Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Moments and people

There are moments in life that move you, moments that make you feel humbled and fortunate, moments that make you remember that we all have a purpose.

There are people in life that inspire you, people who are so strong despite having to face the worse adversities; people who are able to keep their faith and stay above the water when most other people would be drowning. Recently I have had the chance to meet such a person, an amazing woman, a woman with conviction and courage. A woman who just happens to be a Muslim woman, who completely covers herself, niqab and everything.

How she dresses shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t even be an object of discussion, but it is, it’s become so because people have decided that it should be an issue, because people find it necessary to dictate what the acceptable modes of dressing are, even though this shouldn’t matter. I mention it because somewhere, someone has decided that a woman cannot be strong, productive, and empowered if she is dressed in clothes that completely cover her.

So here we have yet another example of an extremely strong woman, a woman who has fended for herself and raised her children single handed, a woman who has being making her own choices for longer than she can remember, and you know what, she has chosen her choice of dressing as well, and this only adds to her strength.

So here I am, humbled to have met such a person, in awe at her courage and conviction, moved by the moment she told me that Allah brings people together as and when we need it. This reminds me that Allah is in control of everything and even though the world may seem a mess, there is meaning behind things, and there is always hope. Our hope comes from our connection to Our Creator, our hope comes from our Love for our Creator, our hope comes from our conviction that Our Creator knows what is best for us, and when we connect with each other based on this common understanding, it just makes everything so much more meaningful.

Some moments are inspiring, some moments are needed for us to remember our ultimate purpose on this earth, some moments are so simple, but they mean so much! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Much Ado about Hair

Last week South African media was bombarded with a very disturbing yet pertinent issue. Girls at more than one school in South Africa decided to protest and speak out after they were faced with discrimination regarding their naturally curly hair. Some girls mentioned that they were asked to straighten their hair for school as their “hairdos”, did not meet school requirements. Many accounts of discrimination and bias surfaced. As can be imagined it caused quite a stir for the schools involved. Now, I understand that school rules are important, but we all know that this issue goes way deeper, particularly in a country with a history like South Africa’s.

Strangely, the issue of “hair” is not a new one. The focus on the type of hair someone has goes back many years. It’s actually quite sad and ridiculous that we have to be discussing this in the first place. Yet over the years people have continuously being stuck in this system where curly hair needs to be straightened in order for it to be regarded as beautiful. Granted there was that time when the “perm” was in fashion and suddenly curly hair was the new cool thing, but that can’t really be counted since it was just another fad.

The fact still remains that people have gone through many lengths just to change their natural hair so that they can fit society’s standards. Malcolm X called this hair straightening a form of self-degradation. He was appalled that people could put themselves through painful processes simply just to have straight hair. I urged people to stick to what was naturally to them. So many years later and we are still stuck in the same debate. What has happened to human progression? 

In my opinion, this is all about the dominant people in society making decisions about what the standards should be. It’s about those power holders who just like everything else, long ago decided what the standards of beauty are, based solely on what was common for them. Curly hair only came to be regarded as inferior because it was not the norm of those in power. This is an old colonial way of thinking, everything that’s different must be inferior-everything that does not fit in should be changed.

How do we spend so much time debating issues like the type of hair people have, or for that matter the colour of peoples skin, or the way a woman dresses when she goes to the beach. How do these seemingly insignificant things become so significant? Do we not have enough problems in the world to deal with?

Sadly, its these very things which creates division in society and it begins the debate on “us”  and “ them”, “ selves”  and “others” – and before we know it people have labelled each other to such an extent that the “other”  begins to be regarded as less than human, less important and in need of change. When this is allowed to continue then this type of thinking becomes ingrained in people to the extent that they are unable to identify what they are doing wrong and how they are actually harming others.

I remember being made to feel different as a young child because of my curly hair. At the time I did not understand the social and political issues which underlie this thinking. All I knew was that other children recognised something different in me. It made me feel inferior, I actually wanted to change. Many years later and I now understand all this. Thankfully and with the Mercy of Allah I have come to accept myself completely and I appreciate myself for who I am. I understand now that there are far too many important things in the world to worry about for us to be stuck on issues like a person’s hair.

