The Story of Little Zahra and The Book of Destiny

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One the night of a long day
A girl named Zahra
Was reading stories of angels
From one of her favorite books
Which her mother had bought
When she was still very little

Zahra was waiting
For her father to come
And to count her stories
Of travellers of the sky

As she kept waiting for her
Father to come, she heard
A little noise from
The window of her room

When she stood up and lifted
The curtain, she saw
An angel waiting in the cold
And asking to come in

She opened the window
And let the angel in
And while the tired angel
Finaly got in the room
He thanked little Zahra
For her kindness and love

Little Zahra was curious
To know who this angel was
And why he had come
To her room on this night

‘Peace be upon you Oh angel,
My name is Zahra and I am
Waiting for my father to come
And to tell me a story’

‘Can you tell me who you are,
And why you came to visit me ?’

‘Peace be upon you little Zahra’
replied the angel with a smile

‘My name is Al Qadr
And I came here today
To tell you a little more
About the story of my name’

‘I am angel from the sky
That visits every child
On the night of their first fast
During the month of Ramadhan’

‘And since today was the first time
You fasted all day long
Allah has sent me to visit you
To hand you a gift
Which you will keep forever and ever’

And from behind his back,
The angel handed Zahra
A book which had on it written:
‘The story of little Zahra
written by herself’

The girl stared at the book,
And decided to open it
And when she realized its pages
Were all empty and blank
She looked at the angel and said :

‘This book is empty, Dear angel
It has nothing written on it
Nor does it have any drawing
How can this book be a story
if it is empty of words?’

The angel smiled at Zahra
And said to her in a soft voice:

‘This book is not an ordinary book
Little Zahra, for it represents
Your life and destiny
It is not a book that you will read my dear,
Rather it is a book that you will write yourself!’

The angel continued
Its talk and said:

‘Each one of us has one, 
And with ours smiles and 
Tears, we write on it
Every day and night’

Little Zahra stood up
And took a pen from her desk
And with a gentle stroke
Started writing on it:

‘Yeki book yeki nabood,
Gheyr az khoda kassi nabood’
‘Some were and some were not
God was there, when others were not’

But to her surprise
The pen did not write,
And the page remained blank

Zahra stood up again
And on an old drawing of hers
Tried to use the pen again

The pen was working fine,
As she drew a star
on this old piece of paper
And with much confusion
She shared her concern
With her new angelic friend:

‘Dear angel, this book is
somehow strange in nature.
My pen writes on old paper
But it doesnt on this book.

If I am the writer of this
Book of destiny,
Why does my pen stop
Whenever I try
to write on its page?’

The angel smiled at Zahra
And told her the secret
that made this book special:

‘This book is indeed
One that must be written.
And it is also true
That it is only yours 
And that You are
Its only writer.’

‘But the secret of this book
Is that you do not need a pen
To write on itself. The ink which
Will darken the color of its pages
Are nothing else than your actions
And thoughts alone and always’

Little zahra was confused
And did not understand what
The angel meant:

‘Do you mean dear angel
that my actions are the words and
The story of this book ?

Do you mean that
my behaviour alone will color 
the pages of my own destiny ?

‘You are right my little friend,
your actions are what will fill
this book with words.
And what you decide to do
Will shape the story of your life’

‘I have another question’
said little Zahra anxiously

‘Every book  to survive
Needs to be opened and read
Will there be anyone
who will read this book
Besides me?’

‘Yes’, said the angel

Just like your babajan reads
Stories to you at night, Allah gathers
All angels in the skies and reads to us
The stories of your lives’

And amongst all the books
Of destinies that exist
Allah only choses a few
To be read and remembered

‘And which are the books
which Allah choses to read
To angels in the skies ?’

The angel looked at Zahra
And said ‘ The books
Which tell stories
Of kindness and Love’

Little Zahra’s eyes

Got enlightened and asked:

‘Does that mean dear angel
That if I remain kind
My story will be read
By God to angels and stars?

The angel smiled at Zahra
And while looking at her
Shining eyes replied :

‘Yes my dear Zahra,
This is a promise from God:
Whenever the inhabitants of earth
are kind and remember Him
Allah himself gathers us 
And tells us to look 
At at the light of their faces’

‘But dear Angel,
I dont really know
How to be kind and loving’

‘What if I think I am doing
Something kind, but in fact
It is not something good’
Said Zahra waiting
for an answer
from the angel

‘How do I know what is
The best way to be kind
So that Allah reads
My story ever and ever’

The angel looked at Zahra
And from behind his wings
He handed her two lights
That together shined brighter
Than the moon at night

He opened Zahras hands
And gifted her these lanters

Zahra took each one of them
And felt an instant kindness
That took over her heart
And as she smiled to the angel

She asked her new friend
The name of these lights

‘These are two lights that God
Has sent on earth for you to understand
How to be kind like He wants,
How to know Him like He is.

