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The Gift of Iddah

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A part of me died four months and ten days ago.

But, alhamdulillah, it wasn’t hope. It wasn’t courage. And it definitely wasn’t faith and trust in my Lord’s perfect plan.

 The call that changed everything

The call woke me before Fajr. My heart stopped as I tried to recognize the number on the screen. A blank. But when I answered the phone and heard the familiar voice of the doctor on the other side, I prepared myself for the worst.

And the worst came: heart stopped beating, CPR attempted for 30 minutes, no hope.

‘JazakAllahu khairan,’ I whispered hoarsely before cutting off the call. Then I immediately rose from the bed and fell into sujood of shukr. Alhamdulillah.

It was the moment I had dreaded but also a moment I had been preparing myself for, ever since a sister, who had come to visit me at the hospital, had told me the story of a husband and wife whose daughter was desperately ill. Every time they came to the hospital, the doctors would tell them more reasons why she was not going to make it. And, at every visit, the father would turn to his wife and said, ‘Don’t forget.’

This continued for several days, the doctors predicting the worst, and the husband reminding his wife not to forget, until the day they arrived and were given the news that would break any parent’s heart: their daughter had died.

Upon hearing the news, the husband turned to his wife and said to her, ‘Now,’ and they both fell into sujood of shukr.

The hospital staff were amazed, some of them even horrified. Surely this was a terribly sad event, one to be wept over, to be mourned, not to be celebrated with sujood?

They asked the couple why, why had they done this?

And the couple told the staff at that hospital how they had taken the decision to give thanks for their daughter’s life, for the joy she had brought them, for the love they had shared with her. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had allowed them to love and care for her for all those years: should they not give thanks for this?

And, when I heard this story, I decided that that was what I was going to do, if it ever came to that.

Because, you see, I had no right to bemoan losing my husband, after being gifted with more happiness in 16 years than many taste in a several lifetimes. Alhamdulillah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) guided us both to Islam and, a few short years later, to each other. My husband’s understanding and patient attitude brought out the best in me, in deen and dunyah. His way was not to command or force, but rather guide and, even, let me make my own mistakes and learn from them. As with those he worked with, his aim was always to support me in fulfilling my potential, because it was that quality that had drawn him to me in the first place (his words, not mine!). Quite simply, we understood each other, we supported each other, we were best friends and allies, as well as husband and wife. It is no exaggeration to say that, without him, I would not be the woman I am today. It was for this reason that I dedicated From My Sisters’ Lips to him, all those years ago: ‘For the wind beneath my wings’. I always prayed that any good I had done would be counted in the scale of his good deeds.

As it was, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) took him after a bout of illness, after completing the Hajj twice (the last time, with me) and having recently taken all his children for ‘Umrah. He died a Muslim, on tawheed, in the land of the Muslims, well-loved by his family, friends and colleagues. Alhamdulillah, some things are indeed a comfort.

 

A deep and terrible loss

In the days that followed his passing, I was on autopilot. There is no time for breaking down when you are a foreign national, trying to complete paperwork for a burial, on the day the British Embassy is closed for a UK holiday. I went through the motions: I Whatsapped everyone to give them the news, I sat on the phone to try to get an appointment to allow his body to be buried in Egypt, as he would have wanted; I stood in crowded offices while my papers were shuffled back and forth, collecting stamps and signatures along the way. By the time we had finally got permission to bury him, we were late: the Dhuhr prayer was in less than an hour. My phone was dead. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to let people know about the Janazah in time. But, by that time, I was past caring.

I observed the Janazah salah from the steps of the masjid and I said my last salaam to him in the courtyard before they took him on the long drive to the graveyard.

Surrounded by my children, my family, my in-laws, sisters, brothers, colleagues and well-wishers on every side, I felt like I was watching a scene in a movie. I played my part well: I was the gracious widow, receiving condolences, comforting others, maintaining my composure, but, in truth, my heart was aching. And yet, through it all, my faith in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was undaunted, alhamdulillah.

I wrote at the time: I feel so incredibly blessed. Even in the midst of the trial, as the tears fall, I am surrounded by His Mercy. The du’as, the support, the love, the sense of strength and serenity, are all signs of His Mercy. Alhamdulillah, I accept. Alhamdulillah, I am at peace. Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah is the balm for my aching heart.

The next challenge, after burying him, would be mourning him, observing the ‘iddah.

Observing the ‘iddah

There is a delicate tension in the state of iddah, the mourning period for a widow.

