the first touch of spring

On the wide alleyway between my brother’s house and mine there’s a large brick wall, behind which is a small courtyard and house. Branches of a few trees peek out from the top of the wall, but it is otherwise a very solemn and lifeless sight. It has an imposing metal door, which I’ve only seen open once before. Months ago, a group of boys, who often play tag or soccer on the little streets and alleyways between houses, had gathered in front of this house and started pushing and shoving, about to fight, and getting quite loud. The mistress of the house, a no-nonsense older woman, opened the door to the racket and promptly threw a bucket of water at the boys, along with a few sharp words, which helped them to disperse rather quickly. In the few moments I stood watching this scene (happening to pass by at that opportune moment) I remember thinking that that’s a good trick to know :), and I also remember noticing that the courtyard was beautiful, with lots of green plants and many trees.

It’s a hallmark of traditional Damascene architecture to be ugly from the outside and beautiful from within. If you walk through the Old City you’ll see lots of imposing brick walls, metal gates, and sometimes entry doors to homes that are extremely small; but if you entered inside you’d find spacious, beautiful courtyards with lemon and orange trees, gurgling fountains, and the floor sketched out with mosaic tiles.

I’ve heard many reasons for this, one being that traditionally there is a clear line between the outside world and the inner sphere of one’s home, family and property; another, that it was meant to ward off ‘the eye’ and keep from advertising one’s wealth and prosperity to those who may be less fortunate; and most interestingly, I heard that the small doors were meant to force the owner of the house to have to enter his home literally and physically with his head lowered, as a way to instill humility in a person who may become proud of what he owns.

It’s a depressing sight though, to always be looking from the outside…. but it’s a good lesson to learn. Don’t be so shallow, and don’t focus so much on externals. Sometimes there’s beauty hidden away, and sometimes it’s not for you to see.

I must have passed this brick wall a thousand times or more, and in the last few months the branches that reach heavenwards have been bare and lifeless.

Yesterday I noticed that one tree among them had blossomed, it’s branches covered with tiny white flowers. In the stark sandy-beige of the street, the wall, and the surrounding houses, it’s vivid color is so gorgeous, masha’Allah. I think it’s the first touch of spring I’ve seen this year. As the days grow warmer and the trees and flowers come into bloom, there’s a vibe of life and energy in the air that’s really uplifting…

I ask that Allah make the upcoming season one full of growth and renewal for us, and a time when our hearts are thawed from the coldness of indifference into the warmth of dhikr and remembrance of Him, His mercy and kindness.

May Allah grant us leave from dark days, and enter us into days of happiness, hope and beauty. (ameen.)

P.S. : I know that there are a lot of good people who read this blog, so I’d like to request that you please pray for my Mom, who is not feeling well these days. Jazak(i) Allahu khayra.

wasalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah.

Published in: on March 14, 2007 at 2:44 pm  Comments (10)  

escape

I want to lose myself in these crowded streets, in the mix of strangers, unrecognized to others and to myself. I want to efface my self in this new, exotic place, until no one knows my name, and if I hear it I wonder at the strangeness of its sound.

I want to leave behind everything that makes me ‘me’ and become something else.

The manner of my speech, the shape of my smile, the slant of my writing… every ingrained habit and every natural trait… everything that forges my being. Indestructible prejudices, ignorance, envy, cowardice, foolishness, laziness, tiredness… wasted moments, unspoken truths, a sharp tongue and a sharper heart. Missed prayers, judgements about others, hypocricies hidden deep. Wounds, black and bloody, that have never healed. Sorrows, regrets, and grief. Unfulfilled dreams and broken hopes. Trivial facts and countless images before my minds eye. The life I was born into, and the life that was born into me.

I want to wrap all these things up in a plain white sheet and go deep into the desert, away from the travelled roads, somewhere between Damascus and Tidmor, until I find some desolate, lonely spot. There, I want to bury it beneath the brittle, dry soil, six feet under, layering handful after handful of sand on top, until the ground evens out and the desert becomes a single solid entity once again. And I want to walk away, and never remember where it’s buried.

