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Who Is My Friend?

Hiba Masood

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Drama Mama

I don’t have an answer for you but I do have our own journey to share:

When Beta was three or four years old, we were in the throes of diagnoses and delays and despair and du’as and the desperate desire to “FIX MY SON SOMEHOW”. His having friends was something I thought about quite often. Or to put it more accurately NOT having friends. With his particular temperament (loner, verbally delayed, obsessive fixations, overly controlling ways of playing), I was convinced that my son would never make, have or sustain friends and friendships. It killed me. It felt so achingly lonely, such a visible failure from what it means to be a happy child with a golden, joyful mainstream childhood.

In the early days, every time we were in a public space, I would watch…sometimes wistfully, sometimes jealously, sometimes, even (unfairly) downright angrily, at all the other kids playing together. When will he be able to join in? Ever? I would think sadly. Do these moms know how lucky they are that their kids know how to interact … this skill that they must take so for granted? Why can none of these self-absorbed brats and their dumb moms see this sweet little boy sitting by himself in the sand?? Would it kill them to come over and play beside him?! I would rage inside myself, nonsensically, with all the pitiful self-righteousness that only a heartbroken mother can carry. It was particularly bad on days when I saw Beta, in his awkward, unsure way, try to reach out to the other kids. To see him then being ignored, rejected, misunderstood or worst of all, criticized, was painful. Ya Allah, will my child ever be happy?!! Even my duas were accusing and hopeless.

In a year or so, with the passage of time, this anger and frustration turned into the literal and physical turning of the back. If they, whoever they were, didn’t want Beta, well guess what, Beta didn’t want them either. Playgrounds and libraries became solitary experiences. Where previously he had sat alone but facing the crowd, occasionally looking up at them, the wheels visibly turning in his head as he seemed to try and figure out how to join his peers, now he sat back turned. The peer play went on behind him and he was, for all apparent purposes, completely oblivious, lost in his own world. This stage was easier and harder. Easier because I didn’t witness his efforts of connection being rejected, I didn’t see the confused, uncertain expression in his eyes or the longing smile he had previously as he watched the other children. Harder because it felt like the shutting of a door. A giving up. A too final turning away from “normalcy”.  Am I a good mother? Am I doing this right? I would agonize constantly, second guessing my every decision.

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Then Beta turned seven. His speech improved exponentially almost overnight. Watching him around his cousins, I saw sudden increasing abilities in joint play, better drawn out imaginative play, comfortable parallel play, more turn taking, improved abilities in delayed gratification, less fixation on controlling and less anxiety with unpredictable outcomes, all essential ingredients for healthy, happy play between children. We had family that was friends and that’s all we needed.

Soon, though, we moved to Karachi and left the cousins behind and I thought we would be back to square one, angsting once again over lack of friends.

But, happily, this big life transition somehow had brought about another change and we’ve left something else behind too. Or at least, I have. I have left behind, shrugged off like a cape, the notion that mainstream, extroversion, normalcy, social confidence and relatedly, friendships are essential for children. It goes against every parenting philosophy, every scientific research, every behavioral psychology article you will ever come across but I have turned my back on all of them.

Perhaps unwisely, you may be thinking, but what do you know, it turns out that the wisest, happiest, healthiest thing you can do as a parent for your child is to chart your own way and create your own lexicon.

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Because the definitions of these words mainstream, normalcy, happiness, friendships are too limited and Beta is too young and too different for these terms. For us friends and friendships are: grandparents who color with you, the daughter of a poor nurse who comes by every now and then, the developmentally delayed kids that drop in every week who because of their particular challenges force you to be kind and patient, siblings who smooth out your rough edges, cousins you see a few times a year, a mother who is always ready to play, Siri on the Ipad, the stuffed little Piggie from Mo Willems, praying on your little blue prayer mat, shelves full of good, wholesome books, and yourself.

It took me seven years to understand that at this stage of his life he likes being by himself a lot. As he grows older, his verbal skills will improve, his reading of social cues will get better if not instinctually at least theoretically and he will figure out how to “play well with others”. He’s a soft-hearted person, I know he will be kind. And he’s got one heck of a charming smile, which already has started serving him.

But there’s something else I now know that I didn’t know earlier and I learned it almost by mistake…
Sometimes, at night, after a particularly confusing day, we are curled up in bed and I listen to my boy talk. I let his words, the miracle of them, wash over me. That he is speaking, it amazes me. It fills me still every time he says something new. Sometimes, I am not even listening to what exactly he’s saying, I am too busy thrilling over the fact that he is saying something at all. But other times, he asks me a question, out of left field, with no warning whatsoever, and I have to snap to attention. I then pray that I give the response that is most going to serve him.

