By Zaynab Dawood
Let me ask you a question: is it your journey that defines you, or is it your destination? Or maybe it’s both. For the naysayers, I say it can never be neither. Whether we choose a path of faith, or choose to live without the nurturing compass of faith, our journeys do define us.
For the believers it’s both. We strive to be “mukhlis”, a term that means we are working to be sincere and good, as well as hoping to be chosen as “mukhlas”, a noun denoting that we are sincere and good. We can consider the former to characterise our journey and the latter to characterise our fulfilment of it, which will be materialised in the afterlife in Jannah, in shaa Allah.
My study of the seerah ( the life of our Prophet Muhammad sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) has crystallised a truth …that every moment that has been recorded regarding the blessed Prophet’s (saw) life can be expressed and appreciated not only as separate stories, but also as a continuum of important moments that made the Prophet (saw) the great Person and Messenger he was. For him (saw), it was his journey that made him who he was, as well as the innate qualities that Allah bestowed on him.
Through the nurturing guidance of revelation and the enlightening parables from the seerah, we can blossom into people that are constantly growing on their journeys and invite others to this growth too. This is our Shahadah an Naas: our commitment to being on the straight path and encouraging others to join us. We cannot be insular, or reclusive or solitary about this. “Show us the straight path” are the words we utter in salah every day; we are responsible for each other therefore we need to make our journeys connected too. Our experiences will be our stories, they may be pleasant or troubling, but they should never break us, only make us.
In the traditional sense stories follow a particular structure but in life stories are brutal but also beautiful, indiscriminate but unique, uncensored yet private and unstructured but apt. When we think a certain chapter of our life is coming to an end another sub plot emerges and we can’t escape it. Normally we feel we are the protagonist but at times we vie with others for that space on centre stage. Whether we acknowledge it or not the pull of antagonism is so strong that we’ve all experienced being overpowered by it, so we have at moments, become the antagonists. Hopefully our akhlaq will have been, and continue to be, a safety net that hauls us back into ihsan. (Akhlaq is the Islamic standard of manners and etiquettes, and ihsan is externalising our inner belief through social responsibility.) I can make some parallels here, between the craft of story writing and life as a Muslim: my style of my life would be akhlaq and the main theme would be ihsan.
If we had to craft our own stories, of how we live, how we interact with others, how we speak to others and our monologues, spoken and unspoken, what would our style and theme be? We would not need to worry about the exact details of the plot: that will unfold itself soon enough but have we established a prologue, the first few chapters, that is worthy to share with others?
Once I shared an idea with an acquaintance: “I’m going to write about my experiences as a woman…” The comment I received was blunt, painful and honest: “What makes you think others would like to read about your experiences?” By inference I added “What could others learn from my experiences?” My acquaintance was right, of course. But also wrong.
I approached the question differently: “Can I learn from others’ experiences?” Yes of course I do, everyday whether its written, spoken, heard and unheard, from those I know and from strangers and even from unexpected moments from unlikely students. I am a woman that learns. I am a sponge that soaks up people’s experiences and I steal them, mull over them, categorize them and either lock them in my secret filing cabinet in my head or discard them, and even the discarded ones occasionally float up like annoying eddies, to get my attention.
I don’t need individuals with big personalities, (although Allah has blessed me with great teachers and mentors in my life), I will try my best to get something from everyone and everything. Some of my most stirring realisations have arisen through real life narratives: through interactions with seriously poor people in the streets of Pakistan; the old women in my ethnic community…their stories of loss…their strength entrenched in their sun kissed wrinkles; the women locked in loveless marriages yet their sacrifice and love for their children is enough for their thriving; a couple watching their beautiful daughter writhe with the regular and sustained twangs of pain, only to know she will leave them soon, and she did.
Most of the meaningful stories that will shed their cosmic truth onto us are those that never have happy endings, nor are they just dreams. No one ever wakes up from our true stories. Yet it is the most endearing and poignant stories that endure, everything else is just entertaining waffle. There is a power in meaningful stories that far transcends any comparison to enjoyment and pleasure: the chord that is struck, the heart that is moved, the tear that is shed, the mind that speaks “I want a piece of this goodness…I will be that someone who touches someone else’s life…I will share my light.” The light we’ve accumulated on our journey will guide us as we make our way in the Hereafter (57:13) and by extension we can use it to help each other, here, on our journeys towards Allah. The light will strengthen our ihsan.
Spending two years in the barren and hostile craggy valley, the Prophet (saws) and his sincere followers were exiled and others boycotted in the city. This painful chapter was followed by more grief with the passing away of his blessed wife, Lady Khadijah and also the death of his patron and uncle, Abu Talib. The melancholy that ensued gave way to this year being termed as the “Year of Sorrow”. Allah’s Wisdom was hidden in all of this but His Mercy and Kindness was clear when the Prophet (saws) embarked on a momentous journey that did away with the laws of time and space: the night journey and the ascension. How many times in our lives do we think that things are so bad but we never know what is around the corner? We don’t know and cannot anticipate which journey we will make and which story we will be a part of…
Each of us have stories that we can bind together without removing any of the individuality and uniqueness that make them worthy. We all have something we can share with others. We may find a way of erasing our digital footprints from technology but our essential footprints are with us and bound in an unearthly book:
But verily, over you (are appointed angels in charge of mankind) to watch you, Kiraman (Honorable) Katibin – writing down (your deeds), they know all that you do. ( Qur’aan, 82:10-12)
Collectively we are a part of a journey that does transcend time and space and its conclusion will be a good one, in shaa Allah, so let’s make our stories count.
Let our JOURNEY be for Him and towards Him.
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: Ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!