On the one hand, life continues, particularly if you have children or have to work to support your family. Contrary to popular belief, it is permitted for the widow in ‘iddah to go out during the day to fulfil her needs*. The pressures, demands and responsibilities of the world are real and they won’t wait for four months and ten days to be over. Some widows find that family members take over these tasks but, in many cases, you are forced to plan, to look forward, to move on, to face the world. It can be an exquisite distraction from the pain that lies buried deep under the school run, bedtime stories and endless paperwork and deadlines. But it is still a distraction.

On the other hand, your state of ‘iddah restricts you; you cannot fully embrace life, even if you want to. You are not supposed to wear beautiful clothes or adorn yourself in any way. Although you may have visitors and spend time with family and friends, you are expected to shun social gatherings. You are not to entertain proposals. You should observe your period of mourning in your marital home. All this means that you must pause. You must reflect. You must withdraw. You must face the reality, brave the darkness: the ache, the loneliness, the anger, the fear, that feeling of being utterly bereft. You must face it because it will break you down, bring you to your knees, make you feel once again that vulnerability of his last days when you would have given anything for one last apology, one last kiss, one last promise. You must face the reality that this is Allah’s plan for you. And that, if this is so, there must be khair in it for you. It’s there. It’s there in the chance to ask for forgiveness, to pour your heart out, to cleanse, to rectify your soul, to purify your habits, to be ready to emerge from your ‘iddah like a butterfly from a chrysalis: reborn, refashioned, beautiful.

The gift of ‘iddah

For me, my ‘iddah has been a time of discovery, full of challenges, but, equally, full of triumphs. So far, I have weathered the storm. We all have, alhamdulillah.

During my ‘iddah, I have tasted grief, a grief unlike any I have felt before. At times, I have felt a crushing and desperate loneliness, a longing for my love that threatens to suffocate me. But then I breathe, one beat, two beats, and it is soothed: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sends me relief in the form of an ayah, or a poem, or a phone call or a sister dropping by out of the blue to listen and hold my hand and let me know that it is ok to feel.

I have also felt, as many widows do, the weight of new responsibilities, too numerous to name. The realisation that it is all down to you now, that you are a single parent, that there is no escape from the responsibility, is a terrifying one.

I have also felt the confusion, the anger, the sadness that all widows must feel.

But, equally, with every test, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has shown me the truth of His words: ‘Verily with every difficulty, there is ease.’ I have held onto those words; they have kept me from drowning many, many times.

By His grace, I have felt the love of so many kind and goodhearted souls who have been there for me, sometimes traveling great distances, to take the kids, to make me a cup of tea, to listen to me, to let me cry and to let me sleep for two days straight. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reward them with Jannat-ul-Firdaws; they have taught me the true meaning of sisterhood. I have felt the love that radiates from my children, my family and from those I do not know a thousand miles away; I have felt the thrill of strength and determination as I continue to walk forward and achieve the goals I have set for myself, for our family; and I have felt the healing balm of gratitude that continues to sustain me.

If it is not improper to say so, I would say that I eventually found my ‘iddah period empowering. By Allah’s grace, I have been able to come to terms with and accept that my husband is no longer with us. I have come to accept and embrace the challenges that this new journey will bring. I am at peace with the decree of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that He will never burden a soul more than it can bear – that alone gives me the courage and confidence I need to meet the numerous challenges head-on. I know in my heart of hearts, with full yaqeen, that He did not test us with this to break us, but rather, to purify us, to lift us up. He has been my solace throughout this test and I have never once despaired of His Mercy. Alhamdulillah, He has never failed to come to my aid in my time of need. He has never failed to ‘catch me’. And He never will, bi’idhnillah.

Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal.

 

Sweet stoicism

Stifles the screams,

Silences the sighs,

Sinks the soul

To numbness.

My heart is too hard to hurt.

My hands, too full to face the sky.

My eyes, too focused to tear up

With wild, wilful tears.

Forgive me, Lord.

Forgive me

And catch me

When my back finally breaks

When my heart finally cracks

When the tears finally fall

And fall

And fall,

Drowning me

And all my patience,

Strength

And fortitude.

When the agony of loss

Threatens to throw me from the cliff,

Catch me, Lord.

Catch me.