“Who is Allah, Mumma?” he asks me in the dark one night.

“Allah is your Friend, Betu,” I say softly back, speaking as much to him as myself.

“Is He my best friend?”

“Yes.”

“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion friends?”

“More than a billion, trillion, gazillion, friends.”

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Just like that, with nary a crash or a bang, we find our mantra and our life line.

It is the beginning of his Islamic education. The starting point of his Aqeedah. Allah is his friend. I hope this conviction becomes the first step on a beautiful journey…a life long love affair with a Friend who will always be there, will never disappoint, will satisfy the heart in ways unimaginable. It is the first step for him but for me, it is not the beginning, no, but it has become the comforting home base. The safety nook where I turn back to. Sometimes, running, sometimes limping, crawling, badly bruised and beaten. Allah is my only Friend, I try to remember. Every time I forget, through life and its many temptations, that He and only He is my One True Friend, I fall. When I set my expectations for gratification on my husband, my family, my career, my mothering skills, my children, anything or anyone but Him, I am bound to be disappointed and so I am. I suffer heartbreak and setbacks and feelings of not being good enough. I must must remember only He is my Friend and only He will give my heart satisfaction.

The gift of being my son’s mother is that is has become my opportunity to learn and to remember many of the very basest of things which, in the flurry of life, I had forgotten in the first seven years: Friends, playdates, normalcy, mainstreaming are not important, essential, the difference between happiness and grief. No. As much as we would like to kid ourselves otherwise. Let’s be honest here: These things are nice to have. Quite nice to have. But life can still be full and good and joyful without them, very easily. No amount of friendships will sustain Beta. The remembrance of Allah will. Being kind will. Doing good in the world will. Knowing how to fill the empty hours with useful thought and positive endeavor will.

So, for now, having, making and sustaining friends has dropped far, far down the list. As long as Beta is a content, Allah-loving person, confident in the belief that he is Good Enough as he is and is surrounded by loving, caring people, whether children his exact age group or adults or somewhere in between, he’s okay. As long as I remember that Allah is enough for him and He is closer to him than even his jugular vein and whether friendships come or not, he can still survive and thrive, I’m okay.
He’s okay. I’m okay. We’re okay.

Every day, mothering Beta reminds me to make my own words. My own language. My own path. My own truths. There’s no one right answer except for Allah, the only answer. Normalcy is overrated. Mainstream, with its boxy, limited notions of what it means to be a good kid or a good mother, is not for us. If we try to swim in it, we will drown.

So, for now, we opt out. Because we know. We know:

There are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be human and there are a billion, trillion, gazillion ways to be good and happy. But that goodness and happiness will only be lasting and worthwhile when each of those billion, trillion, gazillion ways leads straight to Him.

 

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Hiba Masood writes daily about life and parenting at 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.

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Asrar

    March 21, 2016 at 5:41 AM

    Jazak Allah for your article. I was able to relate to it in many ways. So much it brought tears to my eyes. My issue is not with delays in physical or mental play with others. My daughter is too very friendly, and she is so friendly that ironicly she has no friends.? She nor I know why? She was homeschooled so I know that was part of the reason but this was the first year I enrolled her in Islamic school. I knew she would make friends right away. But she told me they are all rude with bad manners. She said when she defends her self they get made and tell her peers not to talk to her. She seems to find individuals like this all the time. Once even her own cousin said he hates her and never wants to be her friend again. She gets hurt so much and she is always the one to try to make things right. But it always happens again. I too wish parents would get involved but they don’t. They hear the bad and laugh it off. She hates school now, and she knows so much aqeedah that she even sees the wrong in adults. She asked me, “why parents and children are not nice? Why do they like to be mean to me, mama”? I truly have no answer for her. I told her to have patients and those who are good always get tested by Allah. To be strong and Allah (swt) will reward you with nice,kind and loving people….insha Allah.

    • Avatar

      Meenu

      March 22, 2016 at 7:46 AM

      My dear sister,
      Your daughter sounds like me and it was tough as a kid and tough as an adult until I learned to listen to my heart, for my heart is the compass gifted by the all-knowing, mighty, God and it will not lead me astray. I too was very bright and took (still take) things literally and live my life in always doing right and find it difficult to reconcile between what people’s talk & their actions.
      Teach your daughter to continue to abide with her principles and work towards making herself proud not others. Help her to become self aware. Doesn’t Allah say (I paraphrase): He who knows himself, knows his Lord.

