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Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Like much of what we see on the news these days, the burqini issue was all consuming when it trended but ephemeral in its media shelf life. Media outlets would rather repeat what Donald Trump has to say over and over again. Given he repeats himself often, the double repetition serves as a hypnotic trance to which America and the world is slowly falling prey. But that’s another topic for another day. Right now I want to focus on the burqini – because as we’ve seen – the outrage was fleeting and victory was sweet. When the High Court of France overturned the burqini ban, everyone patted themselves on the back and got back to their daily lives, even though several French mayors said they will continue to fine those wearing the burqini despite the high court’s decision. David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.

What does this mean? Has any extremist group issues a fatwa that the burqini must be worn? How is a piece of cloth a representation of any radical faith? The answer is simple – It isn’t. But the concept itself is not so simple. Attached to this simple answer are socio-economic issues; racism, deep rooted misogyny and the male gaze and most of all Islamophobia. But I am not a stranger to complex and concurrent themes. I am a Muslim Australian born in Bangladesh and living in Canberra. My identity is rich in its history and known for its struggle. I am Muslim and Islam is known for ….well a lot. Google it and you’ll see. I am Australian and this country is nothing if not the land of the underdog. I am Bangladeshi and take pride in my county’s victorious independence after years of oppression. And I am woman – by virtue of that fact I am struggle personified. Struggling to be accepted, to be recognised, to be valued, to be free.

When I was 10, my school used to take us swimming and very soon I became the recipient of an award that authoritatively confirmed my floating skills. Then I moved schools and although my love for being in the water grew with each visit to the beautiful beaches of NSW – my aquatic skills did not. This was largely due to the fact that if I wanted to do anything more than dip my feet into the water I had to wear a swimming costume, Lycra tights or pants, a long sleeved shirt, a cap and a scarf.

Every time I went into the water dressed to the nines while bikini clad women swarmed around me – I was less conscious of people watching me than I was of the sand working its way into each and every layer and the dread building up inside me of have to wash it all out. It didn’t matter which beach I went to – no one cared what I was wearing. No one stared, commented or showed that they were offended. Everyone was more than happy to enjoy the beach in their own way. And so I stubbornly continued to layer up and venture out till the water reached my knees because I was too scared to go any further.

Then 2.5 years ago – I got married. And my husband, God bless him, started teaching me how to swim. First at the local pool, where he waited patiently before and after each session while I worked myself in and out of all my layers, and then at the beach. It was at the beach that my friend flaunted her Ahiida burqini and encouraged me to get one. I went online and made my purchase of a loose fitting green and pink suit with cap for $80AUD. A few weeks later my purchase arrived and I made my way to the beach. I cannot explain to you the joy of entering (and leaving) the water in this amazing creation. The material is light yet loose, the design is stylish yet thoughtful (shout out to the strings keeping the top tied to the pants so your top doesn’t float up and reveal anything) and the sensation of water against skin is not minimised at all. The best part – it dried on my body within 10-15 min of getting out of the water. No more strategically placed towels on the car seat, no more sandy wet tugging of numerous layers. This thing was a godsend. And everywhere I wore it people stared… and then smiled. Because they could see this piece of cloth I was wearing was making me radical…. Radically happy. I was ecstatic! My love of the water and outdoors was finally able to be expressed alongside my faith.  

Unfortunately not everyone has the same positive experience. My friends have been taunted and abused and akin to women in France – they felt humiliated and ashamed for no good reason. Thankfully, the need to isolate and radicalise a garment based on who wears it is being turned on its head as Burqini sales have skyrocketed since it’s been in the limelight and non-Muslim women are purchasing the burqini for various reasons including “skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin—they’re all wearing it.” Asian women have been wearing face masks to the beach to protect their skin for years, not to mention nuns, Goths and other people of a race culture or creed who wear clothing or symbols of their faith or identity.

There is no good reason to stop a woman from wearing something they feel comfortable in – this is discrimination.
There is no good reason to prevent a woman from enjoying herself in clothes that define her identity – this is racism.
There is no good reason to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot wear – this is sexism. 

It saddens me that those in positions of authority that have been elected to serve and protect the people are the ones who greedily perpetuate the economics of fear. They who have been elected to oversee peaceful and harmonious societies are the ones sprouting hate speech and dividing communities with ignorance. They who claim to be democratic and stand for the freedoms and liberties of all, are the ones robbing women of their right to be and act as they wish without the diction of misogyny oppressing their actions. And so we women continue to be struggle personified. We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves. Society can radicalise my burqini and lace my identity with its vitriol but it won’t’ dissuade me from enjoying what I love. To get in the water and appreciate the beauty and bounty God has provided us with… in my burqini.

burkini-ban

 

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The short winter days have made the month of Ramadan as easy as it will ever get this year in Australia. In contrast, there are Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere (such as Iceland) who are fasting almost 20 hours a day! With less than 12 hours of fasting, Australian Muslims have more than half their day to make the most of a month that demands the believer dig deep and cleanse their core in order to be deserving of the celebration at the end of the journey – Eid-ul-Fitr.

