Category Archives: freedom

Boots Made for Walking….Not!

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The day began at 4 AM, when I woke reluctantly. I spent the early morning hours writing and talking to my best friend overseas on the phone. I was not ready to start my day even after that, so I went back to bed and re-awakened when housekeeping knocked on my door.

I didn’t plan to spend all day sleeping, even though it was understandable that my jet lag and personal lack of biorhythms had finally exhausted me. I made my way to the shower in one of the shared bathrooms and made myself wake up fully. Before leaving, I shoved my prayer rug, wallet and kufs into the larger shoulder bag I had brought, hoping to find some better shoes before I got too far down the road. I grabbed my phone, trotted down the stairs and out into the sunny street where life had already begun hours before.

I began walking down Bush toward Market St. My plan was to begin at the UBH offices located there, then divine a course to follow from that point. When I reached Grant, I felt like my heart was going to tumble up and out of my throat. I saw the indelibly familiar Chinese lions and architecture that forged an entrance to what was presumably a section of Chinatown. It was the exact location that I stood at almost 20 years ago when I met my mother for the first time; where our photos together were taken. Overwhelmed and suddenly nauseated, but aching to connect with her somehow, I walked over there and just stood in that very place, looking down the hill as I would had I been getting that photo taken at that moment. I tried to picture her standing next to me- anything to ease the heartache that was pounding in my chest.

But she wasn’t there, and I was reminded again of what I am trying to do here. I needed to find a way through the pain of this loneliness; these unhealed wounds. I moved past that monument and into one of the stores believing surely I would find the shoes I needed there, and indeed I did. I walked out to a wooden bench gripping a $10 pair of black flats with rubber soles and elastic fabric. I tore off my heeled boots, stuffed them into my bag, and zipped on my kufs before working the new shoes over them. Perfect fit!

I waited a minute for the last of the nausea to subside and then arose to continue on. What a relief to be able to walk at a more comfortable pace (read: faster) as I scuttled down the hill. Coming up to Sansome I felt like I could just extend my arms and run, and somehow magically fly into the air to weave between the buildings like a hawk. It made me giddy to watch everyone coming and going…from the others on foot talking on their Bluetooths, to the bike messengers whipping to a stop in front of a business, to the impatiently honking cars trying to pass the slower moving buses.

I came to my destination, and looked all around. Now would be a good time to eat lunch, so I briefly pretended I already worked there and pinged my intuition for a direction to find it. I continued down Market just a little farther, and spied a small shop that advertised halal gyros- Bingo! I took my food to one of the small chrome tables situated outside on the sidewalk and spent another meal with my best text buddy. I sent her a picture of what I hoped would be my next place of employment, while making dua in my mind for the same.

After lunch I decided to make dhuhr, but I needed to find a place. Looking up and down the street I felt that continuing in the same direction I was going would bring me to what I was looking for. Sure enough, just a bit farther down was the Embarcadero. I checked my phone for Kiblah and laid my rug out on one of the grassy knolls there, not far from where a couple men were sleeping. I looped the straps of my shoulder bag around my ankle and made the salat efficiently, then arose to check out the piers across the road.

It was there that I called to mind a poem my sister had written…where she was standing on a pier, looking for love. She was actually born here, and a lot of feelings came up as I sat on the bench overlooking that bay. I had to write, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a glimpse of my future to come- working just down the way, living nearby, and frequently visiting the piers to write out my grief.

After about an hour I rose and scanned the area, noting there were apartments or condos nearby. I walked to them to write down their names for future research, even though they were likely higher priced because of their location near the water. Yet, one never knows what Allah can do. I walked back up Drumm toward Market, feeling I had a sufficient idea what was over that way. I wanted to check out the other side of Market, going away from the water front.

So off I went in that direction. When I reached Kearny, I remembered suddenly that I was in what was before today only a fictional location in my mind. Sure enough, I found myself standing right next to Lotta’s Fountain, although without any water I wouldn’t have readily recognized it without reading the placard on it. I looked all around, expecting imaginary characters to flash through the crowd. Unable to resist temptation, I decided to go ahead and continue my trek to Seventh…just in case they happened to be there waiting for me with a recently recovered bike.

