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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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Quranic teachings

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.

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A smile’s worth

He smiled at me, revealing a row of impeccable pearly white teeth. I’m not normally moved by a grin to stop in my tracks, but on this occasion a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, God grant him peace and blessings, flashed in my mind on how smiling at a fellow human being is an act of charity.

Since stumbling on this Hadith several years ago, I’ve become more receptive to how I share and respond to the simple gestures of kindness I encounter. In that moment, the young man’s vibrant smile and welcoming demeanour felt like a gift that I should acknowledge.

So I stopped, and we briefly exchanged niceties about how wonderful it was to be outside on an especially sunny August afternoon in London. He was a street fundraiser and I had willingly entered his open-air office, the door quickly closing behind me.

Hands
Photo by Andreea-Elena Dragomir

I imagined this gentleman, whose name I soon learned was Dale, spent much of that afternoon on the busy intersection in London’s financial district, trying to attract the attention of the streams of well-paid professionals leaving their offices, in hopes a handful of us would agree to donate to a cause that would no doubt be a worthy one.

Continue reading “A smile’s worth”

Of Saints and Matchmakers

As I was growing up, Islam’s benevolent female saints existed in my imagination as otherworldly matchmakers.

Common features of my family’s infrequent summer holidays with relatives in Egypt were visits to mosques enclosing the shrines of Sayyida Zainab and Sayyida Nafisa, two descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who have come to be regarded as Cairo’s patron saints, may God grant them peace and blessings. My mother, often with her sisters who lived in smaller cities along the Suez Canal, would arrange mini pilgrimages to these grand Cairene mosques for a single purpose: to pray for suitable partners for their unmarried children.

SAYYIDAZAINABCAIRO
Female worshippers gather around Sayyida Zainab’s mausoleum in Cairo

Amidst weeps and whispers, they would gather around the mausoleums of these saints offering earnest prayers to rescue their single daughters and sons from the matrimonial side lines. From beyond the divide between this world and the next, these venerable women of faith would intimately identify with the anguish of being the mother of an unwed child and act as intermediaries with God in removing the obstacles blocking the perfect partner from springing forth – at least that was the hope of my female kin.

While my own memories of these visits are vague and likely layered by personal accounts relayed by my mother over the years, the urgency placed on marriage left me feeling perplexed. The more I found myself becoming the focal point of the prayers, the more frustrating and painful these pilgrimages became.

By my mid- and then late 20s, the cultural pressures to wed young and my inability to make it happen inadvertently alienated me from faith, and obscured my view of the spiritual significance and prowess of these female saints. My only encounters with them were a manifestation of socio-culture pressures that dictate a woman’s value lies solely in her success as a wife and mother, a line of thinking that left me jaded and confined rather than empowered by their presence. Continue reading “Of Saints and Matchmakers”

Seeking the Kaaba Within

I was fully aware that within seconds my body would be drawn into a mass of humanity unlike any other in the world. “Surrender to the experience,” I thought while stepping into the overflowing main courtyard surrounding the Kaaba. The barriers that divide us in our daily lives are lifted here at the seat of the holiest site of Islam.

No honorary titles or entitlements have worth or function, there’s no distinguishing based on whether you are a woman or man, whether your income bracket is high or low. Rather, the bracketing qualities that contain us outside–our nationality, ethnicity, age, or skin tone–are shed at the door. Wherever our outward journeys have started, we all walk barefoot inward into a single circle, devoid of these unnecessary parenthesis appended to our identities.

“The goal of all is the same” no matter what road we took to get here or what quarrels we fought on the way, Rumi writes in Fihi Ma Fihi, It is What It is.

kaaba-night

We are both universal and singular, each worshipper an equal soul before the Creator of all humankind and all being. Here we consciously move together in a unified mass, circling seven times around this stone cube as our prophets, peace and blessings be upon them, and our predecessors have for centuries. It’s become a timeless procession connecting us to the scattered cosmos. With the right kind of openness, the pilgrimage is a truly humbling, enchanting and purifying act of dedication to God, The Gracious One.

The ritual starts at the eastern corner, where the Black Stone is situated, a stone that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, said was blackened by the sins of humankind after descending from heaven as white as milk. I’ve certainly swerved from the path since I was last graced by the opportunity to visit the Holy City five years ago. My soul yearns now for nourishment as I circle the four corners of the central cube draped in black.

I yield my body to the crowd that surrounds me in every direction, letting it move my limbs. I’m here for my soul, after all, and as we give thanks and make prayers to the Infinitely Compassionate One, drawing our attention to the Kaaba as birds circle above us, I concede any claim to the personal space that I normally protect.

Sometimes I find my body being drawn inward with an uncontrollable force, and it is suddenly so close to the edge of the Kaaba I can almost touch it.
Continue reading “Seeking the Kaaba Within”

Between 33 Beads

My glossy burgundy subha had been dangling there for weeks, unused, upon the embroidered cushion resting casually against the Malaysian wood chair in my living room.

The prayer beads were almost camouflaged as they nestled into a tawny-coloured pillow cover I purchased during a trip to Istanbul six years ago, the image of a traditional Turkish tunic woven upon it in numerous shades of brown, gold, red and grey.

It was almost camouflaged. But mostly just overlooked.

