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My Starry Night – How Van Gogh Gave Me A Glimpse of Allah’s Plan

Hiba Masood

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Drama Mama
When things that you thought were entirely unrelated to each other come together, it is a joy and a relief. A joy because you experience firsthand a flash of the divine plan: It’s all connected! Everything! Everyone! And a relief, because for that fraction of time, things make sense. Order is present and it is established and it is manifest.

This is what faith means to the faithful. The constant knowledge that there is reason and order behind everything, even, or rather especially, when we can’t see it.

But when does this faith begin in us? And how? As children, can we pinpoint any spot in our childhood in which we directly witnessed the machinations of divinity? Perhaps not. But as adults, as parents, with all the experience and wisdom that age brings us, I have come to believe, that if we are present and paying close attention, we stand good chance of catching glimpses of the divine plan in the lives of our children.

Art history is not something I would have ever thought to include in my children’s homeschool curriculum. It simply would not have occurred to me. But all of a sudden, art history has become an integral and exciting part of our educational journey. My six year old son, Beta, is enthralled and I am running, breathlessly alongside him, often behind him, trying to keep up.

It all begins with that glorious website, beloved by parents everywhere, Starfall. Beta browses through it regularly and one day he stumbles upon the extremely short biographies of six renowned artists. I hear him reading along with the chirpy web voice about Marc Chagall. Paul Gaugin. Van Gogh.

“My favorite artist is Van Gogh.” Beta announces a few weeks later, apropos of absolutely nothing. (most of his pronouncements are like that – seemingly out of left field, but usually as a result of a long, internal dialogue which suddenly comes to be verbalized.) Van Gogh, Van Gogh, Van Gogh. I hear his name dozens of times a day. I nod and smile but pay little other heed. After all, I’m not very interested in art history.

Two Saturdays on, we are in a bookstore and my three children are sitting on the floor playing the awful game of who can pull out dozens of books from the lowest shelf and makes the biggest pile. They’re dragging and yanking and a mountain of book is growing beside me when plop! a storybook about a little girl visiting an art museum falls straight (from the heavens?) into Beta’s lap. He is captive and quiet for the next half an hour. The game is forgotten and he is entranced. We obviously purchase the book and bring it home.

Three days later, we are making our Plan for the Day and the kids clamor painting. Painting! Argh, I think, I am so not in the mood. I am feeling angry and confused about the kids and what their education or lack thereof is looking like. But they beg and plead, so painting it is. I bring out the paints and lay out the paper on the ground. Fine! Paint! I am sulky, already anticipating the mess to follow.vangogh2

 

But instead of painting, Beta is crouched in front of his bookshelf. He has opened up the story book we bought last week and is intently studying the pictures inside. I see him staring at “Café at Night”. I ask him, “Hey, we have this picture in our house. Can you think where?” He looks at me amazed. This picture? In OUR HOUSE? How does he not know this?! I think the same to myself. How does he not know this? Our apartment is tiny. There are only two pieces of art on the walls. This is yet another example of what an internal life this boy of mine leads.

We walk ten steps over to the living room wall. There, in its full 1500 piece glory is the jigsaw puzzle of Van Gogh’s Café at Night. Beta is laughing and laughing. “It’s so beautiful, Mumma. It’s so beautiful. Look! It’s in my book and it’s on our wall!” Yes, yes it is.

“Today, I’m going to paint like Van Gogh,” he declares. I show him how to Google images. We type in Van Gogh and stare silently at the dozens of image tiles that pop up. He eventually points to Starry Night. We leave it open on the laptop. I begin pouring out our acrylics, white, black, blue, yellow. When the materials are ready, I leave him to it. He looks back and forth from the screen to his paper for a long while. I walk around the house, doing my chores. Every so often, I pop my head in and I talk him through it whenever he seems confused. “Try using more white.” “Mix blue and black for this part.” He keeps going and going and an interesting version of Starry Night slowly but surely begins to appear on his paper.

It takes our entire morning and most of the afternoon, this “lesson”. It is Reading and Writing and Art and Art History and Computer Skills and Speech Therapy and Fine Motor Skills and Concentration and Logic all rolled into one. For a boy with many delays, including sensory processing, who just two years ago would howl uncontrollably if a speck of paint touched his fingers, it is progress. It is dedication and focus and frustration and effort and achievement.

vangogh3

When he is finished, we spread it on the balcony to dry. He turns to the iPad, his preferred refuge when he has been outward for too long, and I am sitting on the floor, physically spent but mentally satisfied. I am looking at the Beta-Van Gogh styled splatters of paint. I am thinking.