Na’ima B. Robert is the acclaimed author of From My Sisters’ Lips and founding Editor of SISTERS www.sisters-magazine.com , the Magazine for Fabulous Muslim Women. Her new book of poetry, ‘Catch Me’, is available on Amazon,  Amazon.co.uk, now. Her support website for widows www.my-iddah.com goes live this week, insha Allah. To find out more about her work, visit www.naimabrobert.co.uk

[Editor’s Note] A free preview of Catch Me for our readers, please use this link: http://sistersawakening.com/catchme_preview

 

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Add

    August 14, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Please fix the Amazon link for her book.

  2. Avatar

    Mummyjaan

    August 14, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Naima. May Allah grant Jannat ul Firdaus to hour husband Ameen.

  3. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    August 14, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Asalaam Alaikum

    Such a wonderfully powerful essay. JazakAllah khairun for sharing this.

    May you all be reunited in Jannah.

  4. Avatar

    Umm Abdillah

    August 15, 2015 at 4:43 AM

    Goosebumps reading this. May Allah always cushion your Ieman and be your constant Wali. May Allah grant your husband Jannatul Firdaus.

  5. Avatar

    Aaminah

    August 15, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    I have read ,followed your write up for almost 7 years now and I have loved you all for Allah’s sake. May Allah ease your task,grant you the best in this life and hereafter and accept all your deeds as an act of Ibadah.

    • Avatar

      UmmA

      August 15, 2015 at 9:15 PM

      Aameen ya Rabb al aalameen

  6. Avatar

    Diary of a British Algerian

    August 15, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I am deeply sorry for your loss, sister.
    This post is amazingly written and has left me in tears. You are strong mashallah & so inspiring. I can’t imagine going through what you went through. Alhamdulileh you have found some strength to cope with your unimaginable loss. May Allah help you raise your children & keep you strong for them. May Allah help you deal & cope with your loss. May Allah reunite you all in Jannah. May Allah forgive your husband & have mercy on his soul. Ameen ya rab.

    • Avatar

      Amina Moyo

      November 8, 2015 at 4:00 AM

      May Allah continue to strengthen you. Ameen.

  7. Avatar

    Abu Fawzaan

    August 15, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    Hasbunallahu wa nimal wakeel
    Hasbunallahu wa nimal wakeel

  8. Avatar

    salma sambo

    August 15, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    May Allah continue to give you more strength in facing the challenges of life, nd may Jannatul Firdaus be his nd our final abode.

  9. Avatar

    Maryam Abdul

    August 15, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. My dear Sister you have always been a source of inspiration to me and I’m certain so many other sisters. And even now with your loss you have the courage to share with us so we can learn from it. Your reward is with Allah SWT and may He bless you in abundance. May He grant your husband and other dead muslims comfort in the grave and jannatulfirdaus. Amin

  10. Avatar

    R.b.p

    August 15, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    Am currently sitting in iddat and can sooo relate to those feelings?..Allah make easy for you and remember my children and i in your duas…

  11. Avatar

    Ummu Ayeesha

    August 15, 2015 at 7:18 PM

    Sister Na’ima you have been a great source of inspiration to me and many more. May Allah reward you in your grieve and make Jannatul Firdaus his eternal dwelling.

  12. Avatar

    Fazeela Dulloo

    August 16, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    Being widowed recently I sympathize with you. In the grand scheme of life Allah knows and will reward you – patience my sister
    patience Allah knows,

  13. Avatar

    Bashirat Yusuf

    August 16, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    Reading through your memoir, I couldn’t help but stifle back the tears that were threatening to roll down my cheeks; tears not for your loss, but for the strength and courage you displayed, even in your loss; making me to realize that the strength of Islam displayed by the sahabah is very much alive and real. May Allah comfort you and continue to strengthen you my sister. Never look back please, a lot of sisters around the world are looking up to you. May Allah forgive your husband and Grant him aljannah firdaous. Amin.

  14. Avatar

    Fa'izah

    August 16, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    Masha Allah sister. I am a young(ish) widow in my Idah at the moment. I feel sometimes like I am going crazy for being so happy about the passing of my amazing wonderful husband. I miss him terribly yes, but he had such an amazing death one any Muslim would pray for. We all want to meet our Creator and I am happy for him for this test to be over.
    I feel like you’ve captured the essence of this time so beautifully. Someone else is sharing this path and this grief and this strength and doing it in a similar fashion to me. Maybe I am not so crazy after all.
    All my love sister for you and may we emerge from our Idah as you described- beautiful butterflies ready to take on what Allah has in store for us.