One of them is the Quran
And the other is the Ahlul beyt
They will not separate
Till the very day 
When all books will
Be opened and read

We angel keep these lights
In our wings, for they make us
Fly, higher and higher.
But you should keep them
Alive In your eyes, so that they 
Enlighten every dark
Alleys of your life.

And If you follow these lanterns,
On every path you walk
You will shine on this earth
And we will see you from above

And God will gather us
To read your book of destiny
To other angels and stars.

And with these last words
The angel bowed down
In reverance and farewell
And disaperead in the skies
Until he became
As tiny as a star

When Little Zahra
Went back to her bed
Her father finally came
To count her stories
from her favorite book

And as he came closer
He realized that Little Zahra
Had long but gone asleep
with a book in her hand

He soon recognised
The book in her hand
For it ressembled the book
An angel had given him
On the night of his
First ramadhan fast

Zahra’s father stayed all night
Besides her daughter’s bed
Remembering his lord
with a smile on his face

For he had realized
while looking at her daughter
That shes was nothing else
But the most beautiful page
Of his own book of destiny.

تَنَزَّلُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ فِيهَا بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِم مِّن كُلِّ أَمْرٍ ‘
‘سَلَامٌ هِيَ حَتَّى مَطْلَعِ الْفَجْرِ 

‘The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. 
Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.’
The Noble Quran (97:4,5)

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Fasting in a jungle of concrete: Experiencing ramadhan in the west.

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New York, Summer 2016

Standing at the corner of one of New York’s busiest intersection right across Penn Station, I found myself contemplating the city like one ends up analyzing a complex composition in a Museum Art Gallery. It is difficult to describe in words the vibe one feels when standing still amidst a stampede of workers, especially right after working hours. But whether you’re from London, Paris, New York or any other metropolitan city that has a business district, I am sure you can relate to what I am trying to describe.

‘Saturation. That’s the word I was looking for. The continuous stimulation of the senses to the point that they cannot relay any meaningful perception to the self, a state where ‘more’ and ‘less’ feels just quite the same.’

With a rosary in hand and making my way out of this concrete mess, I found an oasis of peace in a small park right in the middle of the city. I was fortunate enough to grab a chair and a table and gather my thoughts again. I thought about how exhausting and depleting this walk had been both from a physical and spiritual standpoint and how I thought evolving around areas of extreme density could somehow affect one’s quest of spirituality and balance. If God was to be perceived by our senses, implored with our tongue, sought through our eyes and experienced in tranquility, I wondered if it was even possible to find such a God when the soul was suffocating amidst such an effusion of sounds, lights, motion, conversations, people, colors and emotions.

And because this conundrum wasn’t really a question of ‘if’ such a God could be found but rather ‘how’ such a God manifested in this urban chaos, this led me to formulate the main question around which this essay is articulated: How can one find peace in the absence of peace? How can one find the Unity of Allah in a world seemingly devoid of any harmony? And consequently, given the nature of the month coming of Ramadhan coming ahead of us, how could one welcome the month of Allah, fasting in a jungle of concrete?

Ramadhan and the spiritual geometry

As a child living in Europe, I met a lot of people who would travel during Ramadhan. Most of them would either go back to their home countries in areas vastly populated by Muslims, or they would visit Holy places for Ziarat or Umrah. In both cases, the idea was to ‘experience’ Ramadan and its spirituality, an experience that somehow seemed either impossible or highly difficult when staying in the west.

If one was to visit any metropolitan area of a largely populated city in Northern America or Europe, anyone would argue that this assumption might have been, on the surface level, an accurate one. After all, how could one experience God, and fast properly in a environment devoid of any spirituality per se. How could one experience Ramadhan when when fasting alone at work or amongst friends at university? How could one fast and stay focused on Allah when everything around one’s surrounding, be it people eating in restaurants, ‘not so mahram’ billboards, constant advertisement driving one towards materialism? And pushing the rhetoric a bit further, how could one ever reach any kind of Zohd (islamic asceticism), living in a city which is defined by the absence of it.