To understand and appreciated Eid, a culmination of a month’s efforts, the month itself needs to be understood. Like all major religions, Islam asks its followers to abstain not merely from food but from distractions for a regulated period as a beneficial practice. Ramadan is very important to more than a billion Muslims around the globe because:

  • All the Books in major religions (Torah and the Bible) were revealed to the apostles in their time in Ramadan. Muslims believe that the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also Prophets in Islam.
  • The Divine communication from God was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a cave close to Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the month of Ramadan
  • All these books and the communication therein is a mercy from God to his creation to inform us of our past and reveal secrets of His creations and that which shall occur in the future and it guides those who believe and accept the divine communication to follow a path from darkness to light and thereby become successful in this world and the hereafter.
  • The Holy Quran states, O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew. [Surah Baqarah: 183, 184]

The verses allude to the wider requirements of fasting such as charity and self-restraint in addition to the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which modern societies are still discovering. The popularity and proven benefit of the 5:2 fast diet, the experience of non-Muslims who fast and are surprised with the results on their health and wellbeing are seeds of proof that are garnering belief in a practice Muslims follow with blind faith. Fasting is also abstinence from daily distractions and the negativity of bad practices we indulge in throughout the year. Fasting is about regulating our excesses and becoming both physically capable as well as spiritually improved. Ramadan is the Muslim month of detox and Eid is the day we celebrate successfully completing the detox program. The efforts of the month result in an Eid that is a celebration of the improvements we make on ourselves and the hope that we can maintain the good practices we’ve adopted till the next detox month.

But Ramadan is more than just fasting and abstinence from food and bad habits. It’s also disciplining ourselves and striving to feel closer to Allah spiritually. Allah has specified that the first ten days (1-10 of Ramadan) are the days of Mercy and Muslims should seek Allah’s Mercy in these days. The next ten days (11-20 of Ramadan) are the days of Forgiveness and Muslims should seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent for sins in those days. The last ten days (21-30 of Ramadan) are to seek Refuge in Allah from the Hellfire and thereby remind Muslims of the finiteness of this life and the repercussions of our actions in the hereafter. All of this is seen by Muslims around the world as a blessing from Allah and the excitement, love and care between Muslims and all we come into contact with multiplies in Ramadan when we all break our fast together and stand together in prayer.

Fasting allows us to broaden our perceptions and empathise with others who cannot enjoy the privileges of food and shelter we take for granted. When our world view broadens, our problems become smaller and we have time and scope to acknowledge and address the problems of others. Ramadan is a time to give generously to charities at home and abroad and to share what we have with the less fortunate. Celebrating Eid with Muslims and non-Muslim alike gives people a chance to learn more about each other’s faiths to bridge the cultural and religious gaps, and in doing so shed our prejudices and phobias. A festival is a great start to that journey of knowing.

On Eid day, Muslims will get up early to bathe and cleanse themselves, put on new or special clothes, perfume themselves and attend the Eid prayer. This year Eid falls on a weekday and many Muslims will go into work after their morning prayer. As a Muslim, this is the perfect opportunity to celebrate Eid with colleagues and tell them about the month just passed and what it’s meant for your personal growth. Telling your story and showing the precious care Islam affords its believers will go a long way to dispelling the misconceptions, mistrust and hate that surrounds Islam today. It will set up our society to be more understanding and respectful of each other.  If we all become the best person we can be, Muslim or not, if we can all understand and makes space in our hearts for each other, then hate will have no place in society.

Eid then is not so much about the activities we indulge in but rather the people we share it with. People strengthen their ties of family, friendship and community, through rituals of prayer, gift giving and parties. Communities create an identity for themselves and a legacy for their children in a country so open and welcoming to us and our way of life. Eid is about sharing what we have and caring for who we are with. And most of all Eid is about being grateful to our Creator for all the bounties and blessings he has bestowed upon us – a celebration of the life he has endowed.

Check out your local mosque or community centre and attend the myriad of festivals and fairs that are being held in your locale. The food, festivities, clothes, henna and general air of merriment and togetherness will warm your heart.

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Prior to marriage, I was imbued with ‘knowledge’ about what married life is like from many sources. Disney told me I would meet a complete stranger, trust him, fall in love, and marry him without any hesitation and live happily ever after with song and dance. Bollywood told me I might suffer in the beginning but by being submissive and obedient I would win over my enemies and live happily ever after with song and dance. Magazines told me that marriage was a complicated concoction of mind games which I had to play out very carefully and complete all the quizzes to find out if I was going to a) live happily ever after because I am already the social construct that magazines aspire to create, b) live happily ever with ‘song and dance’ (and/or Netflix and chill) or c) live happily ever after with song and dance if only I would get out of my own way.