I am thinking of a day long time ago.

Six years ago to be precise: After two years of wanting and trying and praying, I am finally pregnant. We are happy but nervous. At the end of the doctor’s appointment that marks the end of the first trimester, we are cautiously jubilant. We are wandering around a toy store. We want to buy something but superstitiously don’t want to buy anything for the baby. I find myself gravitating towards the jigsaw puzzles. My husband, Hums, laughs. “You’ve never done a puzzle before and you’re going straight for a 1500 piece one?” Yep, I nod. I don’t know why I pick the one I do. It’s a Ravensburger edition of a Van Gogh. They don’t come cheap. For an unemployed couple who feels like throwing up when it’s time to pay for groceries, this is a splurge. But I am driven by something. I must get this puzzle. I must.

I come home with my Café at Night. I spend the rest of my pregnancy working on it. It is a very slow and painstaking, often frustrating, process. But as the days slip by like beads on a tasbeeh and I get bigger and bigger, so does the puzzle. I finish just a couple of weeks before Beta is born. It is beautiful. It is the only beautiful thing in our bare apartment and it makes us happy to look at it. The rich colors and the relaxed mood of the café diners under the twinkling stars help us forget, if only for a few minutes, the burden of our financial strain. A few months later, when we realize we are moving from Canada, bone broke, I make Hums promise that one day we will come back to that same shop and get me Starry Night. That’s the one I really wanted. But they were out of stock. Hums promises and we move across the world.

Six years later, it appears that I got my starry night. That I got it from this child, this child that I carried inside me while I searched the shelves of the toy shop for the puzzle; this child with all of his struggles, this child who has taught me patience, gratitude, and what hopeful happiness tied only to unshakeable belief in the promises of Allah looks like, this child who is the shining light, the shimmering star of my life, is the cherry on top of a very sweet cake.

For the adult, this is the lucky break. It is a front row seat to the grandest show of all. It is how parenting becomes the blessed opportunity to look both backward and forward so that we may witness the way flashes of light, His Light and His plan, are scattered throughout our lives starting from when we are not even born.

For the six year old, when things, seemingly unrelated – what you saw on a website, what’s hanging on your living room wall, the new book you bought last week, a painting lesson – come together in one exquisite whole, it is the picture of learning. But not just academic learning, no. It is the beginning of his education of what it means to be human, of what it means to be a trusting servant of his Lord, of what it means to have faith. He doesn’t know it yet but he is taking the tiniest starting steps towards understanding a little of what his mother and his mother’s mother and all his ancestors from time immemorial have been trying to learn and remember about life itself:

Nothing is random. Everything is connected. Every person you meet, every decision you take, every mistake you make, every purchase, every encounter, every success, every failure, everything has a purpose.

And all that this life, this starry, starry life asks of you is that even though you often don’t see that purpose for years and years or maybe even ever, you trust.

Always.

You trust that you are part of a bigger puzzle. You trust that the pieces of this puzzle are slowly but surely coming together. You trust that the puzzle may be frustrating, confusing or time consuming, but ultimately it is beautiful because the Maker is beautiful and He is Wise.

You trust.

And you keep the faith.

Always.

Hiba Masood is a writer, a motivational speaker and an entrepreneur. You can find more of her thoughts on life, faith and parenting on her page www.facebook.com/etdramamama

Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kirana

    January 14, 2016 at 3:11 AM

    When Allah gives something you wanted such that you *know* it’s from Him ‘personally’ it’s infinitely better than if you got it when you wanted it.

  2. Avatar

    uzma gora

    January 14, 2016 at 8:35 AM

    *sigh* you make me cry….every single time you write something, you make me cry. Stay blessed, you beautiful soul. <3

  3. Avatar

    Shahnoor

    January 14, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    MashaAllah I am tears eyed You are a beautiful soul Hiba and May Allah swt continue to bestow his choicest blessings and Rahmah on you and uour beautiful family!

  4. Avatar

    Sadaf

    January 14, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    Love every word!! Yes nothing is random.. Even me reading this at this point in time..

