Search

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.

Category

workplace spirituality

Praying before payrolls

On the first Friday of every month, U.S. non-farm payrolls data are released at 8:30 a.m. in New York or, for me in London, 1:30 p.m. This influential economic indicator outlines the health of the U.S. jobs market and, depending on whether the results are weak or strong, they can send asset prices across the world — from currencies to stocks, bonds, and commodities like gold — either rallying or sliding.

Since my job at a real-time news wire involves covering financial markets in EMEA emerging countries, the figures on U.S. job creation and unemployment inevitably unleash a period of frenzy in my office as we rush to report on the repercussions for riskier developing-nation assets from Russia to Turkey.

This past Friday, I panicked as I looked at the clock in the lower right-hand corner of the oversized monitor in front of me to find it was 1:14 p.m. Just 16 minutes to payrolls — 16 minutes — and I hadn’t yet prayed the noon prayer, known as duhr, because I’d gotten caught up writing and editing a series of stories virtually non-stop since arriving nearly six hours earlier. Continue reading “Praying before payrolls”

One life. Six words.

I’m very excited to be taking part in a dynamic and unique online exhibition featuring Muslim women around the world. The International Museum of Women launched the exhibit, called Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art and Voice, yesterday for International Women’s Day. I wrote a special piece for the exhibition which will be featured in the coming weeks that I’m eager to share here!

As part of the process of putting together the exhibition, myself and other young Muslim women wrote six-word memoirs, keeping in mind the question: What does it mean to you to be a Muslim woman today?

The idea was inspired by a legend that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. He responded with: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” SMITH magazine asked readers to submit their own six-word memoirs in 2006, and the trend has taken off since then.

The six words I chose were: “Adding, Subtracting, Finding Patience In Commotion”… Find out why by visiting my page on the Muslima website.

I would encourage you to browse through the site to learn more about the Muslima Ambassadors from Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and the United States, including myself, who got this project off the ground. You can see the Curatorial Statement from curator Samina Ali and view some amazing contributions from female artists, photographers, writers, musicians and poets. There will be new content rolled out over the coming weeks and months. Please also take time to join the “Speak up! Listen up!” campaign to speak out against negative stereotypes about Muslim women and encourage others to truly listen to our voices.

Much love for International Women’s Day!

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”

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)

Finding Islam with no time to spare

Sometimes my job makes me feel like a programmed machine. Working as an editor in a high-paced news wire environment means that when I say I work 10 hours or more each day, I mean that I dedicate 600+ minutes every day toward tasks that demand uninterrupted concentration and precision. It can be draining and quite frankly, mind numbing.

I often envision what I would rather be doing because, while I do gain fulfilment from my work and the success I’ve achieved over the years, it isn’t my passion. Writing on this blog is the closest I’ve come to discovering what my passion is. In the past 19 months, this page has given me a platform to express my discoveries of what it means to be Muslim in my very typical, often repetitive and banal daily routine. I strive to write in a simple, accessible manner, using the skills for expression that I gained as a journalist. I always wish I had greater time to dedicate to it. Continue reading “Finding Islam with no time to spare”

The limits of unlimited communication

(A version of the article was carried by The Huffington Post)

I’ve been studying Arabic for almost two years now and have in that time rediscovered my love for pencils. The Arabic alphabet comprises a series of elegantly curved letters that are most attractively transmitted onto a sheet of paper when I use a freshly sharpened pencil. I find excitement and enjoyment when I endeavour to express thoughts on paper in Arabic, whether I’m writing a short story for an assignment or a short note to a friend or family member.

Perhaps because I exert more effort to find and compose the right words within the language, I sense that any note I write is infused with more heart than the language I use unconsciously. I’m always eager not to make grammatical errors, and yet even though I inevitably do, I’m satisfied with the beautiful cursive sentences I’ve scrolled onto the sheet of paper before me.
arabic homework Continue reading “The limits of unlimited communication”

Becoming spiritually punctual

(A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post)

Before I genuinely began to cultivate and nurture my relationship with God, I regarded the five daily prayers that Islam enjoins on believers as laborious. It seemed impractical to expect that I would be able to stop what I was doing during my busy work schedule to take time out and pray.

Working as a news wire journalist, I was often spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the office or at conferences, interviews and meetings, barely able to make time for a lunch break. If I wasn’t working, my time was divided between house chores, errands, family and friends, and exercise. I was punctual with everything in my life, except that I was late five times a day.

