Loving someone I’ve never met…no I haven’t been ‘catfished’!

Love isn’t always easy, so many things can take their toll on our relationships with those we love and it often takes work. So it’s no surprise that when adding the complexity of never having met someone whom we aspire to love, the struggle becomes ever more real.

Don’t worry I’m not about to delve in to the logistics of online romantic relationships, I’ll leave that to Catfish the TV show! Rather I wanted to ponder upon the expectation of all abrahamic religions, that of loving our prophets, people whom we have never met.

For me, the bible always made it sound easy:

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (Peter 1:8)

In this verse, love is assumed, it doesn’t suggest there could be any struggle in attaining those feelings. However, until very recently I have struggled with the concept of loving a prophet. Should it not be easier? For I know how much these remarkable people went through to ensure you and I got to know our creator. This led me to start thinking about the suffragettes. I often consider how much they fought for me, as a woman, to obtain the right to vote. And that is really humbling. I was taught of what the Pankhursts and their companions endured, and as a result I’ve never allow myself to miss an opportunity to vote and declare my political alligences. Therefore, why couldn’t I open up my heart to my prophet in the same way? If I could be drawn towards making time to vote as a result of the actions of those women who I never knew, then surely as I’ve dedicated time, all be it not enough as I should, over the past few years to learn more about Muhammad (peace be upon him), what has been stopping me from praying in his name or striving to take on his admirable characteristics?

I wanted to share this post for anyone who may also be struggling with the idea of loving their prophet, whichever faith they hold dear. For a few days ago I finally felt that love. I felt close to tears from the warmth of it. When listening to a lecture I was reminded of the following Hadith:

“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “I wish I could meet my brothers.” The Prophet’s companions said, “Are we not your brothers?” The Prophet said, “You are my companions, but my brothers are those who have faith in me although they never saw me.”

It’s hard to put in to words how much this struck my heart, it’s as if the prophet knew the struggle I would be facing, even thought he’s never met me! Through this verse he showed me that his love was already being sent my way, and I only needed to reciprocate.

The Lo-fi deception: Our faith doesn’t deserve a filter

We are a generation who wants to be observed. Every detail of our life has to be significant enough to be uploaded, but of course nothing too close to reality, or what use is a filter. Whatever image of ourselves we portray online however is irrelevant because what use is pleasing our followers when we aren’t pleasing God.

They try to hide ˹their deception˺ from people, but they can never hide it from Allah—in Whose presence they plot by night what is displeasing to Him. And Allah is Fully Aware of what they do.” (Surah Al-Nisa 4:108)

Every post intends to draw interest long enough to warrant a ‘like’. We spend so much time attempting to steer the attention of others towards ourselves, but honestly what makes you or I so important that people know us, when they don’t know God?

With the blessed month of Ramadan almost upon us, I’m keen to cut ties with social media. I’ve been wasting countless hours trawling through carefully staged photos and the same old status updates. I hope to fill this time more productively with activities I’ll be rewarded for, reading and seeking further knowledge about my faith, bettering my language skills and dedicating myself to worship.

This addiction to social media has also made us a generation fraught with impatience. But how does this have impact on our path to God? When we are so used to receiving instant gratification from social media, it’s easy to then expect the same from God. Yet it is only through patience that we will find our faith grow in strength.

The bible also warns about focusing on the image we portray to others:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5)

While there was not social media as we know it today when this verse was written, the message is still clear. There were still those who wanted to be seen by others, to be observed.

By giving up the things our body requires, food and water through fasting, it makes it much easier to give up the things we don’t need. Therefore Ramadan is the perfect time to distance ourselves from bad practices, which ultimately affect our relationship with God. Despite not posting on here for a long while, I was keen to write this post with the hope that this discussion will help motivate me to limit my social media activity for the next month. In addition I have a longer term aim of establishing a better relationship with this vice throughout the rest of the year.

Ramadan Mubarak to all those dedicating themselves to worship for the upcoming month

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Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters

During my commute I am often subjected to mundane conversations. Only yesterday evening I overheard a woman talking with passion about her upcoming plans to decorate:

“He told me last night that he wants a feature wall in our living room, he’s got his mind set on navy blue! I should never have introduced him to Pinterest, he’s seen it on there!”

I couldn’t help but think how rare it is for people to find such a desire to talk about faith. Last week I walked past a man in the office canteen who had a Bible on the table in front of him, even I had to double take and alert my colleague to this rare sight.

When did discussing religion become so taboo? Has society really become religiously unaffiliated or is this stark contrast to theism just a perception now that religion is so rarely discussed over our coffee breaks?