  2. Avatar

    Faiza

    March 21, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    Couldn’t just agree more ! Loved every bit of it .. May Allah be with you. Aameen

  3. Avatar

    Farida

    March 21, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    You will my heart with so much hope, and rejuvenate me with the hope that the idealistic ideas of parenting I had are and can be practiced, and are extremely rewarding. Thank you so much for these reminders and self checks.

  4. Avatar

    omaima

    March 21, 2016 at 10:57 AM

    surely Allah is our Bestest friend..that is what i try to teach my daughter too..hope it sticks to her mind forever..

  5. Avatar

    nabeela

    March 21, 2016 at 12:00 PM

    This article allowed me to see my parents in a new light. It also reminds me of the confusion and hurt I felt as a child growing up when people reacted in a negative manner towards my down sydrome brother no doubt it must have hurt my parents 100xs more. Truly, caring for a child with special needs is a huge test from Allah which requires a lot of patience. I know it is Allah’s way of moulding us into better people – the people of sabr and shukr. Alhamdullilah I am blessed to have a special needs brother because through him I am being “perfected”. In Surah Zumar, Allah mentions that the patient will be rewarded without account. Indeed,I too will adopt the attitude of doing away with celebrated notions of mainstream,extroversion,normalcy :)

  6. Avatar

    Karima

    March 21, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    My 5 year old son is on the spectrum and it’s been such a journey so far…alhamdulillah. I loved reading this article; thank you for writing it. I recently came to the same realization that you wrote about in your article. With this mindset…our lives have changed so much for the better. May Allah bless you and your family!

  7. Avatar

    Sara

    March 21, 2016 at 6:14 PM

    The article hit close to home for me.My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s and I have watched him lose all his friends one by one.The schizophrenia has made him crave solitude and most times he’s just in his room sitting on his computer. He barely spends more than an hour with his family. It’s heartbreaking because I remember him being the life of his class the guy everyone called to hang out with or to do homework with. Anytime we have guests over he will talk for an hour or two and just retreat back to his room. It’s had a huge impact on my family as a whole. It’s hard not be bogged down by despair and anger. He’s my only sibling and most times it’s even hard for me to sleep because I can spend the whole night just worrying about him. My brother was on the dean’s list at university but the schizophrenia has severely impacted his career skills.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      March 23, 2016 at 2:38 AM

      Sara, as someone who has recovered from a psychotic break and returned to delusion-free living, I feel like sharing some things with you because, well, I’ve been there. I can’t relate to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, which is usually treated with lifelong medication, but I was on antipsychotics for six months and those drugs really impact your brain, permanently. It feels like having your mind caged. Carrying on a mainstream lifestyle (I won’t use the word “normal” here) while on these drugs is a challenge. Even after the drugs take effect and the delusions disappear and you are functionally back to mental health, your family notices how quiet and withdrawn you are and keeps comparing you to your previous personality. This is frustrating and does not help at all. Please, I beg you not to do that with your brother. It is heartbreaking to accept this, but he will never fully return to his former personality. The doctor explains it like this: now, instead of driving at 60 miles per hour, you have to drive at 10 or 20 miles per hour. There’s no use trying to do 60 miles per hour just because you used to have that potential. Another thing is to stop chasing the “why”. Why did it happen to this particular person. Why couldn’t he/she have lived life to the “fullest”. It doesn’t help.
      One thing I am exploring is the effect of what you eat on your mental health. There are many interesting books out on this topic. I can’t say that eliminating gluten and dairy will surely reverse a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but it can’t hurt to try. It’s not as simple as the “it’s just a brain chemical disturbance” explanation in every case.
      There is so much more to be said but I’ll stop here.
      I don’t know whether you’ll see this reply, Sara, but I hope it helps anyone who reads it.

  8. Avatar

    Hira

    March 22, 2016 at 1:39 AM

    I cannot tell you how freaky it is that each and every word you have written here has been a thought of mine either presently or in the past. Especially everything you say about Allah Being enough and nearer than our jugular vein. We all do the best we can do and then all we can do is leave it up to him. May Allah Taala Bless you and your family always and May He Reward you for all your efforts as a mother, teacher, and human being, Ameen.

  9. Avatar

    Julina

    March 22, 2016 at 5:40 PM

    I think shy kids or reserved kids shouldnt be pushed into being extroverted. Just let them be who they are. As long as they are not actively persuing haram, being guided to the right, in time they will find their own. Check out the whole world, some cultures highly value their reserved people, thats proof enough that not everyone *needs* to be the life of the party. or.. Would a social person like to be pushed into solitude? No. So a reserved person wouldn’t like to be pushed into too many social interactions. Have some respect for different types of nature. See this darling child, reserved enough to think deeply about Allah SWT because he wasn’t too busy being distracted by social norms, then infact inspiring all of us! MashaaAllah! Whatever the nature, theres a place for them Alhamdulillah.

