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An Identity, A Citizen of the World

 I had never believed in the notion of “nation.” To me, it was an artificial creation of the 12th century – a vague concept of dividing people up using artificial borders, creating “nations” on a map, and then getting people who happened to be within them to be loyal to the “nation” they were accidentally born in; or the ones’ that decided and managed to make another such “nation” their home.  Cultural diversity in people naturally separated by geography, and interaction between them had made the world a beautiful place that it still is. Exploring the world’s infinite cultures and places excited me.  Only my finances stopped me from doing what I loved –  to travel the world and experience it for myself.

Reflecting on my birthday recently, I realized something – I had even more reason to support my stance against nationalism. Only this time, it was more emotional than logical. I felt as if I didn’t belong to any “nation” even if I wanted to. I had to consider myself a citizen of God’s world.
I had lived my life so far in three different countries. The country of my birth didn’t recognize me – I couldn’t enter it without a visa.
I moved to the country my parents were born and raised in. I spent years here, growing and loving being part of it, fighting off those that mocked and ridiculed me for my religion, and said I, by account of my religion, had no place in it. I didn’t have much in common with the majority of society around me – not in food, dress, mode of thinking. I was a minority. A minority within a minority.

I moved again, to where I am, now.  I wasn’t born here, or even raised here. I came in and had a mountain of immediate challenges to surmount, which I did, on my own. I hardened and grew into a young man, all by myself, working away toward an education and a career. I was fairly successful, and won admiration and praise. Everyone with a dream, passion and hard work succeeded here, or so goes the legend, and while it still is a work in progress – I am on my way to realize my great American dream, provided I don’t give up.

But through this journey, I turned towards religion. I changed my circle of friends in a big way. I now had a circle of friends that I shared my religion with; the majority of whom were from my ethnicity – brown, and originating from the Indian subcontinent. It helped me grow in my religion.

But then something else happened –  the country I am in, lived in, loved to be in, proud to be in, was active in, volunteered in, and had begun to feel part of, had some of its own, from this section of society, look down upon me for what was theirs by accident – to them, I was inferior because I didn’t spend more of my formative years in the country. If it wasn’t snide remarks, it was rejection coming from someone I had invested my heart and soul in, and wanted to be with.  It hurt. A lot. I was heartbroken, at times. It was replaced by resentment and anger in some instances.

I interpreted it to come from, among other reasons, an insecurity of their own place in the country. Or that, it was a result of becoming “brown sahibs,” where Western culture had imbibed in them a shame of their heritage and antagonism towards the culture of their parents, similar to erstwhile feelings of backwardness  compared to the white man in a previous era – essential tools that the West used to keep up their hegemony in colonial pursuits.  Or that, this insecurity in a lot of them was because they themselves were born outside the country, spent a majority of their short lives outside the country, but immigrated when they were still younger, and wanted to feel more American themselves.

Facing heartbreak from some of these people who I loved the most, and not having it returned, I tried to fall back to where I moved from, the country of my family and my ancestors. I stepped back into this world emotionally, to see if I could find my place here. It didn’t take me long to see we were different enough that I couldn’t just slide in. We wanted to talk about different things, liked to do different things, had vastly different worldviews. It was becoming a pain to fit in – both for the companions I sought, and me. Before long, I was rebuffed – that I no longer fit in, that I had changed too much.

Where would I go? Where would I feel at home? Do I make changes to my circles of friends, again, to find my place? I couldn’t fit in, I knew, among people who indulged in practices that I had come to abhor, due to my religion. I was left ‘nationless,’ emotionally.
But before long, I changed, defined and carved for myself a place in society. The earlier troubled thought of how I didn’t exactly fit in anywhere, gave way to acceptance of every little thing that is part of me, my past and excitement about my future. It was now comforting for me to know that I was different, and with more unique experiences than most other people. I didn’t have to conform, or belong.
I am still changing;  changing the people who are part of my life, slowly, but surely, with more and more people who value me, that also recognize my traits and accomplishments that I am proud of and that God Himself would approve of; who accept me with all my attributes, and most importantly, that would return me the care and affection I shower them with.

Trust and Loneliness

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.” ( de Balzac)

A crowded room with friends and acquaintances. There is a good chance that one could be more lonely here than when alone. And lonely is not the same as being alone.