 
Women praying at Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Mandy Merzaban photo

In my mind, it was not viable to expect that I could wake up before the crack of dawn to pray the early-morning prayer, fajr, otherwise I would be too tired to work effectively later that morning. It also seemed inefficient to interrupt my work meetings to pray duhr, the mid-day prayer, and asr, the afternoon prayer.

Making the sunset prayer maghrib was often a challenge because the window to pray is typically quite short and coincides with the time between finishing work, having dinner and returning home. So, in effect, the only prayer that was feasible for me to pray on time was isha, the evening prayer. For most of my life, thus, I would at best pray all five prayers in the evening, or skip prayers here and there to accommodate my immediate commitments.

Without realising it, my inconsistency and approach to praying trivialised the principle behind performing prayers throughout the day. I believed in God and loved Him, but on my own terms, not on the terms very clearly set out in the Quran and Prophetic teachings. Yet praying the five daily prayers, at their prescribed times, is the backbone of being a Muslim; we cannot stand upright in our faith without them. It is one of the essential practices that God has called on those who endeavour to live in Islam, a state of existence whereby a human strives to live in submission to God.

When I came to truly understand the importance of prayer, the realisation was both overwhelming and quick. It dawned on me that if I was not fulfilling this precondition, then I really could not claim to be Muslim. Even if I desired to have a solid connection with the Almighty I was not taking the necessary steps to do so. I promptly reoriented my life and it has now been a year and a half that I have not intentionally missed a prayer time, whether I am in the office, mall, grocery store, out with friends or travelling.

Looking back, I see how wrong I was about the impracticality of Islamic prayers, which are succinct and straightforward notwithstanding their resonance. When I moved from trying to fit prayers into my life to fitting my life around my prayer schedule, I instantly removed a great deal of clutter from my daily routine. Since regular prayer promotes emotional consistency and tranquillity, I began to eliminate excess negativity and cut down on unnecessary chitchat, helping me be more focused, productive and patient.

Over a short period of time, what amazed me was how easy and fluid the prayers became. Performing the early-morning prayer actually gave me a burst of energy during the day and, gradually, the prayers that I had initially perceived as cumbersome became an essential facet of my routine. With God’s help, I would find ways to make a prayer regardless of the hurdles. While in Canada for the summer, I would often catch duhr prayer in a department store fitting room, with the help of a handy Islamic prayer compass application on my Iphone.

“’Verily the soul becomes accustomed to what you accustom it to.’ That is to say: what you at first burden the soul with becomes nature to it in the end.”

This is a line drawn from a magnificent book I am in the process of reading by great Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali, entitled Invocations and Supplications: Book IX of the Revival of Religious Sciences. Al-Ghazali describes a series of formulas, drawn from the Quran and Hadith, which we can repeat to help us attain greater proximity to the divine and purify our hearts.

Women praying outside Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia, by Mandy Merzaban

At each turn in my quest to enrich my faith, I have found that what at first appears difficult becomes easy when performed with sincerity. Soon after I reoriented my life to revolve around prayer, the five prayers felt insufficient in expressing my devotion. I examined Hadith, or the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and discovered there were optional prayers I could add to my routine. Since then, I have not let a day pass without praying them.

To supplement my prayers, I have integrated various zikr, or remembrance and mentioning of God, into my days. Zikr, including repeating such phrases as “la illa ha il Allah” (There is no God but God), habitually draws our attention back to God.

Among the many rich invocations mentioned in Ghazali’s book is this one which I have started to incorporate. As we leave our houses each day, if we say “In the name of God” (Bismillah), God will guide us; when we add “I trust in God” (Tawakalt al Allah), God will protect us; and if we conclude with “There is no might or power save with God” (La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah), God will guard us.

I suppose to an outsider, these acts of devotion can appear a bit obsessive, and I have had a couple of people say this to me. Yet it is an obsession with the greatest possible consequences that can improve rather than disintegrate one’s disposition. The more time I devote to God, the greater the peace of mind I find filling my life and the more focused I become on what is important – such as treating my family and friends honourably, working hard in my job, giving charity with compassion and generosity, and maintaining integrity.

Remembering God throughout the day, through prayer and invocation, truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches; you erase obstructions that would impede faith in its purest form.