I passed through a retail district that reminded me more of downtown Atlanta, with their name-brand stores and mass produced wares. I was not impressed, but it was clear that it was a tourist boon. I continued on and once I past that area, I felt the energy change and became more wary. Looking around I could tell the differences in the type of stores and clientele, and the smell of weed hit me every other intersection it seemed. Wherever I was, I didn’t think it was prudent to linger there, so I hustled myself down to my hare-brained destination. En route I passed the Asian man, marching in place between two sidewalk chess tables. I wondered if he was psychotic or just exercising.

When I reached Seventh, I saw the Hibernia Bank building standing alone with no one nearby. It was cordoned off and a huge flock of pigeons paced on its stairs. I walked over to them, expecting to instigate their massive exodus. Instead, they eyed me cautiously and shuffled somewhat, but didn’t make any efforts to escape. I laughed aloud at them, decided I could check this off my silly “to do” list, and abruptly turned to walk back down Market street the way I had come. The marching Asian was still in place when I passed him again.

I decided this time to go left on Kearny when I reached that intersection…perhaps there would be some other housing that would interest me in that area. I found that segment rather unremarkable, and checked the time. The afternoon was wearing on and I wouldn’t have much longer before Maghrib came in. I took another left on California when the adhan for asr shrilled into my ears. I didn’t expect to find a place to pray, and was debating about whether to return early to make it in the hotel room when I passed a small inner city playground right outside of Chinatown. I rounded the corner into one of the shops to buy a bottle of water for wudu, then returned to the small park to complete my obligations. I noticed, while I prayed, that I was standing next to a tree with beautiful violet blossoms. Their fallen petals littered the grass around my prayer rug, which strangely brought an ease to my heart.

I checked the time again as I was leaving that gem of a refuge, and decided I feasibly had enough time to make another trip to Swensen’s for a very worthy treat before returning to my room. I trekked up the murderous hill toward Hyde, stopping once to catch my breath and take in the lovely view of the Bay Bridge which seemed parallel to where I was standing. Once I reached Hyde I felt so carefree that I just began singing aloud to the song that was playing through my headphones:…if you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear to you, that we can make this last. If you can wait ’til I get home, then I swear come tomorrow this will all be in the past… I didn’t care who heard. I had to get home. This should be home.

As I approached Swensen’s, I wondered if perhaps I just happened to get lucky yesterday. What are the chances that all of their ice cream is that mind-blowing? Really good, actually. I decided to order another hot fudge sundae, this time with raspberry marble ice cream. I walked with it down to my red bench (Yes, it is my bench now), and about passed out from the way the succulent raspberry ribbon played with the sweet fudge in my mouth. There was no rush, no fear…just a delicious reprieve from an adventurous day.

Yet, as I sat there, I realized how lonely I still felt. As amazing as today was, and as much hope as I have, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. I wanted to share moments like that with someone, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can make solitude my closest friend. I know better than to hold my breath for another marriage proposal ever coming from out of the blue, and I don’t foresee myself seeking a prospective spouse out anytime in the foreseeable future. How would this work? I needed friends here…maybe a roommate, which would provide two benefits in one. Things to think about, problems to solve. I finished my sundae reminding myself that I have found ways to find such solutions before, and I can do it again by Allah’s will.

Maghrib would be in soon, so I walked briskly back toward Bush. I kept singing as I went -…I can tell it’s what you want, you don’t want to be alone, you don’t want to be alone. And I can say it’s what you know, but you’ve known it the whole time, yeah you’ve known it the whole time…I made it inside the hotel foyer just minutes after the maghrib adhan. Returning to my room, I made maghrib and put my fingers back to work, sealing these memories for my eventual dissection and planning while the band plays on from their clandestine studio.