The difference, as I look at it, is trust.

 There are always people around us, whether we move to a new place or  whether we are with the same set of people and in the same place all our lives.
But trust makes all the difference. Leaving aside the small talk, the pleasantries, sports, weather, and politics, do you trust the people around you – do you trust anyone around you – to open up, to talk freely and frankly?

Opening up is giving a piece of yourself to someone. It is making yourself vulnerable to potential negative reactions, to exploitation, negative judgement, anger or annoyance, to estrangement and alienation. It has risks.
Do you trust someone to keep your honor in society and privacy intact? To give you their honest and sincere advice? To maintain a deserved confidentiality? To not judge you negatively no matter what you share?  To push you in the good and discourage you from the bad?  To not snap and break ties, no matter what you share with them?
Is this trust mutual?

Look around you, and build trust with people. You would naturally grow to trust some more than others. Loneliness goes away as you start trusting and mutually sharing with others. And being there for each other.
But stay on guard – even the strongest and deepest of trusts can and have been broken, and hearts have been devastated.
Human beings were made to be fallible. We falter and fall.

Complete and comprehensive, unbreakable trust can only be in God – only God is perfect, infallible and absolutely trustworthy. He is close to you, closer to you than your jugular vein. Develop a relationship with Him – directly with Him. Bring Him into your life, be honest with Him and open up to Him. Pray to Him. Ask Him for guidance. Trust Him to make a path for you, to bring peace into your life, to be there for you, in times of happiness and difficulty. To have a known or unknown reason and benefit in any situation He puts you in, when you trust Him. that He is looking out for you.
But before you begin to trust anyone, there is something that you need to work on.

Trust yourself.

What Valentine’s Day means to me.

“It doesn’t have to be that way. It is not going to happen with me.”

They laughed at me. I was sweet, innocent and childish, my older group of friends told me, among other things. I insisted I would not face the same problems as they did.

In a few minutes of uninhibited openness, I shared how I was in for a blissful future, a union extraordinaire. (Read the entire post before making conclusions.)

It could be a story from a fairy tale.  She, with a heart filled with the love of God. A heart that seeks His pleasure.  “A sweet, gentle, pleading, innocent, dedicated, sympathetic, loyal, untutored, adoring female heart.”   He, with a loving, comforting, supportive, insanely dedicated  heart for her, that sought her happiness.

This union completes both of them. “By her ease and liveliness, his mind is softened, his manners improved, and  “from his judgement, information and  knowledge of the world, she  received benefit of great importance.”  Some of these lines were from Jane Austen and they are etched in my memory for ever.  But there is a reason why I can dislike Jane Austen, because I think such a  marriage can indeed know what connubial felicity really is.

But still, Valentine’s Day, did not mean anything to me.

Not because of the dark roots of Valentine’s Day that has the moral police going berserk, or the fatwas against it, with it being an “imitation of another people.”

Not because of my dislike of the  crass commercialization – where “love” is bought and sold, where corporations promote the event so they could make $18.7 billion in sales. Where they need to create special days such as these for money.

Not because of my dislike of  the pressure to show one’s affection in a certain way, on a single day in an entire year.  Or for love to be packaged overwhelmingly to mean the lustful love between two individuals.
For a society as the one here with such overt displays of sexual love, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.*

Not for anything else.

But simply because I do not have a woman who I am married to, or who I would marry, or who would marry me, as yet. This is an idea.

A dream.

A dream that has temporarily been put off till I can find my feet. Someone as needy as I currently am could not be trusted to be the support or mean the world for another individual.

 While women and men want  to be desired and yet  resist others’ unwelcome advances,  spending countless hours studying their reflection in the mirror  – admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it, something about inner beauty gets lost in the conundrum. Where a 7/10 on the scale of physical attraction trumps a 10/10 in inner beauty that would make for a blissful living. I hope I am not one of those making the wrong choices in decisions with such trade-offs, when the time to make the decision comes.

What Valentine’s Day did teach me was the power of a clean heart sans any resentment, a general feeling of happiness with everyone . As with anyone else, I falter, and hurt others, or get hurt. But it is the power to forgive and patch up that separates people.