“Truly when a man loves a thing, he repeatedly mentions it, and when he repeatedly mentions a thing, even if that may be burdensome, he loves it,” writes Ghazali.

Keeping balance when emotional headwinds hit

The pressures of our personal and professional lives are constantly in conflict and competition with our struggle to find reasonable balance, oftentimes forcing even the strongest among us to lose footing. Despite our best efforts, feeling unhinged, helpless and alone can somehow find a way to flood back into our day-to-day lives. Earlier this week, I gave into such emotions. After driving my sister, brother-in-law and two darling nephews to the airport following a visit for Eid holiday came such a moment.

For the 10 days they were in town, my one-bedroom apartment was bustling, becoming a pleasant cacophony of laughter, childish jokes, playful songs, home-cooked meals, YouTube videos and cartoons. As we found creative ways to comfortably host five adults, a four-year-old and a toddler in his terrible twos, we managed to find balance and pleasure in an organised form of chaos.

Then, in a quick flash the vacation was over and they returned home, leaving an impression of vacancy in my apartment that became more palpable. The series of concerns I had tried to put aside during the hectic and eventful holiday abruptly flooded my mind again, and I was beset by an unsettling mix of emotions stemming from the fresh residue of a heart break and looming professional anxiety. As much as I may recognise that I shouldn’t allow negative thoughts get the upper hand, I couldn’t help but wallow in a bit of self pity.

Having deep faith in God, I knew in the back of my mind that everything is as it should be; that destiny unfolds as God wills and that He harbours our best interests however long we feel we are waiting to know what they are. Truly believing this means any struggle we face should be embraced wholeheartedly with patience and continual acceptance.

But moving this understanding from the back of my mind to the front can be a struggle at times. It is human nature to often give in to emotions of sadness, anger and angst, although to live in a state of unbridled submission to God, or Islam in Arabic, would all but eliminate such unconstructive emotions.

So there I was, more irritable and grouchy than I should be given the immense blessings in my life, moping around my apartment for much of the following day even though I knew I shouldn’t be. I asked God after my daily prayers to fill me with patience and tranquillity and pull me out of my gloom.

Seek and you will find. Something I have learned in the course of discovering my faith is that if you ask for a moment of clarity, God will surely help you locate it.

On this particular day, that moment came in the late afternoon as I looked out my bedroom window to the sky and found a most-exquisite sunset in progress. Following a rare rainfall the night prior, the day had been oddly dim and cloudy for the arid desert climate. I stared intently through the window as the sun descended through a dense pattern of broken clouds that scattered its rays in multiple directions. Watching this brilliant prism of shattered light beating through crevices of clouds, I repeated to myself ‘Subhan’Allah’, or Glorious is God.

As I stood there for about 10 minutes, rush of calm came over me. It was as though I was the only person in the world looking at the sunset; that somehow God had reserved a quiet moment like this for me so I could pause and realise that everything in my life that I was worrying about was as it should be, despite the uncertainty and sorrow I may be feeling. I seized the opportunity to move positive thoughts of my struggles to the forefront of my mind, and bury the negativity that had been weighing me down.  For the rest of the evening, I felt light and content.

“It is He who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers, to add faith to their faith,” reads the Holy Quran (48:4). “The forces of the heavens and the earth belong to Him. He is all-knowing and all-wise”.

Sometimes we need only a little push to make an effort to take the lessons embedded in the Quran and Hadith to heart, implement them in our lives and apply them to our struggles. My lesson that day was that even when my emotions get the better of me, I must trust God sincerely. Even in sadness, I must surrender to the idea that every step in our lives is a blessing, no matter how painful it may be.

Living in submission is not always easy; I constantly feel as though my faith is a work in progress and there are always multitudes of ways I could improve. Remembering that God is with us at all times—closer than the jugular vein in our necks as the Quran teaches us—is the best way to help us tackle our innermost fears and struggles.

When we remember Him, we are better positioned to recognise the blessings in everything that befalls us. Worry and sadness may be an inevitable part of life, but the burden they level can be lightened tremendously if we make small efforts to draw nearer to God and be receptive to the gifts He grants us each day rather than dwelling on the difficulties.

“Whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the strong hand-hold that will never break. God is all-hearing and all-knowing. God is the patron of the faithful. He leads them from darkness to light.” (Quran; 2:256-7)

Finding relief in grief

For the past year up until a few months ago, I was incredibly eager to quit my job. I came to a critical point where I couldn’t wait for a new opportunity to present itself that would relieve the various frustrations I perceived in my work environment.