Until tomorrow, in shaa Allah…

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Siren on the Bay

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Tonight I write from a cozy room with high ceilings, a wrought iron bed, and a window view to some type of rooftop garden with skylights in its center. There is a rock band practicing in some other part of the building, and their rifts are faintly audible in the silence of this space. When I arrived here, an aged wannabe rocker who may or may not have been past his prime popped in the office and greeted the desk clerk while I was checking in. I believe he lives here.

After lugging my suitcase up the winding flight of stairs to my room and delightedly finding two Hershey kisses on my pillows, I unloaded the bulk of what I had brought with me and left again with only what I needed. I walked around the block to a halal Mediterranean restaurant I spotted when I initially drove into the neighborhood, and was seated at the table that sister Salma was setting when I entered. She took my order and offered me some complimentary tea, which I graciously accepted.

The afternoon sun angled through the broad windows as I surveyed the establishment. I felt at peace being in there, and that feeling gave me a reassurance that I can do this after all…this “new life alone” thing. I sipped the tea while texting my friend about all the important things running through my heart and mind, until the best shish tawook I’ve ever had was served. I took my time eating it while I thought about how I was going to spend the next couple of days. Salma asked me where I was from and confirmed that I was a convert. She asked my name, and as I am accustomed to doing with other Muslims I told her “Jamylah”. She said, “no, what’s your other name?” I couldn’t believe it, this was the first time I had been asked for my legal name by another Muslim. So I beamingly told her “Amy”, to which she replied, “that’s a very nice name!” I was so tickled by this.

After my meal, I rounded the corner with my bag of leftovers and started up Hyde (or would it be down?) for dessert. I have always been fond of walking and I wanted to get a taste of what I might be in for with being on foot as I complete my mission here. Surprisingly, going up hills were easier than descents for me given that I was foolishly wearing heeled boots. I had stopped at a shoe store earlier this morning but couldn’t find anything I could comfortably wear with my kufs, so I decided to see if I might be able to handle it after all. Let’s just say I need to scout out a shoe store as soon as I can.

As I walked while listening to Maher Zain songs, I felt the ease in how everyone was minding their own business. No one cared where I was walking or why, or why my scarf was tangerine orange, or why I smiled at them. Instead, they smiled back and continued on in their own affairs. How so very different is this city from Atlanta, and it gave me hope that some of the weariness I’ve taken on from living there for so many years might be eased here some day soon, in shaa Allah.

I entered the small and unassuming ice cream shop mentioned by a friend, not knowing what to expect. I quickly scanned their menu and decided to get a hot fudge sundae with mocha fudge ice cream. While it was being made, I popped across the street to get cash out of the corner market’s ATM machine (note to self: there may be a lot of places around here that only take cash besides Swensen’s) and felt a sense of deja vu as I noted the way the canned goods were aligned on the shelves while walking out the door. I went back to retrieve my prize, and began walking back down (up?) Hyde toward my hotel to sit on the random red bench I had past earlier and so enjoy the treat.

When others tell me that a certain place has good sweets, I tend to be pretty skeptical. I’m a fiend for all things saccharine, so it takes a lot to impress me into saying that something is the “best”. Yet I tell you the truth, when I took my first bite of that unbelievable creation, I was utterly flabbergasted. I never had ice cream with such a rich and balanced flavor since Godiva sold pints. I really believe this franchise needs to make a comeback and give places like Cold Stone Creamery a serious run for their money.

That being the case, I deliberately took my time savoring each bite. I sat on the bench alone, listening to the electrified hum of the cable car rails and watching passer-bys with their freshly groomed puppies while ruing the fact that this will be the only time I will be able to enjoy such phenomenal ice cream until further notice. As the sun began to set I started to feel a bit vulnerable, realizing that I was entirely alone in a profoundly large city where I knew absolutely no one. I recognized I was taking a risk to stay out past maghrib (which was not yet quite in), and made dua that Allah keep me safe during my time here. I made sure I kept my eyes on everything and stayed aware of my surroundings while I reluctantly finished the syrupy remains of what I would call a perfect sundae. I then arose and continued down the hill to Bush St.