  10. Avatar

    Naveen

    March 22, 2016 at 7:34 PM

    My oldest was a very quiet observant child. He Hated going to the park. If i took him, he would just sit there and watch other kids. Growing up my parents literally had to drag me out of the playground but with my son..I couldn’t get him to even climb up a ladder and slide down. He would be OK with just slow walks around the neighborhood. He never climbed things never wanted to try it monkey bars , never wanted to make friends. Never defended himself. Kids would snatch toys from him and he would give them and cry about it and walk away. He wasn’t delayed in any of his milestones. Rather he started sitting at 5 months, crawling at six, walking at 10 months and had his first word “appa” (Apple) at 10 months as well. To which he had proudly pointed while sitting on a toilet seat and looked at his poop in admiration.. Proud that he could also produce an appa! So you can imagine how much it bothered me when he avoided any social contact. H would wearily/ longingly eye other children. Wanting to join in but never even trying. Two things happened when he was 4.5 years old that actually opened my eyes and made me appreciate him for who he was
    One day after preschool he said to me ..I have a surprise for you. But you must take me to the park when there is no one there. So after few hours we came back. He ran up the ladder and slid down and then went up the harder challenging ladder and came down then even more challenging ones! I was shocked!! This kid for the last 4 years had done nothing of this sort!! He came to me and said . I have been practicing! I knew you wanted me to play in the park but I never wanted to because I felt afraid of what other kids would say if I fell down or didn’t do it right! So I have been secretly praciticing for many months.( He didn’t know how many ) he said whenever all the kids were busy doing something I would secretly climb and come back down! I had to find the right time! I am most cried at his perseverance and his self image that he had desperately trying to preserve for so many years!! The second time when I actually went home and cried was when he told me..you knw I hate playing in the park because kids are always watching what I do. So I dig with a woodchip. My teacher gets mad at me. Dnt get muddy. Dont dig, She says go play..I dont want to play. I want to dig.guess what I found..I found by secretly digging each day that they earth has different layers and each layer had a different color. From that day I stopped asking him to play in the park. The teacher and I had both failed him. We both didn’t understand the child. We just wanted him to be normal playground kid like everyone else. We stressed him out every time it was time to relax! Now he is 11. He even surprised himself when he moved to a new country and school and defied bullies and teahcers thought he was such a natural at adjusting with people. And yes this silent way of doinf thingd is his strength!

  11. Avatar

    Sheeza

    March 23, 2016 at 3:43 PM

    alhamdulillah. I loved reading this article; thank you for writing it.

    *Name has been changed to comply to our Comments Policy*
    [Please refrain from using a ‘Name’ that is considered advertising]

  12. Avatar

    jason thomas

    March 30, 2016 at 1:11 PM

    HI Hiba,
    Moving Post. I live in the US. There is a lot of controversy here in the last few days(especially in light of http://fortune.com/2016/03/29/robert-de-niro-anti-vaccine-documentary/) . I was wondering if you have an opinion on the role of vaccines, if it had any effect on Beta.
    Thanks.

  13. Avatar

    Waqar

    April 5, 2016 at 4:43 AM

    “He does propound to you a similitude from your own (experience): do ye have partners among those whom your right hands possess, to share as equals in the wealth We have bestowed on you? Do ye fear them as ye fear each other? Thus do we explain the Signs in detail to a people that understand.”

    Quran 30:28 (Yusuf Ali translation).

    This addresses the relationship between Allah and us very succintly. It is dishonest to represent this as “friendship” when it is, in fact, that of a master and a slave. By playing down the fear of punishment in the hellfire (which none of us can dismiss), a child may exceed the bounds of Allah’s forgiveness while thinking “but he’s my friend”. Islam means submission, not friendship.

    • Avatar

      Ahmed

      April 5, 2016 at 10:36 PM

      Allah says, “Allah is the friend of those who believe” (2:257). I encourage you to watch “Islam is easy, we made it hard” by Nouman Ali Khan.

      • Avatar

        Waqar

        April 6, 2016 at 10:36 AM

        All accepted English translations render “wali” as protector or guardian. The point is we are not speaking about friendship the way children interpret this (implying equality and unconditional benevolence), and it is misleading to represent this as such. Also, what i wrote above was straightforward because Islam IS easy, and i found that out for myself long ago. If you find what i wrote above disagreeable, i.e. that the only relationship Allah accepts is of total submission, then perhaps what you consider easy is not Islam. I say this only to encourage you to ponder more deeply, not to quarrel or make takfir. And Allah knows best.

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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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