by Humaira Khan

Asma was always one to focus on what was missing: the sun on a cloudy day, the tiny smudge on her otherwise beautiful painting, the single wrong answer on a test. She feared imperfection like it was a debilitating disease.

And it showed.

Like this evening.

Five families were coming over for dinner. It was an evening she had planned meticulously for two weeks. She had worked hard on the menu, her task list was carefully drawn up and its execution seemed to be going well that morning.

“I'm not going to get flustered today,” she told herself, as she got ready to cook.

By afternoon, though, she was way behind schedule. Panicked, she had ruined not just some of the main dishes but also her mood. She had almost snapped at her husband, Khalid, even though he was only trying to help her with the biryani and had spoken sternly to her 5-year-old who had bounded into the kitchen demanding a snack.

She couldn't remember the last time she had managed to stay calm during preparations for a dinner party at home. Somehow, no matter what she did, the end result was always the same: she was frustrated and annoyed with herself. This evening was not turning out to be any different, she sighed.

She glanced at the clock on the oven: it read 2.15. Asma suddenly remembered she had not prayed Dhuhr salah. The children were awfully quiet, she thought, as she headed to the bathroom to do wudu.

The children's bedroom door was closed: unusual, she thought. She quietly turned the door knob and peeked in; Khalid had managed to put 2-year-old Aisha to sleep already and was pacing up and down with 10-month-old Mariam who was just nodding off to sleep too. She caught his eye as he turned to pace back across the room and flashed a grateful smile at him.

“Jazak Allah khair,” she whispered, and indicated to him that she was going to pray.

She found herself somewhat calmer during and after Dhuhr salah but the feeling didn't last long.

This was the first dinner party she had hosted since her second child was born and she was doing this as much to prove her worth to herself as to others. She wanted things to be perfect. She had prayed that everything would go well and that she would stay calm the rest of the evening but that just didn't seem to be happening.

“It will be okay, Asma. I'm sure the dinner will be great!” Khalid had said.

Easy for him to say, Asma thought, but decided to keep quiet.

She just wanted the guests to arrive and the dinner over with. It had already been a very long day and she had only succeeded in proving to herself that she was an average cook and an average organizer. She could not do anything right. She was just not good enough.

Dinner wasn't half bad though, in retrospect. In fact, more than a few of the guests had complimented her on her cooking.

But their compliments didn't appease her. She knew the dinner she had cooked was far from perfect, nowhere near what she knew she was capable of.

That night, she sat up late on the living room sofa, completely spent. The dinner was over and, in its wake, had left a mountain of dirty dishes and troubling thoughts.

She felt that, at that moment, she could deal with neither.

But the thoughts crept into her consciousness like intruders, uninvited, unwelcome.

They forced her to ponder on something more than just her own inadequacy. For once.

They forced her to ask herself why seeking perfection and pleasing people was so much of a priority. No, not priority, she thought. An obsession. Almost. Had she not prayed to Allah asking Him to make her dinner a success?

“Dinner was great, Asma!”

She hadn't heard Khalid come into the room and his voice startled her, scattering her thoughts.

“Why so down?” he said, noticing her half-hearted attempt at a smile.

“I don't know why I am feeling so miserable. The food turned out fine, the guests had a good time. But I am feeling so empty.”

“You're probably just tired. Get some sleep and you will be better in the morning, insha'Allah.”

“No, no, it's not that. I feel like I just made all this effort all day for nothing!”

“Why? Why would you feel it was all for nothing? We invited people to our house, we talked about things other than what we talk about every day, had a nice meal. It's always good to have people over. What's there to make it seem like a waste?”

Khalid's tone was gentle, almost consoling. If anyone could help her make sense of her feelings, it would be him, she knew.

He had made it sound like a meaningful evening. Yet the day's events had not resonated as meaningfully with her as they had with him.

She looked at him as though scanning his face for a clue to the puzzle. He wore a serious expression as though he understood that this matter was important on several levels.

And somehow that expression, those words, his description of the evening all came together in her mind, like a key turning in a lock.

Suddenly, she knew. The meaning each of them had seemed to derive from the evening had much to do with the hopes and expectations they each had. HIS motives were simply to enjoy good company and feel a sense of brotherhood. Asma knew her own motives were nowhere near as simple, pure or lofty. Whatever she had aimed to gain from the dinner was for herself alone. She hadn't thought of anyone else.

She remembered with great disappointment how she had scolded Aisha for making a mess on the carpet and how her son's refusal to say salaam to the guests had made her feel embarrassed. She knew he was shy but instead of encouraging him kindly, she had only thought of what her friends would think of her and her son.

It was as though things, people, and events only had meaning when she stood to gain from them. But in the midst of her selfishness was also a sense of inferiority which she constantly tried to shake.

Hence the obsession with perfection, the effort to please people rather than God.

If she was focusing on pleasing God, her prayer would have been different. She would have prayed that He accept her efforts instead of praying for a perfect dinner.

She realized then why her children were like trophies to her. Why, when they misbehaved in public, she felt embarrassed, wondering what people were thinking of her, as a person, as a mother. She realized that she viewed their behavior not in terms of how it affected THEIR akhirah (Hereafter) but HER dunya (life).

And that is why she focused on what was missing, not on what she had been blessed with.

It was a painful realization but she was suddenly grateful for it. If Allah had let her diagnose her problem in this life, then she was being given a chance to rectify it.