I want to drink from the cup of death, but only a small sip – only enough to taste its sweetness. Only enough to become new again, with no past, no planned future, no restricted present. That’s all I want…

just blank pages, and a soul with which to write.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 8:57 am  Comments (3)  

Mutah, Jordan

mutah-edited.jpg

There are places on earth that have such an intense connection with the spiritual world that it can be felt by a sensitive soul. The holy cities are probably the places where that link is most translucent and easily felt, but I think every place that has had a momentous role in history shares in that… places where prophets walked, or saints lived, or blood was shed in a righteous cause, or in which God’s mercy or anger was made clearly manifest. Refined souls probably feel it everywhere.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Mu’tah, a town about two hours outside of Amman, Jordan. It’s significance is in that a battle took place there at the time of the blessed Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wa salam. The Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) had sent some peaceful delegations to a number of outlying tribes in this area, whom the tribes subsequently killed. This was a sign of political aggression and open hostility at the time, so the Prophet (saw) then sent out a force of about three thousand men to confront them. The tribes were allies with the nearby Romans, and with their reinforcements their army numbered close to a hundred thousand men. It was in this battle that one of the commanders of the Muslims, Ja’far, was killed, his arms cut off by the enemies, and the Prophet (saw) had a vision of him in Paradise, his arms replaced with wings like the angels. A number of others of his companions died before Khalid ibn al-Walid was able to take charge, fend off the enemy, and make a wise retreat. (This battle is described very soulfully in Martin Lings book, ‘Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources’, which is an excellent read.)

The site where the battle took place is simply a huge open field. There is a tumbled down stone building of sorts on one side, but with no demarcation of what it used to be. The Jordanian government recently built a beautiful masjid and building around the graves of the three commanders of the battle, which stands a short distance away. But the battlefield itself had been left alone, which I actually greatly prefer. It’s much easier to reflect on its history without a lot of new things being built on top of it.

Visiting this place evoked many different emotions inside of me. Firstly, and most honestly, I was so aggravated to see the litter and garbage that seemed to overwhelm a lot of the area. This habit that people generally have in the Muslim world, of treating the world around them like a dumpster, is really frustrating and repulsive, and even more so in places that should be respected.

Secondly, it seemed like the place had become an area for people and families to picnic and hang out. There was a large stone plaque on one edge of the field that described what took place there. Next to it, we saw that there were some young people smoking nargeela, laughing and relaxing.

While these things in themselves may not necessarily be a big deal, the fact that it was taking place *here* was something I found so distressing. I could not keep my mind off of these people, and the trash that I saw everywhere.

This was a place of such serious reflection, on our history and on our present state, on the sacrifices and the blood spilt by that first generation. What does it take for someone to do what they did, to have the courage to stand up in battle and put their life on the line, *only* for the sake of the truth? And we, countless generations later, are still benefitting from their struggles, in that we know this deen.

How many of us have taken a stand for the truth in our own lives, even just once? How many small compromises and minor concessions have we made at times when we needed to be strong? How many of us have fought the good fight, even against our own selves? And why aren’t our souls moved by this? Are we so dissevered from that history that we don’t feel anything, even when we are *literally* walking in their footsteps?

I understand that living in a place makes a person less sensitive to it, but I could not help but be deeply disturbed. It struck me that this, what I saw, was just such a perfect metaphor for our state: we are sitting on this legacy of some of the most beautiful, courageous and passionate people that walked on this planet – and what are we adding to this tradition except garbage and wasting of time?

I was so hurt by this scene, probably because it was such a clear reflection of my self and my own life. this beautiful tradition, the history of those who came before us right in front of my eyes, while I just sit back and take it easy, or tell myself ‘I’ll do it later’. Or worse, contributing negatively to it, due to my own weaknesses. This must be something so ugly in Allah’s sight.

I felt so ashamed for our present state, and such awe for the people that came before us, that as I was standing there I could only ask Allah that He be generous and forgiving to us, and somehow make us like them, and our hearts like their hearts… and that when we meet the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wa salam that he loves us, for the full and meaningful lives we lived, fulfilling his legacy and living by his teachings…

I ask that Allah refine our souls and make us people who feel, are sensitive to, and are hugely inspired by our history… (ameen).

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 8:50 am  Comments (7)