I saw this illustration the other day. It made me consider how I would be perceived if was to change the subject of conversation to discuss religion .

Don’t get me wrong I probably do talk an unhealthy amount about lattes given my matcha obsession, and I do have many people in my life who hold their faith dear and would no doubt, and do, cherish these conversations. However it’s interesting to think how those who hold religious apathy or are fixed on atheism would look at me if I was to switch the conversation topic to religion. Would it be like I had just placed some joke shop glasses on my face?!

I have been struggling recently with a feeling that I am moving further away from completing life’s true purpose. Now I’m back at work, still with extremely limited sleep and a very demanding baby, my time feels even more stretched. I am unable to go to many of the religious study classes in the evenings or at weekends when I have such a young baby and, regretfully, often prayer times are passing me by. In the absence of these things I feel I am wasting each day on the monotony of life. If more of my conversations were centred around faith I’m sure this would really help keep my faith strong. When we hold the belief that the true purpose of life is that of worship, it’s easy to find mundane conversations a waste of the precious little time we are given on this earth.

At times like this, when our faith wanes, having like minded people around can be of immense benefit. There are a number of verses in the Quran advising us on this very matter:

“And keep your soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face, and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.” [Quran 18:28]

My soul is certainly craving these likeminded people. I feel this verse reminds us that any splendour associated with his life is temporary and remembrance of God is what will truly will keep our souls at peace. It further shows how beneficial spending time with people of faith can be.

Holding conversations around faith with someone who shares your religious views is one thing, but for a Muslim convert like myself, who still has many Christian friends, how comfortable would we feel to start a conversation with someone of a different faith? A fear of causing offence, or even losing a friendship, could be perceived as an even bigger hurdle to initiating such dialogue. However, from experience, I would stress that while there may be fundamental differences in what we believe, the amount we can learn from each other is an opportunity we should not pass up.

I think we should all try to be braver, and start those conversations which really matter.

Just the environment in which to grow my faith

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450 years sure sounds like a long time. Yet that’s how long it takes for a disposable nappy to decompose. I find that frightening. Recently I’ve been finding myself becoming increasingly frustrated when it comes to the way many people treat our planet, the amount of plastic used to cover every thing we buy is just staggering.

All this made me consider what religion says about looking after our world, as ever I am seeking to remember that worship comes not only in prayer but also in other every day actions, as discussed in my previous post “Lost time is never found again

Now of course I’m not pretending to be an expert when it comes to interpreting the Quran, I’m still a relatively new revert, but I wanted to research some verses on this topic. The following verse from the Quran and then the narration from Bukhari Muslim certainly detail the importance of treating our earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it, with respect.

“There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end” (6:38)

“Whoever is kind to the creatures of God, is kind to himself.” (The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), narrated by Abdallah bin Amru in Bukhari and Muslim collections)

I’m also not claiming to be perfect but I do think I try my best when it comes to reducing my environmental impact on this Earth. I’ve been using a reusable metal or glass water bottle for years and I’ve always been a keen recycler. Also I was always excited to use cloth/reusable nappies when my time for a baby came, firstly as a result of seeing my good friend use them for my God daughter, but after reading it takes 450 years for a disposable nappy to decompose I was even more certain! The following verses in the Quran seem to me to teach the importance of not bringing destruction to our planet, such as the mass deforestation we are seeing, instead keeping it one which is rich in vegetation:

And when he turneth away (from thee) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; and Allah loveth not mischief” (2:205).

There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.” (Bukhari)

There is still so much I want to start doing, for example I’ve been reading lots recently about groups of people who have started to leave excess plastic packaging at the supermarket and I have decided that I want to be part of their gang! Plus I need to be more strict with coffee cups too, I’ve been lazy at taking my reusable cup along with me to order my usual caffeine boost (soy matcha latte please). Waitrose recently announcing it is doing away with all its disposable cups makes me hopeful that coffee shops will step up to their responsibilities in helping our planet.

Also I’ve been reading around the topic of animal welfare and what Islam says about being a vegetarian. I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time but since reverting I’ve had a lot of negative comments from Muslims in my community and in my husbands family around my choice not to eat meat. Recently I learnt that Islam actually advises us to eat meat infrequently, following the example of the prophet, which is unsurprising given a lot of the famine in the world has been linked to the overconsumption of meat. This over consumption can be likened to the excess described in the Quran:

“O ye who believe! Make not unlawful the good things, which Allah hath made lawful for you, but commit no excess: for Allah loveth not those given to excess.” (Al-Maa’idah: 87)

I may chose to be vegetarian but as this verse teaches us, I would not begin to say eating meat is wrong. However the way man currently eats meat is certainly excessive. I see so many in my community eating meat almost every meal. If we all cut back on the amount of meat we it, it would bring countless benefits to the environment and even reduce poverty and famine. I wanted to finished with a statistic I came across on the PETA website:

Nearly half of all the water used in the U.S. goes to raising animals for food. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat.