  15. Avatar

    Abdia

    August 17, 2015 at 6:42 AM

    May Allah ease yiurpain and grant your husband janatul firdaus ameen

  16. Avatar

    Nafisah

    August 17, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    May Allah (SWT) reward you and ease your affairs. May He grant your husband and other dead Muslims Jannatul firdaus. Ameen

  17. Avatar

    Femida

    August 17, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    Masha Allah sister naima
    Please carry on making dua for all of us for Allah taala to grant us sincerity and the strength to cope like you have in all your challenges

  18. Hena Zuberi

    Hena Zuberi

    August 18, 2015 at 2:33 AM

  19. Avatar

    Ayesha

    August 18, 2015 at 5:27 AM

    My dear sister , may Allah azzawajal grant you and your family Sabrun jameel , may he have mercy on your husband , grant him a highest abode in jannatul fidaus and unite you all with the same .Ameen ya Rab

  20. Avatar

    Alpha Bravo

    August 18, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    I just have a hard time understanding this… How can you love someone who gives you pain, grief and puts you into misery. It’s like Islam is the ultimate test of cognitive dissonance: it just doesn’t make sense.

    The reaction of the hospital staff is what any average human being will go through… that’s what human beings were born with: the natural instinct to be devastated at loss of one’s child. However Allah tells us to act against our basic operating procedures. It’s like we were created with these instincts but the test is that who can go against these instincts. No wonder why 99.9% of bani Adam will end up in Hellfire.

    • Avatar

      Abu Haazim

      August 18, 2015 at 12:21 PM

      I understand your predicament. The story of husband and wife making sajda shukr shows a clear lack of understanding of the faith. While people get really impressed after reading these stories, the true ‘Abd(bondsman) of Allah realizes that Islam is not following your sentiments and desires rather following the way of the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him). If they really understood the spirit of Islam, they would naturally weep as did the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him) when his son passed away. Allah Ta’ala has not demanded of us not to weep on such a great loss but the command is to not to complain like some people do by saying why me or this was untimely etc. etc. One can mourn but at the same time, know firmly in your heart that nothing happens without the will of Allah and that it has good in it, whether we understand it or not with our very limited intellectual is a different matter.

      I pray that Allah Ta’ala give the author peace and fulfill her needs from HIS vast treasures and grant us all sound understanding of Deen.

  21. Avatar

    Mohamed shiraz

    August 20, 2015 at 2:07 AM

    ASSALAMMUALIKUM KINDLY ADD ME TO TOUR MAILING LIST JAZAKALLAH

  22. Avatar

    zaneera v

    August 22, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    Inspiring Sister Na’ima
    May Allah ease your grief, take you closer to Him and reunite you with your beloved in His eternal Jannah

  23. Avatar

    Mohammed

    August 22, 2015 at 5:05 PM

    May Allah grant him Jannat ul Firdaus Ameen.

  24. Avatar

    Sa'ada

    August 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    May Allah(SWT) make Jannatul Firdaus his final abode and may He(SWT) make it easy on you and other widows as well.
    May Allah(SWT) increase our faith and
    eeman in Him and His
    beloved prophet(SAW) and I pray we return to Him witout dirt and in full Faith.

  25. Avatar

    Aisha

    August 29, 2015 at 3:13 AM

    Allahumma baarik lakum. May Allah be your strength and grant your husband forgiveness and Jannatul Firdaws. Ameen

  26. Avatar

    Sumayyah

    November 10, 2015 at 2:39 AM

    May Allah bless you, my sister, and continue to make you a source of benefit wherever you are. <3

  27. Avatar

    Khadija patel

    November 20, 2015 at 3:08 AM

    I too recently lost my husband. I have had to put my mourning to one side and recollect my responsibilities. How to guide my sons in the best possible way that they benefit the deen and dunya. I sat at home for two months and had to return to work to support my financial needs. But shukr that the Almighty has given me strength and health to do this.

  28. Avatar

    Alabi rukayat

    April 21, 2016 at 1:04 PM

    may Allah (s.w.t) grant him aljanat Firdaous inshallah I’ve been reading ur books and u are such an amazing writer and u’ve impacted so many lives may Allah (s.w.t) reward u abundantly inshaallah.wish i could meet u one day.Jazakummullahu khaeran

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#Life

How To Be Positive In Hard Times

Amina Malik, Guest Contributor

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How to be Positive

We all know that we should be grateful. And we definitely know that we should be certain that whatever happens is good for us as believers. However, when we are tested -as we inevitably are-, many of us crumble. Why is that? Why are we not able to ‘pass’ these tests, so to speak? Many of us after a tragedy become hapless, sad, depressed, angry, or bitter.