As I purposefully strode through each crosswalk, I glanced at the others coming and going by me. I understand now why so many creative types come here: because the people alone, with their unique stories and personalities (whether real or imagined) are enough to inspire countless works. Even I started having ideas of what to write about if I ever were to try my hand at fiction, which was something I had not anticipated at all prior to my arrival.

I then began to think about how my mother used to live here, and contemplated what drew her to this city. I tried to picture what my life might have been like if I had been with her, and grew up here. What kind of person might I have been? For better? For worse? Better yet, what kind of person will I become if I manage to get myself settled here, in shaa Allah? That might be a question I will someday actually answer, if Allah wills it.

I swiped my keycard on the front door of the hotel to gain entry just as the maghrib adhan was playing through my headphones. Once back in my room, I quickly changed into my comfortable pajamas and put my leftovers in the fridge. My sons are in bed, and for the time being I get to spend my evening puttering online and reading while the mysterious band continues their grooving.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings, because so far in this short afternoon I have been baptized into something richly exotic, vaguely familiar, and altogether entrancing!

Mawlid An-Nabi

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Today is reportedly the day that Prophet Muhammad SAWS was born, a momentous day indeed. Today is also momentous for me, as it marks my 10th anniversary of taking shahadah and becoming Muslim (if I were counting by the hijri calendar; the Gregorian anniversary for that will be on May 13). I realize that there is a division amongst Muslims about the conventions of “celebrating” this day. In fact, I found out about it first hand when I naively wished a group of my close friends “Happy Mawlid” last year. Until then, I assumed every Muslim recognized the occasion, as that was the only thing I had see from Muslims until that point.

While I understand that many groups and cultures have taken celebrating Mawlid to the extreme, and have made a dunya mockery of what should be more reflective occasion, I also feel that those who believe that celebrating Mawlid is a biddah have also run to their own extreme. They seem to want to ignore that today WAS actually the day our human example an the most perfect of men came into this existence, as though it were a shameful thing. They want to treat it like any other day, astaghfirulllah. While I agree that every day should be one of zikr and following the sunnah, I don’t understand what purpose it serves anyone to try to turn their minds and hearts away from the fact that today was one of the most magnificent and significant days of all time.

For me, today will be a day of meditating upon the unbelievable, life-changing events that transpired years ago on this same date. Not only will I give my thanks to Allah for bringing us the complete and perfect guidance that came through Prophet Muhammad SAWS, but I will be thinking about the way my life has been forever changed by confessing that he is in fact the Messenger of the only true God- Allah a decade ago. I tear up, even sitting here in the gate lobby as I await my flight, when I even briefly think of the beauty and peace Islam has brought -and continues to bring- into my life.

There could be nothing more fitting than beginning this next decade of my “real” life with a time of soul-searching and refuge in my home-state. Everything I’ve suffered truly has aligned to create a greater and more splendid purpose for my life, and who I was meant to become is yet closer still….and she’s so beautiful, inside.

That’s the true gift of Mawlid An-Nabi, may Allah be praised.

The Replacements

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It is said that Allah does not take anything from a person except to replace it with better.  I can say, with every fiber of my being, that my present life shows this reality.  This week has made manifest a qadr I’ve hoped for, and I am humbled that Allah saw fit to bring it to fruition in my life.

 

On Monday we closed on the house.  Yes, it was anticipated, but there is something about actually walking away with the physical confirmation of what one has worked hard for. Imagine what Paradise will be, when such exhilaration comes in this life! I have to admit, one of the more challenging things about having the house is the deep longing in my heart to share it with my soon to be ex-husband. I can’t erase the fact that the main reason I toiled for this very thing was for his sake, and now it is being with-held from him. Allah knows best.  I have been struggling with a sentimental sadness and longing to “fix it” by taking him back into my life, but unfortunately the character he’s been showing these last few days indicate he still is not going in the direction I need my husband to go in…or the direction I’m trying to go in myself.  Fortunately, today I am feeling less emptiness about this and more focused on the purposes Allah has to help me further develop my sincerity and taqwa.