Part of the answer to this question comes from a better understanding of our purpose of life and perhaps, from a better understanding of the attributes that surround Allah’s unicity. From a theological perspective, the unicity of Allah implies that he is one and indivisible. And because His existence is not bound to time and space, Allah is everywhere. He is as much present in the Kabah, as He is on wall street. And this realization brings us back to one of our original question : How can one experience God in an environment which is devoid of Him?

If we follow our argumentation, we soon realize that the question we’re asking is a contradiction in itself. There is no environment that is devoid of God. If we’ve established the fact that God is everywhere, the only thing that can happen, is that we might feel that God is absent, but this feeling is a function of the self, of our own imperfection, not of Allah’s absence in any case. Therefore, one must conclude that in spiritual geometry, even if there are seemingly great distances that might separate a soul from its creator, the creator is never far from its creation. We might not perceive him in our vicinity, but even then, he is closer to us than our jugular vein. And from this perspective, there is no reason why on theoretical level, one cannot experience Allah while fasting regularly and following an urban routine we have known while living in a place in which things do not seem drive us towards towards Him.

Now that we have established the fact that Allah is present everywhere and that it in fact impossible to dissociate ourselves from him,  one must conclude that it is indeed possible to fast and attain higher realm of spirituality during Ramadhan even if one to fast in the tallest building of a financial discrtict or any other symbol of capitalism, for it would be against Allah’s Justice to create a Human being at a given time and space and not give him the opportunity to actualize its purpose of creation which is to strive towards Him and his perfection.

The question that remains unanswered though, is how? how could one fast while being fed materialism from the streets? How could one constantly think of the month of God in a society that seems to have forgotten God? How could one pray the the lord of the skies standing in Manhattan, when skies are actually what you couldn’t see?

Of Childhood Memories and The Soul That Rests in Peace

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Warm Zaatar, espresso, and the wooden bench

There is something about memories of our childhood that transcends the realm of common understanding. While adulthood is often defined by a newly aquired sense of emotional stability, a state where an individual always needs greater ‘things’ to get excited, one wonders how can innocent memories suddenly soften our hearts and fill it with a lost sense of satisfaction.  After all, one might ask himself how can the sight of a simple Zaatar, a fresh baguette, a jar of Nutella or a wooden bench bring about such a fulfilling sense of tranquility?

So why is it, that opening the door to these memories never fails to sooth the heart and comfort the soul? Are objects that remind us of our youth the actual carriers of the pleasure we experience when encountering them? Is it the fact that they awaken in us, given memories of specific people that makes our soul at ease with its own existence? Or do they just act as triggers enabling us to consciously acces a greater reality of what our past used to be?

Even though there seems to exist a fundamental relationship between the ‘souvenir’ that was able to trigger the remembrance of the memory that is associated with it, there is a much deeper truth that regulates the pleasure we feel when traveling in the past.

When you think about it, these objects, smells, languages, landscapes or souvenirs do not only remind us of their respective counterparts experienced when we were younger. They more importantly remember us of the state of being we were in when we did experience them in the first place. In order words, we cherish memories of the past not only for what they are made of but also because they remind us of the innocen sweetness  that used to define our lives.

They make us consciously experience the innate sense of serenity that always hovered over our childhood. Most of us were unaware of this faculty we had, to be able to believe, to dream and to live life the way it should be : like an eagle’s  flight over mountainous valley , with no strings attached. And often, it is only when we entered the greyish realm of adulthood, that we realized it actually took a great deal of courage for us to believe the way we did as kids, that we could actually fly and that dreams were meant to be experienced in colors.

Therefore, the pleasure experienced when living memories of the past is perhaps more tied to remembering our innocence more than remembering smells and objects per se. These memories bring us back to a time when we used to live in the present, with a greater sense of certainty, where past and future were abstract concepts which had no significant impact in our emotional and mental state. When you think about it, these memories are perhaps dear to us, because they remind us of a time when our souls were just content enough to experience God the way He should be.

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً

To the righteous it will be said “oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him”

‘Nafs Al Mutmaina’ or the soul which is rests in peace or in certainty is often refered in Islamic spirituality as the ultimate state where that soul that has successfully completed the Greater Struggle enters the abode of victory and triumph that is the world of tranquillity and peace (Allameh Tabatabei).

Only one who has succesfully reached such a state can actually describe consciously, what it actually means to be free. And although I can only imagine how such a state must be like, I often end up imagining it in my mind as a life spent experiecning the lightness of becoming a child again, while still keeping the intellectual ability to think and analyze   an environment as an adult.