The essence lies in knowledge that is beneficial, and the best form of knowledge is that which an individual can apply to their day-to-day life on their own. Here are a few tips to increase your patience in hard times. Like building muscle at the gym, it takes time to exercise this habit, but becomes easier over time:

Manage Stress:

Unfortunately, stressful events are abundant in our lives. People under stress can find themselves falling into thinking errors. These thinking errors include -but are not limited to-: black and white thinking, mind-reading, self-criticism, negative filtering and catastrophizing. Together this can affect how we perceive reality. Next time you are tempted to make a catastrophe out of a situation, stop and ask your self two questions:

  • Is this really a big deal in the larger scheme of things?
  • Are there any positives in this situation?

Have a Realistic Perspective of Qadr:

Although it is part of our creed to believe in divine destiny, personal responsibility is still of importance and we cannot simply resign ourselves to fate; especially if we have some sort of influence over a situation.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Quran:

لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِّن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِ مِن وَالٍ 

For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. [Surah Ar-Ra’d;11]

This puts the responsibility on us to change ourselves. Notice the word, themselves. We are not responsible for events beyond our control. These events include the behavior of our spouses, the affinity of our children to the religion, the love in the hearts of people, the weather, the gender of our child (or how many we have), or even the amount of money we will earn in a lifetime -to name a few. Often we become stuck and focus on our conditions, rather than focusing on our own behavior.

Nourish Positive Thinking:

How to Be PositiveIn order to be able to have a wise and calculated response to life’s events, we must learn to interpret these events in a way that assign positive meaning to all. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is after all, how we perceive Him to be. Shaytan interferes with this process through waswaas (interjecting thoughts that are based on negativity and falsehood). His goal is for the Muslim to despair in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy. The goal is not to be happy all the time; this is unrealistic. The goal is to think well of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as consistently as possible.

  • Create a list of what you are grateful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for daily.
  • Remind yourself everyday of the positive aspects of situations when your mind falls to default negative thinking. Self-criticism will will only encourage you to take full responsibility for negative life events and become depressed, or at the opposite end take no responsibility whatsoever; either mind-set does not help us improve our self.

Remind yourself as well as others of the benefits of Positivity:

  •  On an individual level, once we begin to think positive about ourselves and our life, we become optimistic. This positivity will then also effect our perception of others. We become more forgiving, over-looking, and patient with others when we can see the positives in any situation.
  • Increased rizk and feelings of well-being
  • Reduced likelihood of reacting in a negative way to life’s events; increased patience.
  • Increased likelihood of finding good opportunities in work, relationships and lifestyle.
  • Higher energy levels and motivation to take on acts of khayr and benefit.

10 Steps to Happiness!

Practice self-care as a daily routine:

Our bodies have rights on us. Our souls have rights on us. Our family has rights on us. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has rights on us. Often, when there is an imbalance in one area, our whole being can sense it. This creates anger and resentment towards those around us and life in general.

  • Take care of your body, feed it well and in moderation and exercise in a way that makes you feel relaxed.
  • Pray your prayers, read the Quran, maintain the rights Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and your own soul have on you.
  • Take care of your tongue by avoiding back-biting and complaining.
  • Take regular showers, comb your hair, brush your teeth, and wear clean clothes; even if you are at home.
  • Take care of your mind by doing dhikr as much as possible and letting go consciously of ruminating on situations.

A Powerful Dua for Happiness

Do not over-rely on your emotions:

Our emotions are a product of our thoughts. Our thoughts can be affected by slight changes in the environment such as the weather, or even whether or not we have eaten or slept well.

 

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ 

“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” [Surah Al-Baqarah;216]

How To be PositiveUltimately, our perception can be manipulated by our thoughts, shaytan, and other factors. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not limited in His perceptions due to stress, emotions, or circumstances and moods. Therefore, we should be humble to defer our judgements to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) ever-lasting judgement. Far from naval gazing, the more we are aware of our internal perceptions, emotions, and motives, the more able we are to practice Islam in its full essence. Our forefathers understood this deeply, and would regularly engage in self-assessment which gives you a sense of understanding and control of your own thoughts, emotions and actions.

