Between Dusk and Dawn…

Some *scribble* *scribble* by Ameera

Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Unforgettable

I don’t know why but I suddenly miss my birthplace so much. I was blessed by Allah(swt) with having been born in Saudi Arabia and growing up there. Now, almost four years since I left that country with an “exit only” (no re-entry) stamp on my passport, I feel the pangs of separation more than ever. Sure, I don’t have a resident permit, just a birth certificate to show I was born there… but does that mean I will forget my roots? I don’t think it’s that easy. If it were, I wouldn’t be sitting here four years later, still wishing to go back, even if once.

Just what is it that I love about Saudi Arabia and, by extension, the Middle East? How can I begin to tell you? Can I describe to you, with justice, how it feels to be surrounded by sand and dunes? Take a deep breathe and let the pure desert air flow into you as the soft beams of the late afternoon sun warm you up from within. Open your eyes and look upon the landscape, now dotted with mosques, where the Prophet(pbuh) once walked with his companions. Go forward to tread on the very hill which he climbed upon to call his people to the worship of One God!

Something I miss dearly, even though I wasn’t very practicing at that time, was lying in bed at 2am on Ramadan nights, listening to the sound of Qayam-ul-layl recitation from the neighborhood masajid. Even in regular days, the adhan would be called from so many masajid within a span of 5 min that no one could possibly have an excuse for not knowing Salah timings!

Eid there, during my childhood, was a joy in itself. We’d eagerly turn on the TV to await the sighting of the moon. I didn’t understand Arabic but yeah, anyone could tell the Eid crescent had been sighted when they gave the announcement! Then, out came the henna and we’d watch as Amma applied it on our hands by means of a toothpick. Later at night, she’d prepare some snacks and sweets for the guests who’d visit on Eid. The next day, Abba would go for Eid prayer and return with gifts for us – always a charm! Our Syrian neighbors would send us freshly baked homemade biscuits or we’d get chocolates from the Saudi neighbors.

I miss the food there too. Forget the processed food for now, the pure Khubz, humus, olive oil and cheese were just awesome! And Laban – a drink made from yoghurt! Or even the bread we got from the bakery. It was all so simple, yet so tasty. Eating out at different corner-shops was an adventure as you’d never know what new flavors you would get to enjoy. Once, on the highway between Madinah and Jeddah, we stopped at a place where we ordered rice and chicken for dinner. It turned out it was the local variety of rice – red and plump grains – and it was so delicious! The best part… we had it outside, on a mat spread on the dusty concrete floor, with the dark desert all around – can you imagine that? Awesome, it was!

Being able to pray in a masjid was another joy altogether. It’s very common for women to be able to pray in  masjid there so even if we were out and it was time for Maghrib, no worries – just stop at one of the large mosques and pray in comfort, Alhamdolillah. Although we’ve got the chance to pray in masajid with plush carpets and airconditioning, what I remember really well is the time I prayed in simple masajid. One such time was in Kyber, when we had set out for Hajj. The masjid we stopped near was so small that the ladies section was just the size of a car porch, with barely anything to cover the dusty floor. Again, it took me off to a different era altogether – there was definitely something very intense there.

There’s so much more, I could go on and on. I’ve just scratched the surface of my memory trunk and the real stuff is all inside. I just wish I might be able to go back there, once at least, to see those places again before Allah(swt) wraps up this universe for good. This world is temporary, that’s true, but whatever good we do here is carried on to the next. My roots in Saudi Arabia continue to inspire me whenever I feel down and depressed, or in limbo. Returning to the root, the source of it all… the place where it all started… there is no better vantage point, for me, at least!

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Ready to Walk the Talk?

“And surely, We shall try you till We test those who strive hard (for the Cause of Allâh) and the patient ones, and We shall test your facts (i.e. the one who is a liar, and the one who is truthful).” (Qur’an 47: 31)

For those of my readers who’ve got some link with the scientific world and its workings, it will be easy to understand the importance of providing evidence to back up whatever claim you make. For instance, if I were to say today, “the world is actually flat!”, I’d immediately be asked, “Well, what is your proof for it?”.

Although this might not be directly related to science, the concept of providing proofs is not something that is unrelated to your relationship with Allah(swt). It is easy to overlook the importance of evidence-backed and tangible results when we examine our link with our Rabb. Without much guilt, we go on disobeying Allah(swt) while declaring with our tongues how He is Supreme and that He is the number one priority in our lives. It can go as far as this that we make tall claims about our love for Allah(swt) and how pious we are, when in reality, it is just not so.