The thought of quitting on a whim crossed my mind on several occasions, but I always came back to my senses with the help of family and friends, and knowing such a move would be utterly illogical, professionally and financially, given the state of the global economy.

During the course of daily prayers, I would ask God to ease the tensions and fill my heart with patience to be able to handle whatever annoyances arose until He deemed it the right time for me to leave. In my free time, I kept myself busy writing for my blog, studying Arabic and starting to passively search for a new job. I was able to find a balance in my life and appreciate the job security that maintained it. Yet, impatience continued to gnaw at me regularly; I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and annoyed.

Then the scenario that was furthest from my mind unfolded. For reasons that were beyond my control, and quite out of the blue, my position was cut in July as part of a restructuring that involved phasing out the research function of bank where I have worked for the past two years.

Just like that, all of the stresses that had at times consumed my mind faded into thin air, as though they never existed. They were replaced with a new focus: what I would do next.

 

Office cubicle photo courtesy, Flickr

So I thought: isn’t this how things always turn out? I recalled previous job stresses, difficult bosses, failed love stories, illnesses and familial pressures that had at one time or another provoked me to spend hours in anguish and annoyance. Then, when things had smoothed over, these issues barely crossed my mind again.

I remembered a story about a woman named Aisha Gouverneur described in the book “Women in Sufism: A Hidden Treasure”, by Camille Adams Helminski of the Threshold Society. This was the first book I read last year while attempting to understand and build a renewed bond with God. The writings and stories of female Sufi mystic poets, scholars and saints in this anthology affected me profoundly.

Aisha , a seventh-generation Kentuckian, reminded me a lot of myself: an ambitious, modern woman with “inexhaustible energy and activities” who sought to understand the spirit of her faith. At one point in her life, Aisha became paralysed and in a matter of weeks was “completely unable to move”. Over time, she came to accept and endure her condition, later found to be Guiallane-Barre syndrome, and says she was able to “bear it patiently and with equanimity”.

“But,” Aisha continues. “I did not love it; that was the key.”

I paused after reading that line because I did not understand why enduring a hardship patiently was not enough. After all, why would someone love to be ill or struggling? I certainly did not love the frustrations of my job, even if I was willing to bear with them as a test of my patience. Intrigued, I read on.

Months into being paralysed, Aisha was asked to give a talk, and she chose to discuss Islamic explanations for why illness afflicts people. The main lesson she found was that “illness is an opportunity, if not complained about, to purify one’s Being.” I have paraphrased what she said next to many friends and family members in the past year because it describes superbly the energy that enticed me to the Islamic state of mind. She said:

“I realised, as I was giving this lecture, why Muslims always say, ‘All praise is due to God’ whenever they are asked how they are and especially in adversity. I, too, realised that I was overwhelmingly blessed to be given ‘this,’ not a broken finger, but the full trial. And suddenly I loved my illness; I thought, ‘God thought I was up to this!’ And when I loved it, it was like flowing with the Divine Will — my fingers started to move, and then bit by bit, [the paralysis] came undone. So it showed me very clearly: love your trials, welcome them, really say Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), Hallelujah, for every trial you are offered, because in them is the greatest benefit.” (Women in Sufism, 258-9)

Hallelujah indeed. If Aisha could learn to love being paralysed, then I should surely be able to love challenges, some small, some big, that God offers me, rather than allowing them to torment me.

To internalise the idea that God places no burden on us greater than our ability to bear, as the Quran teaches, requires that we regard our struggles as opportunities to strengthen our souls. Patience on its own is not enough; it is appreciating the blessing of the trial itself that reinforces our faith.

The bigger the challenge, the stronger our souls have the potential to become. That should, in a situation of perfect faith, lead us be glad when we are tested rather than grumble about the difficultly of the test. I cannot say I apply this principle fully in my life, as my continual struggle to accept even small work annoyances illustrates, but that is my goal and I am trying my best to work toward it.

In the Quran, God informs us, “Surely, with every hardship there is ease”. (Quran, 94:5) He chooses here to say with rather than after, which would change the meaning entirely. At the same instant that something happens that could potentially entice stress or anguish, we can find relief. We can learn to love our grief when we see that trials and blessings are the same side of the same coin.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