  I wonder if men and women can ever break out of this infinite loop, and be in  freedom. In a feeling of freedom. With wings flapping. And light. Light enough to find oneself in the skies. High enough that, when one looks down below, those stuck in cycles of bad blood, and resentment look puny.  With a life of pure, unadulterated happiness. Of the kind that simply runs out of scale. Of contentment.  Of God’s pleasure.

If there is indeed such a life, I  seek thee.

A Sleepless Night of Reflection

My eyes stuttered open yet again. It was dark.

I struggled to check my phone that doubles as an alarm. I  was angry this time, it was not yet time for my early morning prayers; my alarm still had some time to go off. It was the third time I had woken up from sleep that night in a matter of three hours. I felt helpless enough to decide to go for a walk outside.

I was clearly disturbed.

It was a friend’s birthday party earlier that night.  I loved being with this special group of friends that was there,with whom I was most comfortable being myself. I could speak without fear of negative judgement, and I could speak without fear of sounding stupid. I spoke a lot, and barely ever held back what I would want to say. Given that I was somewhat younger than the rest, I was pampered, and I felt treated like a baby. I enjoyed their company.

But on the downside, I would also get to meet people that had seen much more in life, that were more sure of what to expect in life, and more unfortunately, that were less optimistic about it for the same reasons.

For someone who is nearly done with school with a promise of a good life is laid out ahead, the more I heard from them that night, the more I was getting depressed.  I felt a strong urge to  leave but I did not want to be rude. Some part of me wanted to hear it all – for if it was the truth, I would have to hear it. Only exposing myself to positive thoughts and positive people would be deceiving myself, I reasoned, anxiously.

I stayed back after everyone left, with two trusted friends that were like my elder siblings. I had always been very needy; a female friend had remarked more than once that it was a twist of fate for a person as needy as I was to have had to live away from the closest loved ones’ forever. She was close enough to my extended family to be treated as one among my many cousins.

I opened up about my career, family, companionship and relationships, I opened up to them about the things that troubled me from the conversation we had earlier with everyone. I spoke about the transformation that I had seen in myself.

The expectations that I had from people, and how easy it was for me to get hurt and break, because for too long, my happiness was in the hands of other mortal human beings – skin and bones – who by their very definition could not be perfect, just like I wasn’t.  They may not return a phone call, they may be friends with me only when they would need me, they may be friends with me for their own benefit,  and they would consequently cut it off when I would be boring or not useful to them anymore.

That if I could break out of that cycle, take control of my happiness away from people and give it to God, to have Him as the source of my happiness, that would be a life of bliss on earth. Because God was perfect, and was a never-ending source of strength and happiness, who would never fail me, unlike His creation that was created to falter.

All of this was true, and I went back home with a lighter load after I shared it all.  But not light enough to get a good night’s sleep.

The Daily Routine that Killed Me – An End-of-Year Panic.

I got up early this morning –  I snoozed my alarm one time less than usual. But otherwise, it was pretty much the same. Everyday, I pray, get ready  and leave for work, or work from home.   I spend time in school. I pray in between. I go to bed. I already know my story for today.

It is Thanksgiving.   My last big shopping spree seemed to have been only recently. But much to my consternation, I realized today with a gulp  – it was much earlier. It was last year on Black Friday. Somehow a year flew by. 365 days.

Everyday seemed the same.  But time flew by. An entire year slipped away, and a year later, so much is different, not entirely in ways I would have liked.  It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of infinite time, and go about the daily routine. This was a recipe for failure, in terms of long-term goals.

 It was intriguing how, through the daily routine of everyday where everything seemed the same, somehow there was so much difference a year later even if I was seriously lagging behind in achieving my goals.  I sat back to think about it. I don’t laugh at the same jokes. I’m not hurt by the same things.  I’m not attracted to or seek the same things.
I’m less religious. I have a feeling that God does not answer my prayers as before. I am less motivated to volunteer. I haven’t read books as much as I used to. My academic performances have dipped. I surround myself with a very different group of people. I am at the crossroads in my career more unsure of   my career than a year back.
But there were positive changes too. I love my family more than ever before, I miss those not around me more than I used to a year back. I am more spiritual in my approach towards things. I have memorized more of The Noble Quran and understand it better. I am closer to achieving my long-term goals than ever before, even if by a smaller margin than I would have liked for one full year. I am more outgoing than before, I talk to more people and have had some success in breaking free of my shyness with new people. I have consolidated some of my old friendships, and it pleases me to know they love me and wish well for me, despite knowing all of my weaknesses and failings.