Take, for example, our use of the words, “I have chosen to bear this with patience.” Hardly a little while later, we go against our own words and behave in the most impatient matter so that, if it were scientific rules were used to judge us by, there would be a world of a difference between what we say and what we actually do.

Allah(swt) also tests us, at various points in our lives, in small and big ways, both, to make things crystal clear. The person who does act upon what he or she says, is going to follow through in deeds and pass the test whereas the one who disregarded his actual actions, is clearly noticeable. All our tall claims are, therefore, of no standing before Allah(swt) unless backed up with real deeds.

What I’ve just written about is something I realized yesterday. I was wondering what odd kind of tests I am currently going through… couldn’t make a lot of sense out them. Of course, Allah(swt) Knows best but what struck me suddenly was how I‘d recently made a claim, directly or otherwise, that I’d learned my lesson about trusting in Allah(swt) and relying solely on Him to get whatever I wanted. It’s hardly been a couple of weeks since I said that and here’s the opportunity to provide evidence – act upon what you said and rely on Allah(swt) for what you now want.

Wow.

It was liberating, in a way, to realize I might be undergoing a test of my resolve. It injected me with a new passion to stick my feet in and refuse to budge in my reliance on Allah(swt). It’s time to show Allah(swt) that I did learn a lesson from what I’ve seen so far and will not revert to my old ways of showing impatience and despair in aiming to get what I want. Whether I get it or not, that’s another question but really, if I can believe, trust and rely in Allah(swt), how can I not expect only but the best from His Mercy?

Remember me in your dua’s, please!

“Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allâh will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allâh knows all that before putting them to test).” (Qur’an 29: 2-3)


The Reluctant Chef

When was the last time you ventured into the kitchen with determination to cook up something exciting? Don’t remember? This write up is just the thing for you then. Many self-professed drop-outs from the culinary arts will insist on telling me they have no talents to begin with. I disagree – like Ratatouille’s mentor, I say anybody – yes, even you – can cook. All you need is a cup full of positive attitude, one heaped tea spoon of will power and a pinch of all the other technicalities (a stove, for example!).

The exciting world of food has all kinds of amazing recipes out there, something for every taste bud. However, a few simple measures, if ensured, will do away with most of your cooking time troubles. Here are some tried and tested tips:

Clear Worktop

There is nothing more likely to kill my creativity than a messy worktop. If you are planning intense cooking, make sure to clear away unneeded pots and pans, jars, mugs and plates. Go over the ingredients’ list and if bulky items, like the five kilogram sack of flour you’ll measure out into cups from, can be removed before cooking starts, it will make things a lot easier. Trust me, when you are whisking eggs with one hand and moving around things with the other, it can get really messy.

Essential tools

Yes, I know they are all within the kitchen and you can grab them in moments but having basic utensils on the worktop is a big deal when it comes to cooking. A couple of teaspoons, a table spoon and spatula are advisable when baking. Keeping things handy cuts down on cooking time and also helps you stay focused. Plus, you feel more like a Pro!

What goes in is what comes out

The quality of the ingredients you use is very important. It might sound obvious but many aspiring chefs underestimate the role of fresh ingredients, especially with herbs like mint and coriander.  People often complain their cakes don’t rise well and are tough – it’s worth checking out the quality of your baking powder. Some local brands may not be as potent as the imported variety and when used according to an American recipe, will be ineffective. The same goes for cocoa powder – the quality of the cocoa will determine how closely your cake resembles that imported store-bought cake mix which everyone loves. While we are on the topic, it is also advisable to check whether your appliances are in good working order. An oven which does not heat up evenly might be the cause of some recurring troubles.

Experiment wisely

That might sound like an oxymoron but really, ask any professional chef and they will advise you to work with simple ingredients and basic rules to explore endless possibilities. In simpler words, a brownie with veggies inside will probably not make you the next Nigella! Rather than going for radical ideas, play around with the simplest of recipes – even an omelette can open up a dozen opportunities to experiment with new flavors. Just choose your steps wisely.

Don’t give up

Probably the silliest thing to do when you’re working with food is to convince yourself you are no good after a few unfavorable outcomes. Even a warm hard boiled egg with some powdered dry mint, salt and pepper on top is a plate of food. All you need is a little more time, optimism and a one-step-at-a-time approach. Start with an appetizer and work towards a three-course meal. Keep at it and who knows, you could be the undiscovered Gary Rhodes of your family!

(This article was originally written for the Dawn newspaper.)