The Art of Overcoming Negativity

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#Culture

Go Visit Bosnia

Amad Abu Reem

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Visit Bosnia

I have been to 35 countries, from Japan and China in the Far East, to Mexico and Columbia in South America, to Egypt and Morocco in North Africa, and there has not been another trip that was as profound in so many ways as my last trip to Bosnia. Go Visit Bosnia.

Besides Bosnia’s natural beauty, affordability and hospitality, the enrichment that comes from learning about a different culture, its cuisines, its complicated politics, and a genocide not yet 25 years old, is one that turns tourism into an experience not easily forgotten.

To the last point, why do human beings travel? What is it about a new destination that is appealing to us? Fun can be achieved in your neck of the world, so why wander? There are those who live in picture-perfect Switzerland but love to travel to remote deserts of Africa or the beaches of Indonesia. That is because traveling through new lands is a human instinct—a yearning to experience different cultures, foods, and environments.

Moreover, there is nothing more precious in life than experiences. Those who have had a sudden onset of terminal disease at an early age have an important perspective from which we can all learn. Why? Because the knowledge that you are dying quickly ends any sense of immortality, and what truly matters is crystallized. When asked what is it that they cherished most in their lives, pretty much all of them mentioned how the satisfaction from experiences such as travel beats the enjoyment of material riches any day.

What is an experience? Is it a fun week at Disney? Is it an adventure-filled trek through mountains? Is it going to a place to learn a new language? Actually, all of them are experiences, and it is not just going to a new place, but it is what you make out of that travel. If it is just fun, games, and shopping, have you really enriched your own life? Or have you missed out?

So when we planned our trip to Bosnia, many in our circle were a bit surprised as Bosnia is not on most travelers’ bucket lists. Muslims generally have Turkey and Malaysia in their must-visits “halal trips”, but after my trip to Bosnia, I feel that all Muslim travelers should add Bosnia to their short-list. Bosnia is a Muslim majority country, but barely so with about 50% Muslims, 30% Serbian Orthodox Christian and 15% Croat Catholics. I know this concerns many people, so let me add that food is generally halal unless you are in a non-Muslim village. Your guide will ensure that.

However, let me add that Bosnia is not just good for Muslims (just as Turkey and Malaysia appeal to everyone); people of all faiths can enjoy from the enriching trip to Bosnia.

Our trip began with selecting a reliable tour operator. While people tend to skip operators, preferring to book directly, I firmly believe that a professional should organize your first trip to a relatively unknown destination. I can honestly say I would have missed 50% of the enrichment without the presence of Adi, a highly educated tour guide, who was such a pleasant and friendly person that we almost felt him part of the family. The tour company itself belongs to a friend who worked for a major international company, before moving to his motherland to become part of Bosnia’s success. At the end of this article, I am providing contacts with this tour company, which MuslimMatters is proud to have as its partner for any Balkan travel.

Travel Bosnia, Visit Bosnia

Coming to the trip, I am not going to describe it in the sequence of the itinerary, but just some of the wonderful places we visited and the memorable experiences. We had 10 days for the trip and I would say a minimum of one week is needed to barely enjoy what Bosnia has to offer. However, two weeks if available would make it less hectic and give more time to absorb most of what Bosnia has to offer.

Our trip started in Sarajevo, a beautiful city. Even though it’s Bosnia’s largest city, the population is around half a million. Remember Bosnia itself has a relatively small population of 3.5 million. An additional 2 million people in the Bosnian diaspora are spread throughout the world, mostly due to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. We walked through the old town and heard amazing stories from our guide. Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I have seen its pictures and can see why many people refer to Sarajevo as the “little Jerusalem”. We heard the interesting story about the assassination of the Archduke of Austria in 1914 (the Austria-Hungarian empire controlled Bosnia at the time) and the beginning of World War 1. We visited the Ottoman bazaar, the City Hall, the Emperor’s Mosque, and many other interesting areas.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a compact city on the Miljacka River, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. Its center has museums commemorating local history, including Sarajevo 1878–1918, which covers the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that sparked World War I. Landmarks of the old quarter, Baš?aršija, include the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque.

Like most cities in Bosnia, a river flows right through the center of Sarajevo.

The magnificent building that houses Sarajevo City Hall is located in the city of Sarajevo. It was initially the largest and most representative building of the Austro-Hungarian period in Sarajevo and served as the city hall. During the siege of Sarajevo that lasted over 3 years, Serbs targeted this building, focusing on destroying a rich collection of books and manuscripts inside it, and it was essentially burned down. After years of reconstruction, the building was reopened on May 9, 2014.

