Marriage – On the Edge

Photo credit: Dave-a-roni (Dark Spot Photography) / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Dave-a-roni (Dark Spot Photography) / Foter / CC BY-NC

No doubt, marriage was one of the most life-turning moments in my life. What an extraordinary instant it was, when the arrival of one person in my world revolutionized my life. When all of a sudden, I started to relish every gratifying moment to the highest degree of utmost sweetness and endless delight. I began to surf through the tempting waves of perfect life which nobody could ever even dream of. A weird joy became my consistent companion throughout the day, and a chain of sweet dreams followed me to get me through the night. It was the immaturity of my teenage mind or innocence of my child-like nature, that by neglecting the entire world, I started to visualize my universe in one single human being. Quietly, roots of constant thoughts about her started to deploy in my brain, moved slowly towards my heart being established as my permanent caretaker.

It all began, when I abruptly woke up in the dead of the night and started gasping for air, like density of the air had increased by many folds. I realized that it was just a nightmare. One of those nightmares which take forever to end and after waking up, it is still hard to believe that the trance has finally been broken and we have returned back to reality.

I didn’t remember the beginning, but I was able to visualize the fragmentary end. “I was under a million layers of seawater. A yearn to break away from this imprisonment and breath in fresh air took birth in my heart. The more I struggled to get out of the sea, the more endless it became. I reached to a point of no return. I started to die out of thirst inside the water- a drastic thirst of air. Somehow, I managed to touch the shore and I survived. After getting in my senses, I found burned ashes of a paper, partially buried in sand of the beach and a page with something written in an elegant script inside a green bottle floating over the crystal clear swallow water.” That was all I could remember. Weird thoughts kept haunting my mind throughout the night.

I calmed down as I found the most precious soul right next to me. It was beyond science and logic that how some relations create more sense and stability in one’s life.

October 20, 2009

Life cannot be any darker than this day. As I dropped her at the Islamic University (Islamabad) for her class and went to my university. At that point, I saw hell emerging from the heart of heaven. It was really queer that how one moment changed me and my heavenly life. Terrorism attack! Five students killed from her university… unfortunately, she lost her bets with life.

“O Lord, although I have vowed to consider your wills; my destines

Yet, lost enigmatic lament is echoing inside me for eternities.”

Disheartened I wrote a stanza on a blank page. Crumpled the paper in shear regret and tucked it inside my pocket. I tried to use ‘writing poetry’ as catharsis: sprinkling it over my bleeding wounds. I might have been able to stop the bleeding, but my eye’s tear sacks were still betraying me. I remember those depressingly devastated nights, tears’ wet spots on my pillow and staring cluelessly at the textured ceiling. When each second of life seems to be longer than eternity and you start to believe this life and pain will never end.

After the funeral, again I was having the same nightmare and when I woke up shivering with fear, this time I was able to remember another thing than usual about that dream. I saw a hand burning the stanza I wrote few weeks back. As the face of the day was about to be unveiled, I rushed somewhere, somewhere I was supposed to be. There was an eternal voice, getting louder and louder as I was running towards its direction; as I reached at the source of the voice, it mystically vanished as if it never existed.

I laid down on cold sand of beach and let the sand absorb the heat from my body. I started waiting for the sun to rise. While waiting, I picked up a handful of sand and grasped it firmly. No matter how hard I tried, it still slipped through the narrow gaps in my grip. Drop by drop, grain after grain, all of it slipping and being blown away by the wind. In the end all, I was left up with was emptiness.

One action and entire phenomenon of life was explained. I realized no matter how hard you try, you will end up at having what you are destined to have. Our so called ‘logical and fair’ planning can divert cosmos into universal chaos. I took out that crumpled piece of paper from my pocket and tore apart a blank part from it. Started to write what I felt few seconds ago.

As I lifted up my pen after completing the stanza, miraculously, I found the missing piece of my nightmare puzzle in my subconscious mind. Now I clearly remember that I was drowning in the ocean of my own tears. A smile appeared on my face – either a result of relief from a pain, or a sense of victory for getting answers to my mysterious nightmares. I took the wrinkled page of a stanza which I had written few nights back, tore it into pieces, burned and buried the ashes deep in the sand. I packed the newly written one in a green unlabeled bottle and threw it in the sea. As the bottle landed on the water, twilight started to caress on my face from the edge of the horizon. I followed the bottle, glittering in the bright light of the sun, with my eyes hoping that one day someone somewhere in need of this ‘nightmare’ will be bestowed with it to seek guidance about life.