Again I feel this shows how wasteful we are with the earth resources due to the amount of meat humans consume.

I pray we can all remember that God has made us the stewards of this earth. We have a responsibility to our planet and therefore we will be rewarded for our efforts to preserve it’s beauty.

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“If this is a test, I hope that I’m passing, because I’m losing sleep”

One verse of a Pedro the Lion song has stuck with me for many years after originally hearing David Bazan’s gravelly tones pour out the lyrics of his song, Secrets of the Easy Yoke

“If this is a test, I hope that I’m passing, because I’m losing sleep”

Interestingly from my blogs perspective, Bazan, previously a Christian, ended up losing his faith in God several years ago. However I am led to believe these lyrics were drafted while he still held his faith. Since converting I’ve learnt that it is natural for our Iman (the word for faith in Arabic) to fluctuate between high and low points, but to lose it altogether? That must certainly leave a void. Enthusiasm in our faith around crucial times of the year such as Ramadan or Easter for example is obviously to be expected, no doubt reflected in the much higher footfall experienced in religious buildings at these times. Motivation by seeing others practicing their faith is certainly something I’ve experienced. For example it’s often difficult to motivate myself to get up at 4am for Fujr prayer when my faith is weak. Even so there are ways to push ourselves when we suffer such low points. For example, in an effort to improve this in the past, I’ve been part of a prayer ‘chain’ as I’ve decided to coin it, whereby each person has responsibility to phone another to ensure they are awake. However now I have my very own Fujr alarm in the form of a baby girl, there is no time for sleep at all anymore!

I think the reason I’ve always found myself returning to this emotional vocal supplication is because of my belief that we will be held accountable for our actions once we leave this world. Religious texts are filled with accounts of our prophets being tested, lessons for us as readers to learn from. As the Quran says

“Do the people think that they will be left to say ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried” (29:2)

Therefore I want to try harder to be more aware of every decision I make, how I chose to spend my time, the words I chose to speak. Every time I pray I find myself losing focus to the insignificant, often my mind is pulled away from this important requirement to consider the food I’m about to make or a conversation I was previously having. I get annoyed at myself, how can I not hold my concentration for these few minutes in conversation WITH GOD yet while watching the latest episode of Dragonball Super (anime fan right here!) my focus is unwavering.

I think there are two strands I’m pondering over here. The ups and downs of faith, as well as the tests we all must face. However they seem somewhat linked. I wonder when my faith is low am I more likely to make a bad decision or lose control of my tongue in the face of these tests? The answer is most certainly yes. So it would seem easier to fail life’s many tests when we do not remember our faith in God before any action we perform.

Perhaps strong faith is the key to passing each test…

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Lost time is never found again

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I wish I had more time for my faith. I accept that we all need to make the time, because let’s face it, there will always be something else which we could be doing… the bathroom definitely hasn’t been cleaned this week, I need to make something for dinner, I haven’t seen my friends in months… I should probably check in, the new series of Jessica Jones is out on Netflix… but right now I feel conflict. I have a baby daughter. To have the energy to do anything other than give her the time she needs is tough, especially when she wakes up to 5 times a night, in addition to demanding my attention all day. I know babies are hard work but when other mums say things like

“Oh my baby is happy to play while I get on with things”

And

“Oh yeah my baby only wakes once a night”

It makes me think maybe I don’t have it quite so easy. Even running for a wee causes bouts of crying from my little one. And she will nearly always only want to sleep on me, if I put her down she’ll be awake before I’ve even left the room, let alone made wudu, the Islamic cleaning ritual in advance of prayer. I’m finding myself dreaming of being back at work, where I look forward to returning to the the prayer rooms in my office, without a baby crying for attention. It’s a place where I always felt such calm, the opportunity to step away from the inconsequential of excel spreadsheets and data analysis, to remember life’s true purpose, worshipping God.