  5. Avatar

    Falak

    January 14, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    Starry night :)
    For someone not really into art , this is my absolute favorite painting. It speaks to me.

    The depth in your writing takes readers to a different wavelength. In the mundane days of caring for children, talking, connecting, then cleaning and more cleaning after them there is meaning . Your post reminds me that it is up to me to be mindful of that meaning.
    SubhanAllah, every mothers journey is unique and so beautiful. It’s a struggle as we advocate for what’s best for our kids.
    I have a 6 yr old boy with some speech and fine motor delays too – figuring out his puzzle has taken out the warrior in me.

    Keep writing sis – so that we can keep reading and getting inspired :)

    • Avatar

      Thomas

      January 28, 2016 at 9:42 AM

      And may I add our better understanding of whom we are in this confusing but beautiful world He has created for us all. We thank that eternal Love daily with our humble service to all. : ) Thomas

  6. Avatar

    nadya

    January 14, 2016 at 9:09 AM

    Beautifully written.. HE surely is the best PLANNER!
    You wanted that painting and it was out of stock and then you got it from where you least expected, thats how HE gives, just at the ‘right’ time!
    And I think beta’s painting is so full of hope, faith and light- definitely a master piece!
    hats off to the super mom- keep spreading faith and happiness through your blogs, posts and HAPPY PLACE, all the best.
    love & prayers!

  7. Avatar

    Rabah Masood

    January 14, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    I love this piece. Everything comes to a full circle in life. Subhanallah!

  8. Avatar

    Zujaja

    January 14, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    Beautiful thoughts all woven together to appreciate and thank for lords blessings..a connection we often forget to make, a much needed reminder..Alhamdullilah for everything indeed.

  9. Avatar

    Rabia

    January 14, 2016 at 10:39 AM

    This is what I believe in beautifully written

  10. Avatar

    Anas

    January 14, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    This is one of the best pieces you’ve ever written!

  11. Avatar

    Masooma

    January 14, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    ‘To trust that you are part of a bigger puzzle’ ; Thank you for the reminder Hiba!

  12. Avatar

    Fouzia

    January 14, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Absolutely loved it.. Beautifully written.

  13. Avatar

    Maria

    January 14, 2016 at 2:50 PM

    This is beautiful.

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  15. Avatar

    Faiza

    January 14, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    Absolutely loved this piece of writing!! ❤❤❤
    And beta’s painting is simply awesome mashaAllah!!
    God bless u and ur family hiba?

  16. Avatar

    Mona

    January 14, 2016 at 6:26 PM

    Masha Allah. ….what an article!!! Love ur posts always. Keep going lady!!!!!

  17. Avatar

    M4

    January 14, 2016 at 6:42 PM

    Beautiful and so motivational.I was thinking just exactly this.That whatever plans we make,surely they benefit us,but what about Him,The Divine,He also planned for us,and ofcourse what He plans is Absolutely the Best of best,but for us humans it takes time to register,to absorb it,and because we are always so short of time,running after it,we almost miss it that what is coming towards us is actually the best piece.
    Wonderfully written,keep it coming and all the best for your new ventures.

  18. Avatar

    Sarah

    January 14, 2016 at 9:59 PM

    Gave me goosebumps. ….this is jus so beautiful

  19. Avatar

    Fawzia Salahuddin

    January 15, 2016 at 12:40 AM

    After reading your article, I had tears in my eyes… of happiness, of how well things got connected and out of sheer appreciation of the feeling of achievement and connectivity. You write beautifully and wonderful is the experience of being on the journey with you when reading your article. I can only aspire to be the mom you are for your kids… patient, cajoling, sullen yet understanding, rolling with the flow. Keep writing for you fill a void in me with your energy and your positivity . Jazak Allah Khair!
    PS: Beta’s painting is simply wonderful.. he’s so talented and bright Masha Allah!! His journey will be different and the “path less travelled”. Keep us on the path with you.

  20. Avatar

    Mahwish saud

    January 15, 2016 at 1:17 AM

    beautiful… no words to express my feelings…
    you writing this column without knowing that in how many ways this piece of writing can effect a person is also a part of the plan.
    I truly trust buddy…
    would love to meet you in person..
    In sha Allah will visit your happy place in coming days
    Allah khush rakhey…ameen

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  22. Avatar

    Jawairia

    January 15, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    I didn’t know that I’d be crying by the end of this..
    Thanks..:)

  23. Avatar

    Zee

    January 16, 2016 at 12:47 AM

    Marvellously written! Touched my faithful ? and artsy soul!!! Can’t what to read it again.