Having been married just over 2 years, I am in no way an expert on a subject many have spent decades living out skilfully. I do however bring to this topic the perspective of a newbie with my realistic and somewhat sceptical outlook.

  1. Marriage is the end of your individuality
    Having grown up as a tomboy in a ‘traditional’ household, I held marriage in contempt as a place where individuality goes to die. As I grew older and got sucked in by Bollywood, I was torn between notions of romantic attachment and the glorification of sacrifice for love. Time and again I found external influences gently reminding me that when I am married I would need to stop doing things the way I do now and adjust to a new way in a new family.  While this is somewhat true, it doesn’t spell the end of your individuality. Like any life changing decision (new job, moving to a new country), marriage has all the ingredients to throw stability and what you know out the window as you face unknowns. You can let marriage and the unprecedented proximity to another individual shape you and certainly that’s sometimes a good thing (like my husband increasing my patience) but this isn’t the same as losing your individuality. Shaping each other and growing together as one strong unit means melding the traits you each possess, be they good or bad. No matter how much patience my husband teaches me, I will always be just that little bit crazy and crabby because that’s who I am – it shapes my character and I like to think it becomes endearing after a while! It’s important to hold onto these unique traits that make you – you. Because as life throws you more curveballs, your job, spouse, kids and parents all expect different things from you and the more you try to conform to what they want – the more you lose out on who you are. But if you have spent time figuring out who you are, what makes you tick and what make you – You, then whatever comes your way will only add to your core individuality. So no matter if you are married or single, young or old, make a concerted effort to spend some time being introspective and figuring out who you are as a person because it will come in handy when life and those in it pull you in different directions. Then when marriage comes along, your individuality will benefit from the new experience rather than suffer for it.
  2. Marriage equals happily ever after
    This is the one myth Disney and Bollywood have done a great job of hammering into young minds. Traditionally marriage has been the end goal of romance, and most romance novels and films climax at the union as the pinnacle of happiness, but happiness is a journey more than a destination. You have to make a decision to be happy every single day otherwise even the most joyful of events or occurrences won’t cause you happiness. Marriage has its fair share of challenges and there is no assurance that signing on the dotted line will result in happiness every single day for the rest of your lives. That assurance comes from communication. Don’t let the marriage contract be the last meaningful communication that happens between you and your significant other by making sure you devote even five minutes each day to communicate not just superficially about your day, but about your emotions. Identifying, expressing and sharing emotions in a positive manner allows both partners to be aware and mindful of what the other is feeling and can explain a lot of behaviours or actions that may otherwise be misconstrued and lead to suspicion, hurt or worse. The happiness of a marriage is not an end goal, it’s something to work at, build on and savour every single day.
  3. Marriage is hard work and requires sacrifice
    The biggest lesson I have learnt is that compromise is not a bad word. Sacrifice is. When you communicate your hopes, dreams and fears to your spouse , you are sharing in each other’s world and when you co-create a world then the work required to sustain it isn’t hard because it becomes a labour of love. When one person feels they are sacrificing their hopes and dreams to allow the other design rights to their world, the co-created world quickly deteriorates into one that is suffocated with resentment. Do not sacrifice and do not pressure your spouse into sacrifice. Rather through active listening, planning and co-creating your world, fill it with both your hopes and dreams in a way that compromises to achieve harmony. If both of you want to study but it’s not financially feasible to do so at the same time, then compromise so that one of you can study first and the other later. Make sure you communicate your appreciation and continue to validate the other person’s needs so that their compromise doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Don’t be a martyr to your spouse’s desires out of love because there’s a fine line between that kind of sacrificial love and the burden of resentment which lingers long after the love has dissipated.
  4. Marriages don’t last if you fight
    I am an argumentative person by nature and take a morbid delight in playing devil’s advocate ‘just for fun’. This kind of argumentative streak is not a particularly attractive quality and yet this is the trait that has gotten me the furthest in my marriage. Sometimes what a marriage needs is not flowers and cuddles but stubbornness, tenacity and a good all out fight (of the verbal kind). When you both burst through your emotional defences and explode into an argument you say exactly what’s on your mind without the filters that create vagueness and suspicion. The freedom of a fight gives words the power to drive home truths that you may be otherwise ‘afraid’ to speak. Like all friendships, a marriage is never truly cemented till you fight and I believe it gets stronger with every single fight provided that they are fought in a constructive and honourable manner. Your spouse is not your mother who will love you unconditionally, so don’t say the mean and hurtful things that are on the tip of your tongue because that kind of unconstructive verbosity should be beneath you and your spouse deserves better. A man needs respect like a woman needs love so communicate to your husband without hurting his ego and communicate to your wife without mocking her emotions. Find constructive and creative verbal ways to vent your frustration and clear the air and who knows that super annoying and heated argument may just turn into a laughs and cuddles!