For this reason I salute the school girls who came out to protest, because no one should be forced to change simply because they do not fit the standards set out by those in power, because people should not be made to feel inferior based on what was naturally given to them, because although school rules are important, those rules should not exploit or discriminate against anyone. Prejudice has been going on for far too long. When will we stop trying to divide and when will we begin to unite?

Image from here

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The cruelty of people

Sometimes the actions of people can be very cruel. There is of course the obvious cruelty, like the unfathomable cruelty of someone who is able to get into a truck and mercilessly plunge into other people. Similar cruelty seems to be heightened nowadays. People cruelly murder, rape and abuse others without remorse. I am so often reminded of words that were told to me many years ago; “Human beings have the ability to be higher than the angels and lower than animals”. I will never forget these words, but it’s tragic that these days more often I can see how human beings are giving in to our ability to be lower than the animals.

We would like to believe that we are good people, we hide our cruelty in the wake of these bigger actions of cruelty, and while this may be human nature, it hinders us from improving ourselves. When we are not able to recognize the cruelty in ourselves, how will we ever be able to change it?

I came across an example of how we tend to be so cruel towards others without even considering what we are doing, or the effects of our actions. My example is simple, it may seem insignificant in the grander scheme of world events, but I cannot change world events, I can only change myself.

While browsing the internet I saw a link to an article about how some celebrities have become “monsters” with time. Of course the article was referring to the physical appearance of the chosen celebrities and how they have transformed from “beauties” to “monsters”. The list included men and women, (I can’t be happy that it’s not only women who are subjected to this kind of scrutiny when such scrutiny in itself is horrible), but nonetheless, the list included men as well, which is a change in the pressure that is usually placed on women to look attractive.

Back to the point, I initially looked at these images and had common thoughts like, wow, what has happened to these people… Then I started feeling bad. Firstly, these are human beings, and we can put forth the usual arguments such as they asked for the attention and what not, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is really cruel to be making fun of how people’s appearance have changed over the years. Secondly, who even knows if the pictures we see are real. Thirdly, why on earth does it matter! 

This sort of obsession with looks and appearance, the pressure put on all people to be physically attractive, the teasing and mocking of those who don’t meet societies standards of beauty, all of this is extremely cruel, is it not? Yet most of us would like to believe that we are not cruel.

So I had an internal reprimand to myself, how dare I look at these images and wonder things like what happened to these people? So what if their appearance has changed? Doesn’t that happen to all of us as we get older? How would I feel if people started making fun of the way I look?

Like I said, this may seem like something so insignificant. Indeed, in the wake of attacks on human life, of attempted military coups, of displaced refugees and continuous wars, of lives being lost in masses, in the wake of murder and rape and abuse and torture, how does something like this even matter?

But it does!

Because if we allow ourselves to be cruel, no matter how minimal that cruelty may be, then our levels of cruelty just increase, and before we know it the unfathomable becomes fathomable. So we need to recognise the cruelty in ourselves, and we need to stop it and change it now, because seriously, the world does not need any more cruelty! 

Image 1 from here

Image 2 from here

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review- "Behind Picket Fences" - by Hend Hegazi

It is said that you never know what goes on behind closed doors, and if perchance you happened to be the fly on the wall of someone’s home you would be surprised by how different your perception is to what really goes on.

This is the thought I had when reading “Behind Picket Fences” by Hend Hegazi. The narrative focuses on the lives of four families in a neighbourhood and the drama that unfolds shows that what things seem to be is not always as they are. From the psychological and emotional struggles of the beautiful young artist Summer, to the illness suffered by May, the caring mother and loving wife, to the financial difficulties affecting the marriage of Morgan and Mariam this book reminds us that life is filled with various trials. It allows us as the reader to get out of our own world for a while and to broaden our ideas of what life should really be like. We are reminded that no one is without trials. In fact even a seemingly perfect marriage like that of the characters Sidra and Farris is filled with its own trials.