What are you made of?

Ever felt like you’ve got too much on your plate to handle? No, I’m not talking about food!  I mean it metaphorically – doesn’t it ever happen to you that you suddenly feel overwhelmed by one too many issues? Of course it does. If you’re human, you’d have gone through such a phase at some point in life.

Lately, my plate’s been pretty full too. Life ladled out a big portion and I was pretty confused about how I’d go about it when – plop! – came another helping. Oops, major confusion! I wish I could put a hold on it. After all, the size of this plate is limited and can only hold a certain measure. Any more and it’s going to spill… that would make one big mess.

So why is it that we find ourselves in situations which threaten to tug us in opposite directions? Allah(swt) Knows best. Even if the person is question isn’t willing to accept it at first, most such occasions are times in our lives where Allah(swt) is testing your mettle. What is it that you are made of? Of course, Allah(swt) already Knows everything about our past, present and future but the word “test” refers to giving you a chance to reach into your potential and excel. By giving us a challenging situation to deal with, Allah(swt) effectively hands us the opportunity to rise higher, if we make the right choices with the right attitude. Isn’t that just amazing? If only we could understand that, much of the time we spend in despair can be channeled into gathering good deeds, earning that “promotion” in Allah(swt)’s Sight.

As I write this, I’m trying to explain the same concept to myself. It may sound like I already “get it” but really, many times during the day today, I couldn’t make sense of my situation. I’m facing up to some major decisions in the days ahead and I can only hold them off for a couple of days more. Dua, imploring Allah(swt) to give my case a hearing in His Court, is my only comforter. There’s no person, authority or any kind of power that can make easy for me the decisions that I am faced with. I also know that however much I try, I cannot know what truly is best for me so there also, I am depending 101% on what Allah(swt) will guide me too. Istikhara is my “shot of adrenaline”, which keeps me going two or three days before I need another one.

When things started getting complicated, I realized such complexity could only be a test from Allah(swt). How would I react? Anger? Disappointment? Impatience? I hope not… whatever goes on in my heart, with whatever urgency I make my dua’s to Allah(swt), they are after all between Him and me – no human will hear me complain, Insha’Allah. And it’s odd, in a nice way, how this inner resolve gives you a positive feeling. Even if the questions and troubles are still in the air, my faith is in the One Who has never left me in want of anything I sincerely desired. I expect from Him the Best, and I pray to Him to make me content with what He guides me to.

It’s easy to tell another person to keep good faith and remain positive in the midst of worries but when you go through it yourself, you realize how difficult it is to stay cheery when logic tells you the outcome might not be to your favor. Only through grabbing the opportunity for self-analysis and really making yourself submit patiently to Allah(swt)’s Will will you be able to realize how best to seek the right answers and help others to do the same. It’s this realization that prompted me to blog about this now. Right, I gotta go make more dua now. It’s very late in the night and I want to raise my case again before Allah(swt) at the time where He openly offers to grant His slaves so much good! 🙂

Welcome Weddings!

Karachi has become notorious for a lot of reasons. One of the more benign ones – although serious in itself – is the late hours which most wedding functions run into. Over the past several years, it has become a sort of norm for many events and gatherings to end around the time the Imam of a masjid wakes for Tahajjud. No kidding, that’s how bad it is. However, a recently issued order by some government department (the police, maybe?) made it mandatory for wedding functions to wrap up latest by 12 am. Phew, that was a relief! Thankfully, clubs which catered to wedding functions took it seriously and really did make sure they started switching off the lights to indicate to the guests that time was up and they had to leave.

I just came from one such wedding. In this case, however, the hosts deserve a real round of applause – they served the food at 10 pm so that we were all done with dessert by 11 pm! I remember in one wedding I attended about three years ago, the food was served after midnight and at another one my parents attended not too long ago, it was around 1 am! Imagine having a heavy dinner at that hour! So you can imagine how delightful it was at my friend’s wedding today to see the feast being served at a decent hour.

Another thing I liked about today was the nice light food they’d served. Nothing was dripping in oil or choked with spices which means it’ll go easy on the tummy too. It’s not often you find such care being taken to make sure the guests really enjoy the food – not just the taste but the digestion part too! Heheh.

So yes, here I am at 12 am sitting comfortably at home, blogging away about a pleasant experience at a friend’s wedding. I hope more people can realize how much better the wedding experience can be made for all involved, if a little consideration is shown in the arrangements. It leaves the guests giving the hosts a lot more sincere and heartfelt duas! 🙂

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