I have been privileged to witness many lasting marriages which have all had their own share of issues and problems, but have endured and become stronger as a result. Marriage is not something to be taken lightly. That may seem like stating the obvious but when a marriage becomes something that is taken for granted, or you can’t tell the difference between your spouse and the wallpaper  – there is a problem. Love and dependency is in its own place but no one likes to be taken for granted. I like to think of my marriage as a work of art. A blank canvas on which my husband and I are equally invested and valued, where we both hold brushes of authority and palettes filled with hopes, dreams, fears and individual traits. A canvas that builds lasting colour, depth and texture with each fight, reconciliation, compromise and deep and meaningful conversation.

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Today, the heavens opened and rain poured liberally on my new home town. Your old one. As I stood looking outside my thoughts flit, as they often do, to you. There was a time when you were the first and last person I contacted on any given day. There was a time when you knew my every thought, feeling, action and dream – sometimes before I had even said a word. The fact that this is no longer the case still hurts.

There is no communication between us and I wonder how we got to this point. I recall writing about friendships drifting together and apart a while ago, but I never imagined it would foretell the future of our relationship. Ours was a friendship forged by the stars. And now the words “goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend’ ring in my ears as I write this. For you loved me in a way I didn’t know I deserved.

I don’t clearly remember our first meeting, but I remember the subsequent ones, the constant surprises in our conversations when one stated a fact about themselves and the other said, ‘me too!’ Brought together by endless similarities, our age, our friends, our families, our situations, heck even our geographical location! (to think you lived on the next street for so many years without us meeting!) Our conversations were epic. Epic. In you, I found a confidante who listened, who never judged and who was always there.

It helped that we were going through the exact same things at the exact same time. For a period of several years our lives took the same trajectory and we had the same struggles, thoughts, fears and dreams – made the same mistakes and bore the same repercussions. And then you moved to Canberra. At first it wasn’t so bad, you came to visit regularly and whatsapp meant our conversations could continue regardless of the newfound distance. I didn’t see it then, but that was when the trajectories of our lives took slightly separate paths. In the years to come we grew apart but neither of us felt it acutely.

And then it happened. Suddenly there came a day when not only had I not spoken to you in weeks, but I couldn’t even recall the last time we had spoken. Nothing had happened to cause the rift but time and distance. There had been no fight, no argument, no one single thing that would mark the end of a friendship. This is probably why it has taken me so long to process this ending. It completely blindsided me. One day I knew you were in my life and the next – you were not. You called me from the plane to tell me you were going to get married. You had boarded the plane and the call was your closure but it took me completely by surprise. My rock. My support… was going away. I felt a gaping hole and a growing sense of betrayal. But now, I understand. We had discussed so much, I knew too much. I was a constant reminder of your past at a time when you were trying to move into your future. I know this because I was trying to do the same.

In the days that followed, like it always had, our lives mimicked each other. We had finally met and married those elusive men we had spent countless hours talking about. We married within days of each other without consulting each other, or without introducing each other to our new best friends. And it has been months since, now living in your old hometown that I drive by places we had been together, that I recall something you once said.

On one of our many walks you told me you dreamt that I would marry a man that looked good in a Panjabi and stubble, one that recited poetry, and we would live in a place with French doors opening out to a forest. My love, you are gone from my life today but your dream is my present. He does look good in a Panjabi and stubble and he does recite poetry to me on our balcony with the French doors. We live in Canberra which is filled with trees and this gift you have given me of my present lacks only one thing. You.

I know the heart is not an infinite thing, I know life is constant change and that maybe in order to make room in our hearts for our new best friends we had to say good bye to each other. But I will not for this life is constantly changing and it may bring us together again one day. Till then I hope the dream you dreamt of my present is as sweet as the present you have. I hope our countless hours together bring a smile to your face if they ever cross your mind and I hope, so very much – that you my friend have found a new best friend worthy of your love.

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I read a thought catalog article on being single today and then googled ‘single happy’ and the search engine returned over a million hits in 0.29 seconds. I am hesitant to add to this impressive array of material as I am sure whatever I have to say has already been covered and probably better. But this post is not only meant to be informative, but also reassuring especially from a Bengali/indian point of view. Everything I have read so far on this subject seems either very Bridget jones or very Margaret Atwood when I am living proof that you can be either, or both or neither on any given day.

So for the 1 or 2 people who haven’t heard my mother’s huge sigh of relief reverberating around the globe, I got married on the 22nd of March 2014. After 10 active years of dismissing proposals, arguing with my mother, looking for love, being despondent, being angry, being lost and finally being resigned to being single I gave up.
I gave up thinking that my single status is something that I could change.
I gave up thinking that I was in charge of my destiny and I truly left it to God.