Many people live their dreams, but very few are those who are lucky enough to live through their nightmares. Fortunately, I lived through my worst one; and then learnt the key to live happily ever after. It inspired my spectrum of thinking to invade the new levels of truth, faith and philosophy.

You might be wondering, what the stanza inside the bottle was. It read:

“Joys and despairs in love are just states of mind.

Everything that happens, there is a reason you find!”

Finding Fatimah

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The world has known many Fatimahs, the most famous and revered one in the Muslim Ummah being Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (sa), whom we meet in the books of Seerah.

Recently, I came across one more exemplary Fatimah, who was born to a Tunisian businessman in the year 800 AD. Fatimah bint Mohammad al-Fihri is known as the founder of the oldest university in the world.

Along with her sister, Maryam, Fatimah al-Fihri left her city of birth in order to help their father expand his business. Rather like today, changing homes back in the ninth century was no easy task. But the bustling city of Fes soon became a friend to the family as the two sisters helped Mohammad al-Fihri settle in Morocco.

Their newfound happiness did not last for as long as they may have hoped. Mohammad al-Fihri passed away, leaving the girls without any close family member. However, he left for the girls a respectable amount of money in his will, a clear message that he trusted his daughters to build for themselves a place in this world. Fatimah and Maryam had previously lived comfortably and money matters were mostly left to the discretion of their father. After his death, however, the sisters took bold yet noble decisions about what to do with the money that was now theirs.

Living in the cultural and spiritual centre of ninth century Morocco, Fatimah was deeply inspired by the study of art, religion, history, and architectural design. She gravitated towards this vibrant community and the values it upheld, to which she was no longer a stranger. For the al-Fihri sisters, nothing could reduce the pain of losing their father better than giving back to their community. Hence, they decided to invest in the society around them. The money they had inherited was used to lay the foundations of what were initially two Masajid: Al-Andalus and Al-Qarawiyyin. The constructions of both were supervised by Maryam and Fatimah respectively.

In 869 AD, Fatimah decided it was time to expand the mosque into a Madrassah, which went on to be recognized as a state university in 1963. In his book “Madrasah and University in the Middle Ages”, George Makdisi writes: “…back in the Middle Ages, outside of Europe, there was nothing anything quite like it anywhere.”

During the course of Islamic history, Al-Qarawiyyin became more than a university that housed a Masjid; it soon began housing the greatest minds of the European Middle Ages. Many notable scholars of the time either studied or taught at Al-Qarawiyyin, including Ibn Khaldun, Leo Africanus, and Ibn al-Arabi. The university gained fame among the scholars from all over the world, such as Maimonides (Ibn Maimun) and Muhammad al-Idris, a cartographer, whose maps were widely used during the Renaissance, especially in European quests to explore uncharted lands.

The university expanded very rapidly. With additional construction done in the twelfth century, Al-Qarawiyyin came to be regarded as the largest mosque in North Africa. That was the time when the Masjid gained its current structure, which can now accommodate around twenty-two thousand worshippers.

In a brutal attempt to massacre Muslim civilization during the Spanish Inquisition, many Muslims and scholars were expelled from Spain. They found a refuge in Fes, where they shared their wisdom and their cultural insights about arts and sciences. While the Spanish Inquisition of the thirteenth century was a dark and difficult time for Muslim scholars, al-Fihri’s institution became a much-needed symbol of hope for the devastated Muslim academia.

In his book “Islamic Education in Europe” (2009), Ednan Aslan writes how the Muslim community “maintained, favoured, and organized the institutions for higher education that became the new centres for the diffusion of Islamic knowledge.” This resulted in the centres becoming “places where teachers and students of that time would meet” and “where all intellectuals would gather and take part in extremely important scientific debates.” He writes that in the ninth century, it is not to be taken as a coincidence that the establishment of the Qarawiyyin University in Fes was followed by Az-Zaytuna in Tunis and Al-Azhar in Cairo. Aslan writes: “The university model, which in the West was widespread starting only from the twelfth century, had an extraordinary fortune and was spread throughout the Muslim world at least until the colonial period.”

Before her death in 880 AD, Fatimah al-Fihri was titled Umme Banin, the Mother of the Children. She was remembered to have stood true to her oath to keep fasting till the construction of the Masjid was completed. She prayed in the Masjid for the first time as an act of gratitude to Allah (swt). The city of Kairouan was no longer a stranger to the two sisters, Fatimah and Maryam, both of whom had made wise and important choices in their youth.

As a Muslimah, the world I live in asks me to stop looking into the past; however, it is there that I find hope for the future. Perhaps there is a Fatimah al-Fihri out there reading my words. If she is, we must help her in her quest to create a space, where learning takes place for all the seekers of knowledge.