Wake Up and Smell the Jebena

 

Do you remember when I told you about Rosemary’s Parisian Cat? I thought I would share with you the faith story that I used to tell when I took part in 3FF’s school programme. This is a good point in the year to reflect on my story. On my beginnings in the UK over 20 years ago. I  wonder what the coming years will bring with them.

I am an Eritrean who was born in Saudi Arabia. I know where my roots lie but I was well and truly comfortable in the Arabic way of life. For a teenager, I was trying to figure out these two aspects of myself, Arabia and Africa. But it was meant to be that Britannia had to be added to the mix with my move to the UK with my family.

For me, London was a whole new experience, new culture, a new language and a very different educational system. I wanted to do well and succeed but had so much to overcome. I remember when I was at sixth form, the teacher arranged for us to interview a guest speaker. I don’t remember the topic but I remember what I did. I could understand most of what the speaker was saying but I couldn’t write it down fast enough in English so wrote some of it in Arabic and added a few diagrams of what I understood. At the weekend, I used my Arabic-English, English-Arabic dictionary to translate, check spellings and write a report. It took me the whole day to produce a page and that was for one task in one module! I was getting really frustrated and feeling so inadequate.  Just a few months ago I was at the top of my class and now I am struggling to form a sentence. And it hurt.

I reached out to what was familiar and hoped will be a source of comfort. You see, knowing Arabic proved useful in this new environment. The Quran is in Arabic and I could read it without the need for translation. I read about Prophets like Noah, Moses and Jesus and that even though they were the best of creation and had high status with Allah they went through much hardship. I was reminded that Allah is Merciful, Just and Wise. That Allah would not let me go through a difficult situation if He did not know that I was able to make it through. This brought peace to my heart and gave me strength to keep going.

The world is constantly changing, people change and I have changed. I am no longer that 16 year old girl who stepped off the plane into a dark cold London. I am older, not that much taller but hopefully wiser and I know that the way I see and interact with life is no longer the same. In the midst of these shifts of mindset and thought, my heart seeks refuge in one constant, Allah, whom I chose to acknowledge and worship through the teachings of Islam.

I normally end there and the facilitator opens the session to questions.

When I decided on my story I wanted it to be clear that though I was born into a Muslim family, staying and practising Islam was my choice and it is one I do my best to uphold. People make their own decisions in life. Many of those choices revolve around seeking happiness; looking for a reason to live; for a purpose. It could be to have fun, to rule the world or for a cause they feel attached to. I am not surprised: Allah tells us in the Quran, verse 23:115:

{Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?}

Seeking and knowing the reason for our existence is vital. Allah wouldn’t leave us confused and struggling,

{And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me} (Quran 51:56)

What does worship mean? The salah, fasting, giving charity. As Muslims, some of us do not even do these and others have limited the meaning of worship to only the salah and fasting. We worship Allah seeking his pleasure and wanting to be nearer to him in Jannah. With the correct intention, every good deed we do can be a reason to bring us closer to Allah.

Did you know that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No deed that will be placed on the scale of deeds [on the Day of Judgement] will be heavier than good character. Indeed, a person with good character will attain the rank of those with a good record of voluntary fasts and prayers.”

Believe me, good character that comes from belief in one God and sincerity to him transforms a person into a shining beacon of light. We have no control over where we are born or to which family we belong to, may be a bit more control over how we look but a lot over how we act and react.

Allah tells us that the diverse way he created us in is a one of his signs. So our differences should also remind us of Allah

{And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variations in your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.} Quran 30:22

And our differences are a way of getting to know each other better and bringing us closer to each other as people, as the creation of Allah

{O you people! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may know each other; surely the most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you with most piety; surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.} (Quran 49:13)

I admit that as Muslims and minority ethnic groups, we are living in challenging times. Our Lord told us what is best for us, what we can eat and can’t, how we should dress and act. Many around us either don’t like these choices or actively go against them. But you know what, we are not the first to face these challenges and we won’t be the last. Let’s learn from our own and others’ journeys. Do you want to repeat history or carve a new path for yourself?

My personal lessons that I would like to take forward:

Reflect and act on knowledge

I must admit, even though I love learning the first 10 years of my life here were a very steep learning curve. Learning English, understanding the British culture, studying and getting through the education system; reading a map and learning how to travel on my own. At some point it was information overload. For some of it I understood the ‘why’ but for others I did not and that me feel overwhelmed and anxious. My take away lesson is: you are not a data collector! Pause and decide if he presented information is needed. If it is, then in what format and pace and how can it be actioned?

Compare yourself to yourself

It was tough! Not just the unfamiliar experiences and lack of guidance but also the high and at times unrealistic expectations of others. At times it felt like I was being dragged into a destination I did not buy my own ticket to.

At other times, there were goals I so wanted to achieve and felt I was going at a snail’s pace. It seemed others were way ahead of me and I kept comparing.

My take away lesson: gain clarity on what you want and check your progress against what you have achieved so far and what it is next on your own agenda. Of course research and find role models and mentors. Their example opens up your thinking to what is possible and tried and tested ways to get there. Remember, even those ways will have to be adjusted to suit your situation and who you are.

Be Forgiving

No plan is perfect and success is not guaranteed. My take away lessons:

Be forgiving of yourself – do YOUR best. If along the way you stumble and fall, get up and keep going. Maybe that was a gift from Allah to pause and check if you are going in the right way.

Be forgiving of others – especially of your parents. No one gives parents a manual of what to do, they do what they think is best for you. Communicate with them with kindness and gentleness. When I say be forgiving of others, I mean do not hold a grudge or hatred in your heart because this will hurt you more than anyone else. You still need to deal with the person or people who wronged you in a way that best fits the situation. If it someone you betrays your trust, learn that they shouldn’t be among your close circle, let them go and move on with your life.

Enough of me. Here is something for you.

Imagine it is 10 years down the line, the year 2027! You kindly accepted my invitation to speak at my international conference. I ask you to send me a punchy and brief biography about yourself to include in the adverts. What did you include? Your achievements, your titles, your catch phrase? What else?

 

Done?

 

Sounds amazing, masha’allah!

 

Back to now.

 

What change(s) do you start making today to realise those aspirations tomorrow?

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