This is easier said than done. I know because for the past 2 or 3 years I had been saying that I had ‘given up’ and that ‘God knew best’ but deep down I didn’t truly believe it, deep down I was still scrambling to control my relationships and whether or not anyone else saw I was still desperately hoping that I could do something to change the course of my fate. This is not at all to negate my favourite hadith which encourages you to ‘have faith in Allah swt but tie your camel’

One day Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing of Allah SWT be upon him) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet (PBUH) then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah” (At-Tirmidhi).

It did bring home to me that births, deaths and marriages are truly in the hands of God. This simple hadith is so powerful. We are living in the greatest age if human intelligence and advancement and it’s so easy to forget that we are not our masters. That we are merely a speck in the greater infinite universe of God’s creation. When we lose sight of that bigger picture it becomes impossible to have blind faith in the fact that God will take care of me. And when that happens we scramble like crazy to dating sites, speed dating venues and our ‘bio datas’ do the rounds of aunties. But I digress. There is a lot I want to say on this subject – get it off my proverbial chest so to speak.

The start of the beginning

The moment you are born a Bengali/desi child, your parents begin to worry. They worry as you grow up, they worry as you start school, they worry when you get to university but none of that compares to the worry that begins when the first person casually mentions to them, ’She’s all grown up now! She’ll be getting married soon.’ And there goes a peaceful night’s sleep for the parents of a Bengali girl. From now till the day she says ‘I accept’ every waking moment is haunted by,

  • What will happen to my daughter?
  • Who will marry her?
  • Is she educated enough? Pretty enough? Good enough? Talented enough? Religious enough?

And it isn’t long before this worry and sometimes frustration finds its way, displaced or directly, to the child in question. And that my dears is when a girl truly becomes a woman. It’s not when your body changes, it’s not when you begin to notice or like boys, but it’s when you start realising that you parents cannot sleep because they are so worried about you. And that brings with it.. Guilt. lots of guilt.

The beginning

Two things happen at this point.

  1. The very select lucky few women on this planet find their prince charming (or their prince charming finds them) and they can happily dispel their parents anxiety and work towards their happily ever after. If that’s you. Pat yourself on the back. Good job. Now go away. Because for the rest of us your life is just as dreamlike and just as elusive as Jasmine and Aladdin and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. We don’t hate you. We ARE genuinely happy for you. But seriously.. don’t tell us your life is hard ever again because what we go through, that you are spared from, is much harder.
  2. The rest of us are primped, primed and positioned to an inch of our lives as we are dragged to dawats. Any remotely nice picture of us is tacked to a bio data which is a resume for marriage purposes listing your life history, hobbies that show what a good girl you are (gardening and knitting anyone?), your family tree and their respective occupations to show you come from good lineage. And the worst part of all of this is that every single family friend is now eligible to ask you, ‘When are you getting married?’. People will delight in projecting your life for the next five years including who you will marry, where you will live and more often than not these ruminations from an overactive imagination become firm fast rumours doing a marathon around your respective social circle so the next time you are out you have to start every sentence with, ‘No I am not getting married. Where did you hear that from?’

If this is you, in the latter situation, please sit down with some chocolate and give yourself a hug. You will need it. This is only the beginning of a process which will define your womanhood. It will thrust you into the reality of social circles, it will enlighten you, quite harshly at times, to who your real friends are and it will teach you how to deal with unwanted attention, grief, guilt and depression. But know through all of your turbulent emotions, that your parents are doing this out of their love for you. A desi parent has no other avenue of showing you how much they care and trying to find you someone who will love you anywhere near as much as they do is their sole ambition in this elaborate and sometimes painful process. So strap yourself in, thicken your skin and buckle up for the ride. It gets harder before it gets easier.

The process

Typically by the time your first serious proposal that your parents consider comes around, you are around 18. Just beginning uni, just getting over that first high school crush and there are too many firsts going on in a life that you are still trying to figure out for you to deal with the idea of marriage and the notion of ‘forever’. But this first proposal will set the tone for the countless others you will deal with. Because it will be the precedent on which your parents and you interact on this subject. It is a truth universally acknowledged that daughters are closer to their fathers and some families might embrace this notion and your father may chat to you on this topic. But typically this conversation is mother daughter domain and it is a conversation so electrically charged it has very real potential to quickly disintegrate into a shouting match. Your mother will see this ‘boy’ to be a ‘great match’ and ‘exactly what we are looking for for you’ and she will be astounded by the fact that you will say, ‘I am not ready’ and ‘I don’t even know him’ and you might get the ‘in my day’ story. My advice to you. Shut up.