“alhamdulillah,” she said, and found Khalid smiling at her.

“What was it that you just figured out?” he asked, curious.

“That I don't thank Allah enough for what I have,” she said simply.

After all, that was the underlying problem. If she fixed her perspective, her focus would shift from what she did not have to what she DID have. And when she concentrated on what she had, she could focus on where it all came from. She would be able to look beyond herself.

Gratitude was the antidote to her relentless pursuit of perfection, she felt. Which reminded her, it was time to pray isha. Perhaps today she would feel some khushoo (sincere humility) in her salah (prayer) again. Insha'Allah.

15 Responses

  1. Dreamlife

    JazakAllah for the story. Hearing principles in theory is fine, but bringing it to life in a narrative helps drive home the message.

    Another aspect on gratitude that could be mentioned is that being grateful can result in increase for us:

    “And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.” [Qur'an: Chapter 14, Verse 7]

    May we all strive to maintain the perspective of being grateful for what we have, rather than complaining about what we don’t have.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  2. Nina

    Jazak Allāh khair for this post. It hit home with me. All too often i get sidetracked with trying to be the best in things and end up feeling that feeling of emptyness. Enter my loving husband who is always calm and completely opposite to my stress and worries. He will say something simple that will help me to remember and reflect on the fact nobody is perfect and only Allah is perfect in everyway. I usually don’t commment on stories but i just had to with this one as it is a very good reminder.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Humaira Khan

      I am very glad you commented on the story! Jazak Allah khair for the encouragement.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  3. Fezz

    Nice story!

    Just some thoughts…

    I’m not sure about the linking of intentions. How can one assume that Khalid’s intentions were pure and lofty – he just appears less concerned with the overall appearance of the event and just wanted to enjoy companionship; this could still be a worldly intention. Or is this Asma projecting her need for everything to be perfect onto his underlying motives?

    Asma thinks her drive for perfection is due to ungratefulness. But she doesn’t really exhibit any overt qualities of envy. Also, when complemented by others she doesn’t experience any temporary “high” from their remarks which makes me wonder if this is more in keeping with a “perfectionist” personality trait.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Humaira Khan

      @Fezz: Jazak Allah khair for your comments. Tthe point I was trying to make was that we are perfectionists because our focus is ourselves and how we appear to other people. On the surface, we may look at it as nothing more than a desire to do things to the best of our abilities but if we delve deep enough we realize that the roots of the problem lie elsewhere.

      Like Asma realizes in the story, had she looked at what she had, rather than what was missing from her life, she would have been able to take her focus off herself. The day we stop and become truly thankful for what blessings we have been given, we will stop being obsessed with what we don’t have (a problem with people who are perfectionists). Ultimately human beings can never be perfect; perfection is only for Allah.

      Whatever Asma’s faults may have been (other than perfectionism), thinking badly of others doesn’t seem to be one of them. She chooses to think well of her husband’s intentions – her ability to look at her own flaws (over and above those of others) is her saving grace. We all have positive and negative qualities. The presence of the bad does not preclude all goodness and vice versa

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  4. Salma

    MashAllah! Good reminder!
    I recognised a lot of myself in this story, which made me cry to be honest, may Allah grant me ability to change for the better, Ameen!
    JazzakAllah khairun!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  5. Humaira Khan

    Jazak Allah khair for your comments.

    The focus in my stories is on “introspection”. Often, we tend to look at other people’s flaws but completely miss seeing our own.

    I hope that this story manages to convey the message I was trying to give.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  6. SHIMI

    Good comes from Allah, the worse it is from our own weakness
    Le bien vient d’Allah, le pire c’est de notre propre faiblesse
    来自真主,更重要的是,它是从我们自己的弱点

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  7. Quran tutor

    In this story you gave the true aspects op life. You told the meaning of life & there is no use to look other people, look at your yourself what you have and then you’ll be happy. A man cannot be happy in any condition.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      Dear Quran Tutor
      Please note your comments are considered implicit marketing and you are already under moderation for direct spamming of posts earlier. Kindly use your name instead of advertising your website. JazakAllahu Khairin.

      -Aly
      CommentsTeam Lead

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  8. Wael Abdelgawad

    The first half of the story was beautifully written, ma-sha-Allah. I felt Asma’s anxiety along with her. I worried that the food might be ruined or some other disaster might occur. At the same time I was glad that I’m not married to someone like that, lol.

    Her realization came too suddenly, however. The truth is that such major life realizations generally come as a result of a major trial. We go through serious pain, or a major loss, and are forced to look at ourselves deeply and critically. As a result, we achieve a breakthrough.

    So I think that simply looking at her husband’s face, and then realizing why she was so unhappy in life, is too easy.

    I suggest lengthening the story. Let Asma continue in her unhappiness for a while. Let her experience a second letdown – perhaps regarding her children – and then a third, until she feels on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Even then, her introspection and enlightenment must be prompted by something external: a verse from Quran, an article, a word of wisdom from a parent or a friend, something that acts as a spark and sets off the introspective fire inside her.

    Just my two cents. I enjoyed the story, thanks.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  9. Humaira Khan

    @Wael: I just saw this. JZK for your comment. Yes, I agree with your suggestions. I wrote this a long time ago and have since then gained a lot more understanding on how to develop a story :) Haven’t seen any stories from you recently. I hope you are still writing. Thanks again.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply

Leave a Reply