 

I have been thinking about all of the places I’ve lived since I moved out from my grandparent’s home; and surely this is the best place so far. I love the house, the floorplan, the windows, the feel.  I can only hope in shaa Allah that a good man may share it with me someday…whether he is a transformed version of B, or someone I’ve not yet met, or even perhaps a friend who becomes more than a friend.  Allah knows best what I need, even if it means having the rest of my life to contemplate my duties to Him. He is to be praised because He shorts me nothing. Ever.

 

My little one is doing well. He completed his day treatment and will be returning to school tomorrow. He also is excited about the new changes with the house and all, so I hope it can boost him to where he is not overwhelmed with the pain of what is being lost.  I will do my best to continue to help him in shaa Allah.

 

I have a new car as well, masha’Allah.  I went on Friday and bought my 2013 Dodge Challenger.  It is like my own little piece of California for as long as I stay here in Georgia.  I intend to take the best care of it so it in shaa Allah will last me for decades to come. I have never financed a car before, and up until now I have been adamantly against such things and would rather save a few grand and buy something older and used. However, I know that I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for others. There have not been a lot of “things” I’ve wanted in life, but that Challenger always had my eye. I wanted to do something nice for myself so that I could experience the reality that I am just as valuable as anyone else. I wanted to buy a car and never have to worry about buying one again for the rest of my life, because it will remain in shaa Allah in good condition and it is what I have truly wanted. Every time I drive it I try to make a point to be thankful to Allah for giving me the opportunity to make such a dream come true and helping me to do so, and remind myself of the value I have no matter what others think or what I’ve experienced to prove otherwise.

 

And masha’Allah, excess money with each check. Even with the new car and house,  I will be having more surplus from my pay than I’ve ever had before. What a queer feeling to know that I  could buy drapes, plane tickets, clothes, or any other ‘stuff’ whenever I want. It doesn’t even seem real, but the truth is I am not really interested in doing any of that. Sure I will probably buy a few curtains for the house simply because there are more windows than curtains I currently own; and a few other decorative things, but after that I would probably just give in charity, save, and pay down any debt I have.  The only point (in my view) in having nice things is to remember Allah by them.  Surely I remember many times I got something nice or pretty and just was so grateful to Allah for beautiful things to enjoy as long as He allows, always reminded that nothing comes except by His leave.

 

I guess for me it’s easy to see that even though all these things are very nice and enjoyable, they are just transient. Anything can be lost at any time, and I certainly know what being on that side of the fence is like. I remember a time when I was starving and pregnant with my youngest son. We had no money and were literally living off the cans of salmon given to us by a local food pantry.  All I wanted was a tomato to add to it, and I remember how frantically we tried looking for enough change to buy just one.  In those days,  I don’t even know how the bills got paid since I wasn’t working and not getting child support, and it seemed my husband couldn’t keep a job.  Masha’Allah, Allah brought me through that and so many other trials. He brought me here, and He can take me anywhere He likes. My only goal in life is to become who He meant me to be regardless of where He takes me, either good or bad, in this life.

 

I can’t help but feel, though, that seeing what He is giving me now…anything else I’m losing or giving up will have a better replacement as well in shaa Allah. I think the hardest thing has been the ending of my marriage, but I really do trust Allah will either satisfy me with being alone in this life, or He will bring me a suitable partner who is better than the one I am losing. It’s as He likes, and I’m merely grateful for anything He chooses.

 

I am going to spend the next few weeks transitioning everything from this apartment to the house in shaa Allah. In addition to that, my plan is to eat healthier and try to become a little more active so I can begin in shaa Allah to lose some weight. I am hoping that when I take my vacation after MLK day I will be in a healthier condition, and also have some habits I can continue until I am a little trimmer and eating as I should for my diabetes.

Trenches of Protection

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A friend of mine, who is also a fellow blogger, often comments on the following ayat: “And whoever is conscious of Allah, He will make for him a way out, And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.” (Quran 65:2-3) I never tire of the emphasis he puts on the part about Allah delivering us in ways we do not expect, but in recent months I would secretly wish that I myself would find this surprising rescue whenever I read his posts.  I was enamored with the beauty of the idea, but I felt that I was being excluded from the experience of it.

