The changes in me are both subtle and profound. Rather than simply dropping a pound in the cup of a homeless neighbour as I may have before, I’m more inclined to look them in the eye and ask how they are and what they need. Instead of finding fault in another I deem has wronged me, I pause before reacting to understand their vantage point, not judge them from mine. I’m more merciful with myself, tuning down that once roaring inner critic that constantly questioned my worthiness, intelligence and goodness.

Continue reading “The Heart-Breaking Work of a Dervish”

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Experiencing Al-Alim, The All Knowing

For something different this Ramadan, please watch my vlog reflecting on the Divine Name Al-Alim, the All Knowing, for Chickpea Press‘s Ramadan series exploring the 99 Names of God.

The series was inspired by Daniel Thomas Dyer’s new children’s book that beautifully explores the Divine Names in a way that’s accessible for readers, young and old alike.

Opening the door to surrender

Each time I open the door to leave my apartment, I recite three poignant yet simple Islamic phrases in a subtle whisper that’s only audible to me.

“Bismillah,” Arabic for “In the name of God,” I say in a quick breath as I rotate the lock to the right and grasp the door knob. I continue with “Tawakkul ‘ala Allah, “I place my complete trust and reliance in God,” as I step into the hallway and gently close the door. And “Laa Hawla Wa Laa Quwwata Il-la Bil-laah,” or “There is neither might nor power except with Allah,” glides along my tongue as I turn the key fasten the lock until, by God’s will, I return.

It takes about seven seconds to recite these lines before dashing to the elevator to rush to work, run an errand, attend a social gathering or take a trip to a grocery store. The words are modest for the richness and tremendous power they encompass when reflected upon. They embody the essence of surrendering to God, which is what Islam is principally about.

Open door, photo by Brad Montgomery

In the basic definition, a Muslim is one who consciously lives in a state of presence with the Divine. When the prefix `mu’ is attached to a verb of four or more letters in Arabic grammar, it changes the meaning from the action to the doer of that action. For example, the Arabic word “to teach” is “darris,” and a teacher, the one performing the act of instruction, is the “mudarris.”

A Muslim, then, is one who performs “slim,” or “surrender.” When I discovered this simple grammatical rule six years ago while studying my mother tongue for the first time in an academic setting, it provoked an understanding inside of me. I realized that to truly be Muslim rather than simply label myself such, I needed to really experiencesurrender to the Divine, and that meant God should be the focal point of my consciousness.

Continue reading “Opening the door to surrender”

Everything is a blessing

For the past four years, every time I open the door to leave my apartment, I’ve almost consistently recited three poignant yet simple Islamic phrases in a subtle whisper that’s only audible to me.

“Bismillah” (In the name of God), I say in a quick breath as I rotate the lock to the right and grasp the door nob. I continue with “Tawakkul ‘ala Allah” (I place my complete trust and reliance in God), as I step into the hallway and gently close the door. And “Laa Hawla Wa Laa Quwwata Il-la Bil-laah” (There is neither might nor power except with Allah) glides along my tongue as I turn the key fasten the lock until, by God’s will, I return.

It takes the whole of about seven seconds to recite these lines before dashing to the elevator to rush to work, run an errand, attend a social gathering or take a trip to a grocery store. The words are so simple for the richness and tremendous power they encompass when reflected upon.

They embody the essence of surrendering to God, which is what Islam is all about. When we say them, we are acknowledging that from the moment of utterance, we’re leaving it to the Gracious One to guide, protect and guard us. And by doing so, whatever happens during the course of the day becomes a reflection of that state of surrender, whether it is good or bad, easy or challenging, unpleasant or comforting, agonizing or healing.
Continue reading “Everything is a blessing”

My favourite things in the UAE: a bittersweet blog

About four months ago I started photographing some of my favourite things in the Dubai, and neighbouring areas, where I’ve lived for the past eight years. I took snapshots of locally available food items, unique restaurants and cultural and social spaces that have become dear to me over the years and, in the end, have made this place feel like home. I planned to compile the photos into a blog, along with a short description of each of my choices, to give others a glimpse into some of the valuable little discoveries that have enlivened my daily experience living in the UAE.

I didn’t realise when I started the creative process that by the time I actually got around to putting this blog together, I would be less than 10 days away from leaving Dubai indefinitely. This project ended up being more for me than anyone else – a way of capturing some of the fleeting colours and flavours of my daily life that are easy to take for granted, but that I will miss dearly when I move away early next month.

Continue reading “My favourite things in the UAE: a bittersweet blog”

Advice from a tree

I had one of those weeks where I felt like I was grappling for a moment of peace and there wasn’t one free for the taking. Under the weather and yet working until 8 p.m. each night dealing with a flood of news – including the sombre and irritating headlines coming out of Egypt with the second anniversary of the Jan. 25 popular revolt – it was tough to find a tranquil moment to pause.

Perhaps that’s why I’m having a tough time falling asleep tonight as I attempt to unwind for what I hope will be a rejuvenating weekend. Yet as I sit here sleepless, the labours and stress of the past five days have already faded, and what is sticking in my mind is the moment of calm that I did, indeed, find in the chaos.

During a 20-minute break the other day, I took a rare afternoon stroll around the complex of buildings near my office, passing by cafes and restaurants which were, as usual, teeming with professionals having lunch breaks or business meetings. With no appetite to mingle, I settled on a bench in the grassy field situated below the bustling bistros, a pretty palm tree by my side, to enjoy some pleasant afternoon sunshine. Continue reading “Advice from a tree”

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”

Putting patience into practice

Egyptians queue to vote in parliamentary elections, Photo courtesy of Gloria Center

Watching footage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections last week gave me a well-timed lesson on patience and good manners. It was humbling to observe and read numerous reports showing people lined up by the thousands outside of voting stations to cast their ballots in Egypt’s first elections since the Jan. 25 uprising.

A considerable 62% of eligible voters participated in the election, many standing in line for six to eight hours or longer to cast their ballots. While I am usually patient in traffic jams, ticket and grocery line ups, I cannot recall ever having to queue that long for anything. It would surely nibble at my nerves, and yet many of Egypt’s lower-income citizens often get caught in long queues to perform basic tasks like buying bread or overpriced propane tanks.

The footage made me realise how impatient I can be at times with futile things, and how this impatience puts me at risk of speaking or reacting in an inconsiderate manner as I act swiftly without first reflecting on my choice of words. Continue reading “Putting patience into practice”

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