  24. Avatar

    Bright Light

    January 17, 2016 at 9:58 AM

  25. Avatar

    Nadine

    January 17, 2016 at 12:02 PM

    What an incredible piece of writing, and what a piece of art your 6 year old son created! He is really gifted. Just read this quote yesterday: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein.
    Only the faithful can see miracles. Thank you and God bless.

  26. Avatar

    Mariam mustafa

    January 17, 2016 at 4:05 PM

    Mashallah very beneficial!
    Baarakallahu feekum.

  27. Avatar

    Quran Classes

    January 18, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    o so sweet very nice article thank you for sharing ..

  28. Avatar

    Muslima

    January 18, 2016 at 6:16 PM

    LOVED IT!! Jazakillah khair!

  29. Avatar

    Maryam

    January 19, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    Few years back, My family and I had a really bad time but with Allah’s help we went through. Now, when i explained to my friends
    I always say it was like a puzzle and little by little the pieces came together so yes i agree with you, life is like a puzzle and sometimes you don’t see it but when the tribulations calmed down and you reflect on it you realised it. That made me more thankful for everything I have and made me realised Allah is so important and He is there for anyone who want to believe. Everything happen because of HIM and if you are greatful to Him your puzzle’s pieces will come together and bring you happiness InshAllah.

  30. Avatar

    Larry A. Singleton

    January 24, 2016 at 7:09 PM

    You’re to be congratulated. you sound like a great mom.

    My mom related a story to me. I guess I repressed it. Where I ran downstairs from my room in the attic. (A really cool room by the way) I wanted to show some neighbors who were visiting my parents a picture I drew. I was about your son’s age. According to mom dad said, “They don’t want to see that s**t”.

    I don’t know how true that is. My parents had a nasty divorce and mom was continuously badmouthing dad.

    Speaking as a frustrated artist. That Starry Night picture the kid painted looks great. I hope you bankrupt yourself buying paints, pencils and brushes for this kid. Really, that is a very nice painting.

    I haven’t read this article yet but I’m looking forward to it.

    On a religious note I wonder where “forbidden images” enters into this? What would be the parents reaction if he decided to “draw Muhammad”. Or if he and his friends decided to have a “Draw Muhammad Sleepover” in the ole’ tree house.

  31. Avatar

    M

    January 27, 2016 at 7:24 PM

    Made me cry! “We have the pixel; God has the picture” (Hamza Tortiz) i.e. We may not understand everything that has happened and continues to happen in our lives, but God is The Most Wise and Most knowledge, so He knows the wisdom behind it. If we choose to see good in something even if it appears otherwise, we’ll benefit in developing ourselves to better.

    • Avatar

      M

      January 27, 2016 at 7:25 PM

      Most Knowledgeable*

  32. Avatar

    Thomas

    January 28, 2016 at 10:01 AM

    Love it & will share this Love with many! God certainly blesses us daily, we only need to appreciate it — keep it up, and many blessings to you!

  33. Avatar

    Khoya Pyar Ko Pane Ka Strong Amal

    April 23, 2016 at 1:56 AM

    Khoya Pyar Ko Pane Ka Strong Amal , “Amal is the very powerful way which is most preferable by the Muslim people to solve the problem and for completing their desires. Khoya Pyar ko pane ka strong Amal is a strong tactic by our astrologer for the people who are the Break up a problem. Love is a very fragile feeling and emotion which needs extra care and extra support and when couples fail to give that support then they fail to make their love story successful.

  34. Avatar

    Surah Waqiah For Marriage

    April 23, 2016 at 1:58 AM

    Surah Waqiah For Marriage, “Marriage in a dream is excessively translated in kinship with an arrangement. On the off chance that one get hitched a lady who bites the dust not long after her wedding in the vision, it means,his determination perform work to be paid him not anything other than rather hard work, drudging, and push. On the off chance that one weds a two-timing in a fantasy, it assets to he is a miscreant. In the event that one get married an awful, bellicose or a represent wife in a fantasy,

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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

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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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