As we were walking on the streets, I took a picture of a man sitting carefree on the bench near the garden. I found this man’s peaceful enjoyment of the weather fascinating. He was in his own world— eyes closed and smiling.

Visit Bosnia

As you go into the Old Town, you will find many shops like this one in the picture of metal-crafts. Bosnians have been historically folks with mastery in metal and wood crafts. One historic shop that still functions and has some fabulous wood pieces is shown in the pictures.

 

 

As you go through the city, you will find many graveyards as well, reminding everyone of the longest modern age siege of Sarajevo. One particular grim reminder is a memorial near the city center dedicated to the children who were killed during the war.

Visit Bosnia, SarajevoOur trip coincided with the annual somber anniversary of the beginning of the siege, April 5, 1992. Bouquets of flowers adorned the remembrance area.

Visit Bosnia

Another major graveyard (massive area) has graves of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and few Bosnian Croats (Catholics). They fought against each other with the oppressor by all accounts being the Serbs. Now they all lie together next to each other. The white tombstones are Muslims, the black ones Serbs. One pic shows a particular Serb person who lived 101 years, only to die in the first year of the war. Most of the tombstones indicated the year of death during 1992-95, the war years. Some of the white tombstones have “Sehid” written which means martyr. Interestingly, Serbs use Greek letters and other Bosnians Latin, so most signs are in both languages.

You can go up to a café in Hecco Deluxe Hotel, which is Sarajevo’s oldest “skyscraper” and just absorb a 360 view of the city.  I was able to take one picture that captured the signs of all three major religious groups in Bosnia, as labeled in the photo. However, this is also a reflection of a country divided with 3 presidents, one from each religious group. Remember that the massacres were conducted by mostly Bosnian Serbs (not Serbian Serbs) and at some point, the Bosnian Croats also backstabbed the Bosnian Muslims (for example by destroying the vital ottoman old bridge in Mostar). Croatia and Serbia were planning to divide Bosnia between themselves but the Bosnian Muslims held their own until finally, NATO stepped in. It remains shocking how genocide could happen in the 90s in the heart of Europe. And it says a lot about the hypocrisy of the “West” in general. Many Bosnian Muslims remain bitter about it and I find it amazing that despite living among their potential killers, no revenge attacks have taken place. The political situation remains stable but tenuous— extremely safe but one political crisis away from going downhill. However, everyone is war fatigued and in case of a crisis, most people intend to just leave the country than to fight again.

Visit Bosnia

A view from Hecco Deluxe Hotel, Bosnia

Visit Bosnia

In the old city, you will also find the famous Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque that was built in the 16th century; it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. A very interesting facet of the mosque is the clock tower. This is probably the only clock in the world that starts at dawn and ends at dusk. Every day, a caretaker adjusts the time to reflect the actual hours. So whenever you look at it, you will know how many hours to Maghrib prayers!

Watering hole structure for stray cats and dogs

Another interesting feature and a reflection of the concern for animals is the watering hole structure set up for stray cats and dogs. It kind of looks like a toilet seat, with the purpose that an animal like a cat may climb the seat and drink from the small water reservoir that is constantly filled by the caretakers.

If you want to shop for normal stuff, there is the Sarajevo City Center (SCC). It has all the popular international brands, but what I found interesting is that the prices were in many cases even lower than American prices, which if you have been around, is quite rare. So if you are coming from the Middle East or Europe, definitely check this mall out.

Vrelo Bosne:

 

Just outside Sarajevo in the outskirts of the city, you a public park, featuring the spring of the River Bosna, at the foothills of the Mount Igman on the outskirts of Sarajevo. This beautiful park and the spring is a remarkable sight. It is a must see when you visit Bosnia. Crystal clear water allows you to see the entire waterbed. A beautiful white swan swam, followed by a couple of gorgeous ducks.

Visit Bosnia

Museum Tunnel of War:

This small museum showcases the tunnel that was built underneath the airport tarmac by Bosnian Muslims in order to carry food, supplies and even arms. It was called “Tunnel of Hope” and constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. While the Bosnian Serbs besieging the country were armed to the teeth with weapons from the ex-Yugoslavian army, an embargo of weapons was applied, essentially making Bosnian Muslims sitting ducks. Such was the treachery of the international community. This tunnel helped the Bosnian Muslims protect Sarajevo from total surrender. You can see the names of those killed here.