 I now spend time tracking my progress on my long-term goals. I have a group of friends assigned to keep reminding me of them. There is no better way of thanking God for the time He gives us than by making it count.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Science and Faith – An Unresolvable Conflict?

This was the subject of discussion at my school recently. Given that the program was organized by a Christian Organization, there was no voice from the  atheistic perspective.

The first speaker went on for quite some time reading the Genesis, pointing out the scientifically accurate assertions in it “even though the Bible was three thousand years old”, given that these facts were proved to be true only by recent scientific progress.
Was he trying to prove that given this match, there is no conflict between religion and science? Was he trying to prove that since there are scientifically accurate statements unknown to men  when the Bible was written, it was really from God?
He failed in trying to prove either of these in part because he overlooked the scientifically questionable statements in the first few lines themselves.

They did point out how scientific “facts” change with time, and the Bible could not always be held to their standards, and how many aspects of “science” actually involved believing in things that haven’t been proven conclusively, which makes it not very different from a belief in religion.

What was their take on the Theory of Evolution? Did we evolve from monkeys?  It surprised me when they asserted (they were Orthodox)  that there isn’t necessarily a clash between religion and the theory of evolution. One student protested: “I can’t believe in a God who cannot create something perfectly, the way it should be, straightaway, and needs a gradual improvement”.
“I believe that God can create perfect beings straightaway, but He chose not to”,  one of the speakers replied, which I thought was a weak argument.  Weak because it would   imply that humans were also evolved from a more primitive form on Earth, which clashes with one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity  – that the perfect and complete human form (Adam and Eve) was in paradise – before “The Fall” – before they were expelled to this world as complete humans.
I did put this question up at the event, and essentially, like on many other questions, the answer we received ranged from “This is a tough one” to  “It is belief, really”.  A  dead-end to all debates, because there is not much that can be said after  something is “a belief”. You just believe in it.  One of the speakers ended up accepting that there would be a conflict here and that there is a need of dialogue – he nodded his head when I asked him if this meant that he agrees that science and religion are two different streams.

A recent quote by Reza Aslan came to mind: “You have to understand that Islam and Judaism are legalistic religions, Christianity is a creedal religion. Christianity is all about belief, right? In fact, if you are a Catholic that creedal formulation is a complex formula, “I believe in God the Father maker of heaven and earth, I believe in Jesus His only begotten son, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Apostolic Church, etc. etc.”

“Mommy, why were they shouting at me?” When Islamophobic Terrorism came home.

“I don’t know why they were staring at me”. I can almost see my little niece say that as she adjusts her cute little scarf with her tender little hands. She loves ponies – pink ponies and almost everything pink. She loves the fairies in the cartoons and in her animated story books.  She made me play the  me-buying-her-dolls-she -the shopkeeper game.  I’ve also played pony-rides with her. I’ve been embarrassed as I played  twister with her the last time I saw her.  She is much more childish and innocent than children her age usually are.  We call her a pink princess. She’s beautiful,  and gets a pink complexion.  She’s an angel.

When my sister in England called to let me know that her family was attacked by drunk, racist Islamophobes (The EDL) , I had to put the phone aside while she was still talking. I could no longer hold back my tears and I didn’t want her to know I was crying. She assumed a bad reception and hung up.

But I could not bear the thought of my angelic, innocent nieces having faced the barrage of  extremely foul, vulgar words that were thrown at them. Wine bottles and cans were thrown at them and at the car they were in by the drunk, white supremacists. They mostly missed their target, but one of the bottles thrown managed to drench my brother-in-law’s pants with wine when he was at the scene. The first, older niece, a little girl herself,  is an absolute gem; she later said she kept reciting specific verses from the Quran  when all of this was going on. This stunned my sister and brother in law who said they were frozen with shock and couldn’t think of anything themselves.

My sister’s family had stopped at a service station by a motorway in England on the 3rd of September, 2011 in the middle of a long drive, for their sunset prayers and to have dinner. When they got out of the car, members of the English Defense League got out of a bus that was parked behind and started hurling cans and foul abuses, while asking the “Pakis” to go back to Pakistan.