I knew it was there, after all, for that is where I always placed the subha once I’d finished with it following an early-morning or late-night period of worship. Gliding each of the 33 beads slowly and methodically along the string with my index finger and thumb, I would repeat some poignant devotion between each click of a bead: one of the 99 Glorious Names of God, or a Quranic verse, or a phrase of sufi remembrance, all in an earnest effort to draw my attention to the Divine.
prayer beads two.jpgYet supplications, as important as they are in maintaining a consistent state of peace of mind and presence in Islam, are all too often left to fall by the wayside as I get swept up in my life.

I find excuses for being too busy to do more than my daily prayers, and too distracted to remember that dhikr, a form of devotion involving repeated acts of remembrance recited silently or aloud, is just as important to sustaining a well-rounded spiritual routine.

For as many times as I may neglect them, though, those beads always lure me back, usually when a circumstance of life reminds me of my fragility.
Continue reading “Between 33 Beads”

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 sharpened pencil

I’m taking part in an online exhibition called “Muslim Women’s Arts & Voices,” which is being organised by the San Francisco-based International Museum of Women and is set to launch in early 2013. Muslim women from around the world will be engaging in monthly workshops and discussions in different cities and contributing works of art/writing/poetry/photographs/video, etc, for the exhibition.

We had our first workshop in Sharjah, a city in the United Arab Emirates, earlier this week and I felt so enlivened and inspired by the richly diverse and talented women I met. We were asked to bring one object to represent our identity. I had jotted down some ideas on what I would like to say about myself — as well as the object I chose which was, simply, a sharpened pencil — prior to the workshop. Thought it would be relevant to share these here, too!

……………………………….

My name is Daliah Merzaban, I have Egyptian roots, I was born and raised in Canada and I’ve lived in the UAE for seven years working as a financial journalist, analyst and editor. In my current role, I’m an emerging markets editor at Bloomberg News covering finance in the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s my day job. But what I have become most passionate about in the past few years is uncovering the layers of my faith in God through Islamic spirituality, and I write about this journey on my blog, which I started almost two years ago, as well as for the Huffington Post.

For my object, I wasn’t very complex, I chose a pencil and the notepad that accompanies it. If I am to choose one thing that I have carried with me throughout my life it is this item: I’ve been a journalist since I was 17, and before that was always very interested in creative writing, poetry, short stories, from a very young age. So the written word is what I spend most of my very long hours in the office and my free time working with.

I also chose a pencil because before I truly embraced my Islam, I perceived faith as something I needed to enter into with my eyes closed, without rationale, analysis or intellect. To my surprise, as I have investigated Islamic teachings more thoroughly in the past three years, I realised that it was through the acquisition of knowledge and use of reason and logic that certainty of God’s existence becomes most palpable. For me, the pencil is a very simple representation of the acquisition of knowledge, which is a fundamental right for every human being.

In the Quran in Surah 96, God reveals to Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, a verse through the Angel Gabriel whereby he orders the Prophet to “Read!” Saying: “Your Lord is the Most-Bountiful One. Who taught by the pen. Taught man what he did not know.” I think these words underscore our responsibility as Muslims to acquiring knowledge to gain a more thorough understanding of our faith.

A pencil is not permanent, it needs to continue to be sharpened and it represents my understanding that I’m on a journey of discovery and I don’t have all the answers. I need to always keep an open mind, and a blank piece of paper in my notebook.

(Read about how studying Arabic reignited my love of pencils and the written word here)

The 40-day spiritual challenge

When I decided to get my spiritual routine on track more than two years ago, I did it in 40 days.

Drawing from the example of an acquaintance who was following a Sufi-inspired programme for attaining consistency in prayers, I decided that I wouldn’t miss any of the five daily prayers ordained by Islam for 40 days, or about six weeks. I wrote the start date on my BlackBerry’s digital calendar, and kept virtual track of my progress each day.

Under the challenge described to me by this individual, if you miss a prayer –because, for instance, you slept through the alarm and missed the pre-dawn prayer known as fajr, or the mid-afternoon asr prayer passed you by because of a long drawn-out business meeting – you have to start back at zero. Continue reading “The 40-day spiritual challenge”

Moment of clarity

When endeavouring to explain to someone how I uncovered my spirituality, I usually say it happened quite suddenly, in a moment of clarity.

Throughout my childhood and young adult years, God remained in the background of my consciousness. I believed in Him, and performed some rituals of worship to express this belief. Yet He rarely crossed my mind during day-to-day life, and I felt it was more important to focus my attention on intellectual advancement through academic and professional avenues.

I held myself to an elevated standard in work and study, always getting high grades on exams and maintaining a diligent work ethic that opened many opportunities for advancement. I sought happiness through ties of family and friendship, and on a couple of occasions, came close to forging a sincere commitment in marriage.

However, as it turned out, life was full of all kinds of mishaps and disappointments. My professional success was overshadowed by office politics or ill-intentioned colleagues who managed to drain my enthusiasm. Love relationships that seemed to be headed for marriage would unravel due to dishonesty and lack of integrity. And family ties would be put to the test by financial and health difficulties. The belief in God lurking in the background of my life wasn’t sufficient to help me deal with what was flooding in its foreground. Continue reading “Moment of clarity”

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