This book is a lovely portrayal of the trials and tribulations of life, the way in which people understand and depict love and the things they would do to achieve happiness. It sheds light on the fact that human beings are complex creatures and our motives and actions may not make sense to each other, but often come from genuine feelings. It touches on the idea of tolerance and reminds us that if we do not empathize with and tolerate one another then we will miss out on having meaningful relationships with others.

The book also allows us to focus on the fact that although we are all very different, in essence we are actually more similar than we think.

I enjoyed how the characters came together to support one another even though they may not have understood each other’s lives or situations. The neighbourly spirit was brought to the fore as characters put their own issues aside to help out and see to the needs of their neighbours. It was refreshing to see people depicted as supportive instead of hostile towards one another.

One thing that bothered me while reading though was that I had to wait a few chapters to find out what happened to the character as the book was divided into 4 stories and each chapter focused on a different story. At times I found myself filled with suspense, wanting to skip chapters just to find out what was going to happen to the characters I was reading about.

All in all I enjoyed reading this book. It tugged at the emotional heartstrings and presented relatable stories. The characters and their struggles are identifiable to people across cultures and religions. What the book focuses on is the human experience and the essence of life. It reminds us not to judge anyone because indeed, we never know what goes on behind closed doors, or in this case, behind picket fences.

To read more about this author:

Image from here

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Accepting ourselves

It starts from a young age… the feeling that you are not good enough and that no matter what you do everyone else around you will always be better. It may seem that you are the only one who doesn’t quite know how to fit in, or how to react. You may find no good in yourself, and the desire to completely change who you are and everything about yourself may be so overwhelming that it consumes you, sometimes to such an extent that you even feel the need to harm yourself.

A while back a blogging friend of mine, Marie, asked me as a mental health professional, if I am seeing more cases of depression, basically more people who are in turmoil. She mentioned to me that when she spoke to people in this field in her locality they told her that there is definitely an increase in cases like depression and so on. I have to agree, in recent years things have definitely escalated and people seem more in need of help now than ever before. I think that working as a counsellor desensitizes you in many ways, but the one thing that still really gets to me is to see people, especially young children, who hate themselves; people with such low self-esteem that they are unable to have any happiness in their lives.

While the reasons for having low self-esteem may differ from situation to situation, I think that it goes back to expectations. Parents’ expectations of what their children should be like, children’s expectations of what they need to be like, societies expectations of what people should be…

Interestingly, and very importantly, all that Allah expects from us is to be good people, to worship Our Creator and obey His rules, and to treat others well, just to do our best!

The One who really matters does not place unrealistic expectations on us, instead He accepts us for who we are, and of course, this makes sense, since Allah created us, and He created us all differently.

I see so many people trying to fit the mould. A mould that has been defined by our societies, societies that happen to be very flawed. I see wonderfully talented people believing that they are worthless, simply because they do not fit that mould. I see beautiful human beings believing that they are nothing, simply because their outer bodies do not appear to be beautiful to others. I see true talent, true potential simply shriveling away and dying, leaving behind it a sad and lonely person, continuously striving to fit the mould!

I learnt a very profound Hadeeth (saying or teaching of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him) recently. It’s translated something to this effect:

“Indeed, Allah does not look at your body, and not at your shape, but looks at your hearts.”

SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah), isn’t this a wonderful hadeeth.

This reminds me that all we have to do is accept ourselves for who we are. We need to stop looking at others to define ourselves. We need to stop trying to fit the mould. No person is exactly like the other, and really, why would we want to be the same as others. All of us have our good and bad, no one is perfect, but all we have to do is be good people, with good hearts.

I find myself trying so hard to explain this to people, both adults and children. Sometimes I feel like I am wasting my time, but still I cannot give up, not just yet!

Let me just end by saying that If Our Creator, the One who loves us the most is able to accept us for who we are, then why is it so hard for us to accept ourselves!