As I walked aimlessly around the supermarket earlier trying to remember what exactly I was looking for, I realised I am struggling to find the opportunity to pray the 5 times I desire, however much it pains me not to, especially when periods absent of prayer always lead to those anxiety attacks detailed in my previous post. I’m so exhausted once I’ve got my baby to sleep. By the time I’ve attempted some sort of normal with my neglected husband for 15 minutes while we eat dinner I can feel my eyes getting heavy. I just about manage to brush my teeth before I crawl in to bed next to my sleeping girl, as I know in the back of my mind that I’ll be up again in 2 hours.

I want to read God’s word, recite his instructions, but my eyes are so sore at just reading the missed whatsapp messages from the day, how will I find the strength to read from a book? And it’s not only the Quran, I still have so much knowledge I want to seek around my faith as well as Christianity and Judaism. It makes me remember one of the many things I took from reading A Prayer for Owen Meany;

“My life is a reading list.”

I always pray that those struggling with their faith will find a light to guide them. Mine came to me the other day through a friend of mine, who said

“Focus on the things you are doing, and add one thing to that at a time, don’t think of everything you aren’t doing”

I think she is right. I could spend every day letting what I’m not doing eat me up, or I could focus on the positive steps I am making with the little time I do have. Worship isn’t always only found in the obvious such as attending Friday Jummah or Sunday Mass. It’s remembering to make every action one of worship by doing it in Gods name. Bishmillah

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Losing my religion

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The first time I remember craving answers I was maybe 7 or 8.

My teacher at the time was explaining to the class how there was more than one religion in the world. I raised my hand feeling impressed with the question I had to ask her, feeling excited to hear the answer.

“Which one is the right one?”

I guess at that age we think our teachers know everything, so my teacher’s reply left me truly devastated.

“It depends what you believe”

It wasn’t until perhaps I was 16 or so that my anxiety at the thought that God and an afterlife might not exist really took hold however. At this point in my life I was very much a believing catholic. A semi-regular church attending, but not particularly practising when it came to my day to day life, catholic that is. A conversation with a friend of mine, ever the atheist, really brought back all the doubts for me. He said something to me along the lines of

“Our minds can’t compute that there may not have been something to start all this, as humans we need answers”

Well this sent my mind in to overdrive. My faith in God and an afterlife was now something I clung on to, something I needed to believe so badly in order to alleviate the crushing anxiety in my chest. From this point I’d go through phases, either anxiously thinking about it multiple times a day or going through a few years of calm where I was at peace.

I remember it got quite bad at one stage in my mid 20s so I ended up going to the Doctor thinking, hoping, that maybe I would be prescribed some anxiety blockers to stop me thinking about what happens after this world, the worry that there might be nothing. My biggest fear that I might never know I existed. The doctor’s response, again left me devastated that I wouldn’t find a sanctuary from my thoughts.

“Maybe we should all be a little more worried about it”

One of my worst attacks was in my late 20s when I was waking breathless in the middle of the night. On the worst of these nights I was desperate, and in a play not to dissimilar from that of Eat Pray Love I begged for God to show me he was there. What happened next is hard to describe and some of you reading this may not even believe me but I am still going to give my honest account. In something which felt somewhat Donnie Darko, or Tim Burton perhaps, a ‘tube’, although that makes it sound thin, maybe a pipe is a better analogy, grew from my chest up toward the ceiling. Obviously I am not claiming I could see this thing growing, it was more of a feeling, a very vivid feeling. Im trying to find the word for how it felt. The word dust comes to mind, the author of His Dark Materials may have been on to something! It was from that point my faith became much more grounded. Although post this night I still massively struggled with Christianity and the idea of the trinity. Even so it was from this point in my life that events began to happen which led me to finding what really does feel like closest to the truth for me. Islam. Maybe I’ll write about these events at some point too.

I still think there is a lot of truth in Christianity, and in Judaism, it’s not to say I am rejecting these faiths entirely, because for me I’ve always seen Islam as an extension of these beliefs. And even now I still have episodes of panic that there may be nothing for us after this world, converting hasn’t solved everything on that front. However I do not believe that life can not just be about getting up each day for work, paying bills having a few kids or whatever then nothingness. I truly do believe this life is a test. I believe that, as many with faith do, how we act in this world will affect what will happen when we leave this world, or dunya as it’s known in Islam.

I think that is enough for this entry. I really just wanted to write all this for anyone out there who is struggling, or has struggled with their faith. This blog isn’t meant to be an effort to convert any one reading to Islam, and while I might make the occasion reference to Islam it’s more just contextual. I truly just wanted to reach out to anyone who has related to that classic R.E.M. song, or rather feels in a constant battle with losing their religion.

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