tense times

I never thought that being born and raised in the U.S. had much of an effect on my understanding of the world. After all, I’m Muslim, a minority, a history major – I know with some detail what’s happening with our brothers and sisters in many place across the globe – I’m ‘aware’ and ‘informed’. But it wasn’t until I came to the Middle East that I realized that I’ve been in somewhat of a protective bubble called “living in America”. While I knew what was going on in the world while living in the U.S., while it made me angry, broke my heart, brought me to tears… somewhere inside there was the feeling that these things were happening in a far distant place, remote and unreachable.

 For the Syrians, the oppression of their brothers and sisters in Palestine, Iraq, and now most recently in Lebanon, are not distant realities, that swim in an orbit of an individual’s awareness about world politics and affairs; but they are occurrences that happen right next door. (Literally; Syria borders Iraq on it’s eastern edge and Lebanon and Palestine on it’s western.) The children crying on television, the men killed, the women wailing… they are just like them – in fact they *are* them, the only difference being man-made borders drawn by outsiders. It is actually just like the hadeeth of Rasulullah (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) says, “The ummah is like one body; if one part of it is injured, the whole body feels its pain. ” Somehow in the U.S., I feel like we are disconnected from this body; we watch it suffer with concern and sadness, but we don’t really feel the pain.

I don’t know… perhaps there is some hidden hikmah in this – that with some emotional distance from the suffering, with a general sense of safety and well-being, we can forge ahead with a cool-headed sense of purpose and intent and help out the cause of the ummah. But sometimes ease is a harder challenge than difficulty. It’s certainly easier to get lost along the way.

Syria has become the refuge for many types of people in the foregoing years; the Kurds and the Palestinians, the Iraqis after America’s invasion, and now the Lebanese. The number of Lebanese pouring into Syria is close to 200,000. There presence is most apparent in the streets that are more crowded and the markets that are more full… but the Lebanese are similar to the Syrians in their dress and physical appearance, so it’s hard to tell who’s who. At the masajid the imams are encouraging people to donate for their assistance, medical aid and temporary housing, and there is a general feeling of support and compassion towards them, while many Syrian are volunteering in whatever capacity they can to help out.

The last few weeks have been quite nerve-wracking; the original sense of shock at Israel’s aggression (Did they really bomb Beirut?!?? — Many of the Western students studying here in Syria would go to Beirut for the weekend when they missed home – Beirut was a small taste of the U.S./U.K. in the Middle East — modern streets and shops, American food and restaurants; everything written in English, etc) and then, coupled with outrage and frustration, a sense of fear about the aggression expanding into Syria. (What if they bomb here? Will we be able to get out? How can we leave so many innocent people that we know behind, to suffer at their hands?) Watching the news very carefully; talking with other students about their ‘plan of action’ if anything were to happen; concerned calls from families back home, urging us to leave as soon as possible; and so on.

Only Allah (swt) knows what the future holds for Shaam, this region, and for us… all I know is, I have never thought so much about the shortness of my life, how abrupt its ending could be, and the importance of making use of my time before it’s all over. We forget sometimes that this is hayaat ad-dunyaa, and there are no guarantees.

Published in: on July 30, 2006 at 9:57 am  Comments (1)  

first post :)


I went to the University of Damascus to meet someone the other day.  I studied at the University during my first two months in Syria (about eight months ago), but hadn’t returned to the campus since I began studying Arabic at a different school.   

I got off the micro-bus across the street from the university, and headed towards the stairs that brings people underground, towards a tunnel of sorts, that leads to the other side of the street and to the campus.  In the tunnel there are lots of small book shops that sell textbooks, highlighters and pens, posters and notebooks, etc.  I always appreciated the act of one brother that worked at a shop that sold medical textbooks, who, every morning that I went to school there, used to play Qur’an.  It was such a soothing sound on my way to class.   

I went down the stairs trying to remember the name of the reciter he would play, and as I turned to the right towards the tunnel, I saw that all the lights were out.  To go from the sunny brightness of the outside world to the sudden pitch black of the tunnel before me was eerie.  The tunnel is always crowded with students making their way to and from class, laughing, talking on cell phones, crowding the stores to get their books or studyguides.  This day, all sound was muted.  I could just make out each of the bookstores in the darkness.  I could barely distinguish the outlines of many, many people moving, slowly, walking towards me and away from me.  Some people had lighters lit and these small flames floated slowly down the hallway.  It was intensely surreal.  As I joined the shadows moving through the dark, I felt like I was in slow motion, flowing in a space without time, memory, or future.   

Is this real?  Or am I dreaming? 

 Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that overwhelmed me.  Maybe it was its resemblance to the hereafter: Is that how we’ll be on the Day of Judgement? Each of us moving towards our final destination, every person we met in our life only an unrecognizable shadow, going their own way, on the day that our main concern is nafsi, nafsi… 

Or perhaps it was such a striking metaphor for my life, moving from one station to another, passing people and memories, past hurts and happinesses, floating almost instinctively to my next place of residence.  People are never still in this life.  Where will life take me?  Where will I end up?  

One of the weird things about living in Syria is that I feel like there are so many ghosts here.  Not ghosts in the jinni sense of the word (though perhaps there are many here, considering how ancient this land is… but I’m sure they’re the good kind considering how much baraka is here, and how many prophets and righteous people walked this land)…  but ghosts of a different kind.  I meet people from my past, from a different present, from an unseen future.  Everyone is here, seeking something.  Ghosts of the past: people I knew at different times in my life.  Someone I went to highschool with a million years ago, when I felt like I was first surfacing into understanding my self and life.   Another person I attended an Islamic program with in my teenage years, when I had such passion to reform my soul, and such a desire to change who I was and where I was taking my life.  It’s not so much these people, but the memories that they stir inside that affect my heart so much.  Another person who has a close relationship with one of my most influential teachers…  being around them makes me think so much of this teacher, the questions in my mind about what he taught, what I agreed with and disagreed with, what I was able to put into practice and the so much more I was never able to.  And I meet ghosts of my future: people I have met for the first time, that remind me of what I can be, or perhaps, what I should already be by now. 

Sometimes, here, I feel like I am just a jumble of tangled wires and synapses, dreams and memories, all mixed up and blurred together, poured into this simple body of mine.  

Damascus… this place of my dreams, this place of my past.  Perhaps, in this ancient place, where past, present and future seem to blend together, one can make sense of the path of one’s life, ruminating on the dust, the varying breeze, and the constancy of the sun.   

That’s why I’ve called this journal, ‘Damascus Dreams’.  Insha’Allah, it’ll be of some benefit to those who read it, and to my self as well. 

Wasalaamu alaykum  

Published in: on July 27, 2006 at 9:07 am  Comments (5)