My sister and her family are  British citizens. They did not go to Britain from Pakistan, they were never Pakistanis, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they were. My sister and her husband are both doctors, and made a good life for themselves with sheer hard work and talent. They pay their taxes and have never broken the law, not even the driving rules.
They are deeply religious and practice their faith openly. My sister observes the Hijab and my brother in law has a beard. They say their prayers outside when they have to. They are not White Caucasian.
The people asking them to get out of the country say that’s not being British. It’s funny they say that because it is as if they’re saying getting drunk, being jobless and on government benefits, living in government subsidized housing, being a drain on the economy using up the very tax money my sister was paying,  rioting, bloodshed, TERRORIZING innocent children and Muslim families, fire-bombing places of worship, ANTISEMITISM, using vulgar language and so on is being British. The vast majority of the EDL are all of this and more. The more intellectual ones’ among them happen to be real terrorists or inciters towards terrorism. Anders Behring Breivik in Norway was one of their terrorist co-ideologues who massacred innocent youngsters. He was a big fan of the EDL.

The amount of hate is just unbelievable. I would never be able to sleep at night if I had as

EDL Protest in Newcastle

Image via Wikipedia

much hatred against anyone as they had in their hearts. A life of sadness, hatred, spite, enmity, bad blood, vengeance, rancor, heartburn. A dark world with no happiness. Compare that with a bright world of happiness, joy and merriment, with no ill-feelings. A world without hate, where all of God’s creation, some white, some brown, some black, some yellow,  people with different ways of life, all live in harmony in the world God gave us all.

My sister’s family did not report the ordeal to the police. They fear for the safety of the children and wanted to avoid court appearances.

My little niece still doesn’t understand why anyone would hate her. Someday in the coming years, she will understand why, but for now, she has had her first brush with the filth the world has to offer.

Journey Through a Thank You

thank you note for every language

Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Our desi parents brought us up teaching us to thank people a lot.  If we weren’t saying “I’m sorry”,  A Thank You and a Shukriya (in Urdu/Hindi) would be thrown around a lot with people outside the family.  It was a big thing to not apologize- as a nine year old, I had an epic tiff with my older sister when I refused to say sorry after I shouted at her, which I did because she didn’t say sorry when she brushed my feet with the floor mop. By mistake!  These were times when our parents were our heroes and everything they did was always the right thing.

Then came my rebellious teenage years when I wanted to do things differently, different from my friends and family.  I thought it was cool to not conform.  I started using the Arabic phrase “JazakAllah Khair” (Arabic for “May God reward you in goodness” ) instead of the Thank Yous with Muslims because it was new and different. It was used by someone my aunt  didn’t really like very much,  but it sounded cool and exotic to me.

I  now have a more mature head over my shoulders as a twenty-something year old.  I frequently use both a Thank You and a JazakAllahKhair, but the former is the one that comes naturally, while I use the latter more when I am not being myself.

But despite these changes over a Thank You over time,  there was and is a catch – one thing has remained unchanged. We don’t want to be thanked for things that we think we were absolutely obligated to do.  A Thank You for something, to me at least, would mean we were being thanked for doing something extra that we didn’t have to do, or something we weren’t expected to do, or that we were outsiders.

Over the past several months, as I have consciously been trying to get out of my shell and shyness(some of it hypocritical), I try to talk to just about every person I can and be friendly- on the bus, with the taxi driver, with my co-passengers, my neighbors, the people I cross paths with on pavements and so on. This has also meant I help people out much more often, and that I volunteer more. Recently, a set of Thank Yous came home to trouble me when on one such volunteering program, the lead volunteer kept thanking me profusely over three weeks. I now realize it may  have been  to encourage me to volunteer more but back then,  I was slightly annoyed even if I retained my smile.  I really wanted to volunteer, and wanted to be part of the group that was simply doing its duty and wasn’t after any recognition or compliments, but the Thank Yous somehow gave me an outsider feeling, that I was going over  and above what I was duty-bound to do or what was expected of me.  It gave me the impression that I was doing this, or wanted to do this or that people may think I’m doing this for the compliments and the Thank Yous. Well, the truth was I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer, because of the intrinsic goodness of the volunteering activity and not anything else.

I am now at peace with this issue- I did not have to prove anything to anyone. I know my intention when I am doing something good. I know God knows what is in my heart, and He will reward me and He will reward me by my intentions. Isn’t that what we were looking for, after all?