You mum/dad is not interested in what you have to say so save your breath. They are here to advocate and advertise their IDEA of what they think is best for you. So just let them. This is important. Because it shows them that you respect them, understand them and value their opinion. In doing this you set the tone for future conversations so that when YOU want to be heard, respected and understood – they will do so (hopefully). Having gotten this first conversation out of the way. Just keep quiet and wait. Because the first proposal will come and go and so will a fair few others before THAT ONE DUDE comes along and you need to be ready for this one.

That ONE dude

Every single person that has gone through the arranged marriage process has encountered what I call the ‘That one dude’ phenomena. He is that one person that makes you question every single argument you ever put to your parents. He is the one person that makes you want to give up because it’s just too hard to keep fighting. This may have nothing to do with the guy himself or the proposal and everything to do with the time at which this phenomena occurs in your life. Nevertheless ‘that one dude’ will come along. He is the ‘perfect’ potential on paper. He is tall (or so his bio-data says), fair and handsome (refer to the ‘best of a 100’ picture that his mum sent with the bio data) and has a great job (doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer). So you agree to meet him in person and the meeting might happen at a dawat, gathering or over coffee by yourselves or in a group. But it won’t take you long (30 seconds) before you realise you have ZERO chemistry with this guy and he is BORING you to death. I need to clarify here that this has NOTHING to do with the guy (if you are THAT guy reading this.. you are REALLY nice. And sweet but just not the right fit). It’s just something is missing and you sense it right away. So you go home and when your mum asks you how it went you say ‘it was ok’ because it was. He wasn’t rude or smelly or stupid. He was a perfectly nice guy. And so the internal struggle begins. Because by now your about 23-25 and the pressure is really on. Your friends are getting married, you’re going to weddings every other weekend and there is always wedding talk going on in the house and the parents have already gone through a cycle of potential hope, frustration and then despair. This is when you are at your most vulnerable.

It is when you open facebook and the plethora of wedding pictures that affront you is assaulting.

It is when you have conversations with your mum that sound like simon cowell judging a contestant, ‘You gained a fair bit of weight, you have crooked teeth, I really think this is the best you can do. I am saying this because I love you.’

It is when this whole process comes very close to breaking you. When you lie awake at night and think, is this really the best I can do? Maybe it is. Maybe those butterflies aren’t meant to flutter in my stomach after all, I mean he’s a nice guy, Sure he bores me but he can provide for me, so what if we have nothing in common, he’s got a good job. So what if he has no interest in asking me about myself? He comes from a good family. So what if he never asks me for my opinion. Marrying him will make my parents happy. And all that guilt that’s been building up inside you throughout this process of tug of war with your parents will come to a boil and you will be very very tempted to give up. Don’t. I repeat. DO NOT GIVE IN. You are so much more that you perceive yourself to be. You are worth SO much more than you think and you deserve so much more than you could possibly imagine. DO NOT SELL YOURSELF SHORT. If you want chocolate cake then hold out for chocolate cake dammit! No matter how good vanilla cake is.. it will never be chocolate cake and you will never be satisfied. And you might be able to fake it for a day,. A week, a month, a year but eventually your parents will see that you are not satisfied and they will not be happy. So if you feel like giving in for your parents – it won’t work. Eventually the person you married will feel that no matter what they do- they just can’t get through to you. And you will have cheated them as well as yourself of happiness. So don’t. Eventually the initial relief of ‘getting it over and done’ with that you feel will be replaced by a feeling of dread and despair at the prospective of ‘forever’ with a person you do not like. So DO NOT DO IT.

Listen to your parents when they talk to you about him. But be polite and firm in your refusal. Use that thick skin you built up earlier and the guidelines of open conversation you established earlier to maintain your position of Thanks. But no thanks. I want chocolate cake and I will wait. For my Chocolate. Cake.

The emotions

This whole process can last from anywhere from a year to a decade. It can happen to a girl or a guy. It can happen to a Bengali or non-Bengali. It can happen whether you are rich or poor. And so there is no one way of handling your emotions that will work except the one cardinal rule you must never forget. Love yourself. I know. As lame, corny and clichéd as it sounds this process more than any other process in life (so far anyway), will make you feel like crap. So many many times along the way family and friends intentionally or otherwise will make you feel unloved, unwanted, and undervalued. Passing comments from people you do not know will sting and stick. Nights will be spent crying and sleep will evade you. Be Strong. Be the one voice in your head that is consistently loving to deflect the barrage of negativity from others. Because you ARE amazing and you ARE gorgeous and you ARE worthy and very soon a person WILL come along that will see that and be worthy of you.