A truck driver on the “exit” side of the tunnel would then transport these supplies up and down some treacherous mountains. The driver’s wife is still alive and has a small shop that sells souvenirs—be sure to visit and buy some.

Blagaj

This is a village-town in the southeastern region of the Mostar basin. Here we relaxed and ate fresh fish at the source of the Buna River, right next to where the water sprung out from the mountains underneath a cave. This is one of those dining experiences where the scenery makes your food even more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.

Travnik

Visit Bosnia

This is a town and municipality and the administrative center of Central Bosnia Canton. It is situated about 50 miles west of Sarajevo. Historically, it was the capital city of the governors of Bosnia from 1699 to 1850, and has a cultural heritage dating from that period. Here you see a pre-Ottoman Fort (1300s) is still in great shape. It stands on top of the hill with mountains behind it so no one could enter the city without being spotted. The scenery from the top is also fantastic as seen in the picture. The oldest mosque of the city was built here. There were 20 mosques were built in the city, of which 17 survived to date.

Jajce

It is situated in the mountains; there is a beautiful countryside near the city, rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, lakes like Pliva Lake, which is also a popular destination for the local people and some tourists. This lake is called Brana in the local parlance. In 1527, Jajce became the last Bosnian town to fall to Ottoman rule, and you will see the gate to the city that fell to the Ottomans.  The 17-meter high Pliva waterfall was named one of the 12 most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Mostar

Visit Bosnia

It is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it in an act of treachery in November 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in July 2004 with support from various nations.

 

Mostar is a beautiful city. You can also shop here and like all of Bosnia, you will not be haggled or conned (something that has become a feature of doing business in Turkey, unfortunately). There is one large shop that sells bed-sheets, table covers, etc. owned by a guy from Kosovo. You will not miss it if you are going through the bazaar. That is worth buying if you like such stuff.

Not far from the Old Bridge, you can climb up a narrow staircase to a top of a mosque minaret and have another breath-taking view of the city and of the Old Bridge itself. The climb is not terribly difficult but may be a stretch for the elder.

Visit Bosnia

Mostar Old Bridge (1567) (UNESCO World Heritage List)

Olympic Mountains Bjelasnica

Bjelašnica is a mountain in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is found directly to the southwest of Sarajevo, bordering Mt. Igman.  Bjelašnica’s tallest peak, by which the whole mountain group got its name, rises to an elevation of 2067 meters (6782 feet). This is one of the resorts that hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. The main hotel here serves delicious food. If you are a skier, then the many mountains of Bosnia make for perfect (and very cheap) skiing options.

Bosnia

Srebrenica

Visit Bosnia

Srebenica, Bosnia

Epicenter of the Bosnian genocide, where 8372 civilians were murdered as the world watched callously. This is a must when you visit Bosnia. The genocide museum houses stories and eyewitness accounts. It is in one part of a massive warehouse that used to be a factory for car batteries before it became the command post for the UN designated Dutch army, sent to protect the Bosnian Muslim civilians, but later turning into cowards who gave up thousands for slaughter.

We met a survivor whose to this date chokes as he recalls his escape, walking 60 miles sleepless, hungry to reach Bosnian territory. Shakes you to the core.

Till today, not all bodies have been found or identified. Some of the bodies were moved to secondary graves by the Serbs to hide evidence. The green posts are the discoveries between one July 11 anniversary to the next— to be converted to white tombstones.

 

This day trip by far was the most moving. A genocide that shook us 25 years ago, but that we only heard of, is brought to life here. The museum offers stories and footage of the genocide. The graveyard makes your heart sink.

Unfortunately, this genocide is mostly forgotten and is something that we must never forget. Just as visits to Auschwitz are important to remember the Holocaust, we must make Srebrenica a place to visit, such that it becomes a history that we must never forget.

Other places of interest (not all-inclusive by any means):

Woodcrafts in Konjic, Bosnia

On the way back from Mostar to Sarajevo, be sure to stop by Konjic where you can stop by a very old woodcarving shop that to this date provides fabulous woodcrafts.

Visit Bosnia

You can also stop by Sunny Land, a small park where you can ride an alpine roller coaster that kids (and adults) will definitely enjoy. A bit further from this location, you can see the remains of the bobsled structure, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Visit Bosnia, Sunnyland

Our guide was The Bosnian Guide.

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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