…Until last night. After writing yesterday’s post, I was dejected all day. Not in any corner of my mind did I anticipate that I would find relief from the variable emotions that have been besieging me in my current freefall.  I knew that one’s outlook is the key to all victories, but I just could not muster the inspiration to change my own.

When I came home from work last night, my husband and children were watching an animated movie detailing the life of Prophet Muhammad (saws).  I sat down with them to enjoy the movie, feeling some sense of comfort as I took in the beautiful accounts of Muhammad’s (saws) life.  I was nearly moved to tears several times, and I felt that the inspiration of his life is ever so timeless. It truly seems like I am hearing his story for the first time, every time it is recounted.

The film came to the part where the companions and citizens of Medina were fearing yet another battle with the Meccans, who had steadily increased the number in their army against the Muslims.  Indeed, these believers felt that all hope was lost as another attack was being planned to overtake their city.  The Muslims decided to dig a large trench around the city with the hope that the Meccans would not be able to cross it and enter the city gates. Fortunately, their strategy worked, and the Meccans were finally overcome when a dust storm ravaged their military encampments. Finally, the Meccans would surrender to the power given to Muhammad by Allah alone.

As I sat there, it was hard not to be reminded of the deep chasms that I wrote about in my last post. It was impossible not to compare the chasms that I felt we were surrounded by in the dark room with the trench around Medina. When I wrote yesterday about my fear while being in darkness and danger, the assumption I had been making was that the danger was in that room where we were.  I didn’t even stop to think that maybe we were safer in that room than out of it.

Seeing the reality from another angle, as inspired by the Medinian trench, I began to realize that perhaps those crevices are not fatal traps. Perhaps they were placed as protection to keep us in safety and to keep those that would harm us away from where we are.  Perhaps the darkness is not to frighten and confuse us, but to hide us in a protective covering.  Perhaps we are being hidden from our own enemies, much as the Prophet (saws) and Abu Bakr were when they hid in the dark cave as they fled from Mecca. Perhaps the darkness is really to confuse those enemies and blind them from where we safely are.  Perhaps those snakes are not a threat to us, but a threat to whomever would come and harm us. Those snakes, those chasms, and that darkness, they are helping us…not harming us.

Being able to see things from this perspective, such a contrast from the one I shared yesterday, was indeed a rescue from Allah from a direction I did not expect.  I began to see that I don’t have to spend my days desperately looking for a route of escape, because in truth we are in the safest of places. I don’t have to spend my time trying to plan a way to an exit, all the while feeling frustrated and futile.  I don’t have to fall asleep with anxiety about our circumstances, because we are in the best of circumstances. One day, at just the right time and when it’s perfectly safe for us, the lights in that dark room will  brazenly ignite and the exit route will be clear and easy to navigate. Instead of crawling in the darkness and vainly seeking freedom, we will be able to walk easily and swiftly to our release.  Liberation will be effortless and sure, instead of exhausting and uncertain.

Since this realization, I have been more at peace. I have had no compulsion to try to “figure out what to do” as I have been for so many weeks and months. What to do will be made perfectly clear, and the means to do it will be readily accessible. I know now that my only duty is to patiently wait and share joyous stories of hope with my husband. I will be grateful for the pits, the snakes, and the darkness, because I know now that they are keeping our greater enemy outside of these walls at bay.

The truth is, when that time comes, that moment of freedom, I still may be the only one who makes it there. There is still a chance my husband is given a different freedom than mine, and we may part at that time.  However, Allah unexpectedly rescued me from that concern as well, by sharing with me the words of a wise and well-spoken sister.  What she said is too long to recount or expound on at this moment, but feel free to explore it for yourself here: http://www.yasminmogahed.com/?p=17945.

Thank you Allah for showing me a way out of the prison of my mind, my circumstances, and my fears in a way I would have never expected.