But there is a reason that doesn’t happen automatically. In a world where we are the masters of our every action it is easy to forget that we are just cogs in a much much bigger wheel and it’s the maker of that wheel that asks you through this process to stop. Think. Re-evaluate your life and the purpose and intentions with which you wake up and go through the motions every morning. The process of choosing your life partner is hard BECAUSE it is so inextricably linked to the direction you forever will take. You need to get through a stage of angst and despair and pain and hurt to come out stronger and with more self-belief so you can espouse with confidence the life partner and the life path you have chosen for yourself and it is to ensure that you have this self-belief that god tests you. It is to ensure that you will not waver and that you have someone who you can lean on when life happens that God makes you certain through this process of elimination.

So don’t bottle up your emotions. A little bit of self-pity goes a long way if used in moderation and used wisely to self-evaluate and propel yourself to a certain direction in life. Develop your thick skin. You will need it much more as you get older. Respect your parents because though you might not understand their weird ways, know that they do it out of love and concern and affection. And most of all. Laugh. Find friends that love you and understand you for who you are and not who they want you to be. And laugh with them. Laugh the kind of laughter that will make you realise that it doesn’t matter if you are single and who knows it. What matters in life is having the right people around you to keep you on a path that takes you to your destination. That aligns you to a greater understanding of god and good. That makes you embrace with a passion the things you want to do and be the person you are capable of being.

The Desi way

When I told a friend at work about the arranged marriage process through which I met my husband, I expected some sort of remark, what I didn’t expect was her tone of wistfulness. She actually wished that she had parents and an extended social network that could facilitate arranged meet ups because ‘meeting a good man in town is impossible’. Through that conversation I realised that no matter how frustrating the network of ‘aunties’ can get, they actually provide an invaluable service of vetting men and women and forming connections that would be otherwise impossible. For her the process was to meet someone at work, gym, party, bar and go on at least 3-5 dates (think endless excruciating decisions on clothes, hair make up, venue, shoes etc not to mention the expense!) before she knew even half of what was provided in a biodata.

So as much as I made fun of the aunties in my spiel above. I am grateful for the vetting and ‘flow of information’ they provide. Just… can we stick to the facts please? Let’s not get all JK Rowling on my life story please.

While the arranged marriage process definitely works, there are a few improvements that can definately be made:

  1. Aunties: Reduce the cattiness. Aunties, uncles, girls and boys….you were all young once, You went through a similar phase. Have some compassion. Don’t kick a girl when she’s down. Don’t keep asking her when she’s going to get married. Trust me. When she does you will know. You are part of a network much stronger than Facebook.
  2. Parents: please be nicer – You are the people who are love us the most in this world. Your every word is taken very very seriously by us whether we show it or not. SO when you say things like we are not good enough even though you may not have meant it – it hurt. It stuck with us. This is one of the most emotionally trying times in our lives. Be our support system instead of our critic.
  3. Everyone else: tone down the gossip – this process is hard enough as it is without having to contend with the endless he said she said. If something is happening, let it happen. If someone wants to know what you think they will ask you. Otherwise. Just wait and watch.

What it all boils down to is

  • Have faith not only in God but in YOU who God created. Have faith in your ability. Your self. Your belief. Your feelings.. have confidence to act on them.
  • Don’t compare yourself with the girl who married her high school sweetheart. Don’t see her as having more than you. Instead see what you can share with her. Develop the skill of sharing because marriage is not about matching the other person tit for tat but about sharing pats of you to make a whole.
  • Don’t look for perfection. No one is perfect. Look for someone who is a good person. Someone who respects you. Someone who has ambitions and has a purpose in Life. Someone who wants to be closer to God.
  • This process doesn’t always end in marriage. Or even a happy marriage. Nothing is guaranteed. No one knows what Allah swt has in store for us. But if you learn the lessons of patience, respect and love it will put you in good stead to tackle any situation life throws at you no matter what your marital status.
  • Learn to be happy. As a child we laughed on average 20 times more in a day than we do as adults. Everything was new. Everything was good. Happiness was the default mode. Re-learn happiness. Do things that make you happy. Put yourself in positions that make you happy. When you are happy you feel good. And when you feel good you will Do Good.

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A friend of mine messaged me yesterday and asked me something along the lines of, ..how was it that I wanted to go out to parties with my friends and you didn’t Shaf..I would love to know the secret if there is any of how you passed those years without getting into severe trouble!!’ I laughed. She is an amazing and wonderful woman and a close friend and she of all people should know how much trouble I keep getting myself into. So I wrote back, ‘My secret was to get into smaller bouts of consistent trouble so that parents were perpetually fed up with me.’

Our ensuing conversation got me thinking about expectations. Perceptions feed expectations. Despite growing up together my friend had a perception of me as a person who didn’t get into severe trouble and expected I may have the answer as to why. Building on that premise, our perceptions of our relationships with family, friends, partners – all breed expectations. We all have them. But why are they so debilitating? Why do they make us vulnerable to others? Especially those we love? This post is going to be extraordinarily clichéd but it is because I have been thinking about clichés lately. Why are clichés clichés? Why can memes like these be read by anyone, anywhere and have an instant mutual understanding? Clichés (say it five times really fast!) are what they are because they have been tested by time and place over and over again. And although it might seem like they are not worth more than a cursory glance, it is actually clichés that can teach you so much that you thought earlier on in life you didn’t need to know.

When you are younger and ignorance is bliss because you think you know all there is to know (Hello 16 year old self! Aren’t you eating your words right now), you scoff at quotes which tell you that more expectations lead to more disappointment because hey you know everything and you only expect what you deserve so your definitely going to get it right? Wrong. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve learnt that love is directly proportional to expectation. I love my father. He is my favourite person in the whole wide world. So even the most offhand cursory comment from him (well intended as it may be) will elicit tears from me when more severe and cutting rebukes from my mum are easily ignored (not because I love her any less but the frequency of those builds up immunity!). There have been times in my life where I have loved and expected thinking that my love for someone justifies my expectations. I have seen sisters who love and care for their brothers and expect from them love and respect only to be marginalised for their wives. The disappointment elicited from unfulfilled expectations is not the fault of the one you love. As much as it may seem so – tis not. It is wholly and entirely your fault.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, ‘No one can you make you feel inferior without your consent’ resonate with me when I say this. Love, admiration, respect and trust are in their place. But none of these should build expectations from others. Because others are fallible. In our society and in our culture we are raised to ‘expect’ love and care from our parents. We are raised to ‘expect’ an ATM in shining armour for a husband. We are raised to ‘expect’ respect from our siblings and colleagues even if we have not done enough to deserve these things. My point here is two-fold. Firstly, we should not be expecting anything from anyone except God. Yes you may want the love of a certain person and the respect of another, but that ultimate destiny and decision is in God’s hands and it to Him that you should supplicate. Secondly, God has told us that it is not enough that you simply have faith, you must tie your camel too (Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2517). Simply praying to God for the love and respect of others but doing nothing to elicit or deserve it will get you nowhere. The responsibility then for the outcome of your expectations lies wholly on God and on you. Your actions will deem you worthy to God who in turn will reward you. Nowhere in this scenario should the expectation or the blame in the case of a negative outcome lie on the object/person of you affection/attention.

This. Is harder said than done. I know. Because I have struggled with this for the past 5 years of my life. I was brought up by awesome parents who instilled in me so much confidence (it was my fault that I ignored their lessons in humility) that I felt entitled to love and respect regardless of how I acted. And it has been a hard path to travel on the way back from overconfidence with copious consumption of humble pie. I still don’t have the answer and I won’t pretend to. All I know is that this year I’ve told myself that enough is enough. Enough immaturity. Enough eating what I want. Doing what I like. Focus. So I’m focusing in my Religion. Health. Self-betterment. And that’s all. By being focused on good goals I hope to automatically cut out the peripheral chances of making mistakes had I had bad or unsavoury goals. Or even no goals which would keep me open to distractions.

Building on my awesome conversation with her I had another conversation with two more friends who were talking about ‘give and take’ in relationships and how they ‘manage’ their girlfriends. Now before you jump on your feminist high horse, this isn’t about keeping your ‘woman’ in her place. Rather it’s about managing your relationship in a constructive and communicative way. And I was impressed that here were two relatively young twenty something’s that had put a considerable amount of thought into how they approach and sustain expectations from their loved ones. What great maturity! Gone are they days in which the ‘hunter’ was always a male and the ‘gatherer’ was always a female and the two roles were mutually exclusive with the former exercising dominance over the latter. Gone are the days when men refused to talk about their feelings and partake in an open dialogue with their loved ones for fear of losing their place on that imaginary high pedestal of masculinity.

In our culture, no one prepares you on how to be a good daughter/son or a good husband/wife or a good mother/father purely on religious values, so much of it is mixed with our ‘desi’ culture which is mostly based on the timeless adage “What people will say and think”. Which sucks. You know how in movies they have a happy ever after? Well life doesn’t have one. I found that out the hard way. So many times in my life I had Kodak moments in which I wishes I could just end my story here. But God is the best if planners and if your story is still being written then go with the flow. It will have action and drama and suspense but inshallah the end will be beautiful. Perseverance is key. Easier said than done I know. Much of our lives as kids is about fitting in; into school, dawaats, friends circles, family expectations… we are all taught to not rock the boat. But Islam isn’t about that. And to be a good Muslim sometimes you not only rock the boat but turn it upside down and dance on it! As in, you challenge the perceived norm of what is cultural acceptable to do what is religiously mandated such as prayer, and modesty and the core values of all religions. And it’s only when we’ve had a good upbringing and surrounded ourselves with good people that we can be brave enough to follow Islam instead of society. So this year I plan to walk that path with my head held high knowing that I am not alone.

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