I wrote three short passages.
His voice was distant, but cold and clear.
“No. Goodbye.” And the phone clicked.
A horrifying wave of numbness washed over her. It paralyzed her. The fan creaked overhead, and the papers on her desk rustled lightly to its rhythm. They were dog-eared and worn-out by the eager touch of the same fingers, over and over again. She knew all of those letters by heart, down to every missed out dot. She could put her finger on the parts where her name appeared with her eyes closed.
Now there seemed no air left to breathe in.
Outside her window, the sun gradually slipped away. The room changed from dull gold to orange to a deep, miserable red, and finally fell into darkness.
She was a large woman. She hunched over the counter like a mountain eagle on its cliff, surveying the world from above with one sweeping glance. Nothing escaped her radar. She could sketch an entire biography in her head for every unassuming person who walked into her store.
But this particular boy was a different one. Different, that is, from the usual lot of rowdy kids that roamed the streets these days. He stood in front of the stationery section in deep thought. He picked a notebook here, thought a while, put it back, picked a box of colors there, put it back, and so on.
Careful with his pocket money. Selective taste. Not buying for himself, she thought. Not buying for a rowdy kid, either.
“Whatchoo lookin for son?”
“Something to surprise my little sister”, said the boy, staring at a little Bratz pouch. On second thoughts, he realized the woman could help him, and he must tell her everything about his sister. So he turned to face her and rattled off a little speech.
“She loves colorful stuff, especially this orangey pink , so I wanted this pencil box, but she already has so many. I want something she doesn’t have. But now she gets bored with coloring so I can’t give her those colors.” He pointed to a box of markers that was exceedingly pink. “We passed by a toy shop last week and she saw a Hello Kitty purse, and she wanted that. Do you have any Hello kitty things, Ma’am? She’ll be very happy. Mommy said she’s been so good at the playgroup, too, so she deserves it. But it has to be small or something because she’s really small. Like this bag, it’s just the right size, but it has Spiderman on it, and she’s scared of him, so I can’t get that.”
The man lounges on the couch, tapping away on his laptop. His baby daughter chitters and chatters and pulls at his leg, but she’s wasting her breath because he’s never listening anyway. Over the dishes, his wife starts to shout at him:
“I called you yesterday and the day before, and twice every day the whole of last week, but you didn’t pick up the phone! You’re out all day, you’re late at night. Where are you?? You just don’t care about us any more!”
The tapping continues without a pause.
“I needed you! Sara had a high fever. Why didn’t you pick up the damn phone?!”
The baby has stopped chattering. The tap is pouring water at full force, but the woman doesn’t turn it off. She is still scrubbing furiously at a sparkling plate. The detergent is mixed with tears.
“I’m your WIFE! Answer me!”
The man doesn’t budge. But after a few moments, he reaches for his headphones.
How do you know the woman in the first passage loved the man? Did I say it anywhere? She didn’t need to pop out of the page and inform you of her undying love for him, because you can already figure it out from the fact that she knew every last detail about his letters, and because the mere thought of his absence paralyzed her.
How do you know the little boy loved his sister? Did the store lady say so? You know because he knew everything about his little sister, from what color she liked to what was suitable for her in his own opinion even if she never expressed it.
And the third person? Do you think he’s a sensitive, warm-hearted, loving husband and father?
I’m writing because I want to compare real love where actions speak louder than words, versus theoretical lip-service after watching part of a show where a famous actor from a famous film industry was speaking in relation to Islam. He mentioned with admitted humbleness how he wasn’t able to pray five times a day, but then came the “Oh yes, I think of God every second of the day”. Now where have I heard that before?
What would you think of the husband above who can’t answer the calls of his family, what would you think of his hypocrisy if he said, “Oh, but I think of them every second of the day”. Then you, Mr. Actor, and everyone else who claims love for God, what kind of love is it that you’re getting the most important calls of your life, five times a day, every single day, calls from Him to whom you are utterly indebted, but you miss them so easily whenever you want? Oh, you want to love Him on YOUR terms? Then go tell Mr Cold-hearted in the third passage that he’s a great guy, and that he really does know how to love his family even though he does it “on his own terms”, without the slightest thought towards what his beloved family says, thinks or does. Might as well be in love with the detergent, for all the difference it would make.
So Mr. Actor said something like “I think of Him all the time”. And I wanted to ask, do you now? Really? When you’re thrashing about on-screen, are you thinking of God? When you’re encouraging young impressionable minds to waste their lives memorizing your pointless moves and your unreal dialogues, are you thinking of God? When you’re building up your own fame, having people waste their minds on you, while they could have been planning poverty-eradication programs, or studying the arts and sciences, or loving their parents, are you thinking of God? I met a girl once who dreamed so hard of you, because “he’s perfect, and he’s so rich, and lovely, he has everything, there’s nothing wrong in his life, he’s so successful”. Mr Actor, your thinking-of-God is strange indeed, because it’s gotten you into an industry that preaches to beautiful girls and boys to waste their emotions, play with each other frivolously, preferring instantaneous self-gratification over the truth of love-grows-with-time-in-a-two-way-relationship, potentially sacrificing their futures in loyal stable families, and consequently sacrificing the future of an entire generation, because there’s too much of their energies focused on mindless trash to spare enough of it towards their progress or their community’s progress. Your love of God is strange indeed, because God wouldn’t do that.
The Prophet (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Truthfulness of love is in three things – choosing the speech of the beloved over the speech of others, choosing the company of the beloved over the company of others, and choosing the pleasure of the beloved over the pleasure of others.”
Before anyone’s mind jumps at my neck thinking – OH but these people in the entertainment industries also do some GOOD… let me remind you that all of that is irrelevant, because here I’m just talking about the truth of this person’s statement, and weighing the value of the words. And in doing so, I’m realizing that I am just as guilty as Mr. Actor of doing lip-service myself.
Because whilst the woman in love reads the letters of her beloved over and over and over again, how many times have I read even a single Hadith? Or the Quran? Or a single chapter of the Quran, over and over and over again, just to taste the Words of my Allah? Or my Prophet (peace be upon him)? Out of pure, burning love?
The boy knew every little thing about his little sister. What would please her, what wouldn’t, and even those things that she never mentioned but which he thought would be suitable for her. What do I know about Islam, which God has chosen for me and is pleased with?
“…This day have I perfected your Deen for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you Islam as your true Deen.” (Quran:5 : 3)
The little girl didn’t need to carve in stone all the things that she did or didn’t want, her brother already knew, because she mattered to him. But why, when we are reminded something about Islam, do we quarrel and rush to find the black-and-white “proof” to do it or not? And then spend hours looking for, or worse – inventing – excuses to *not* have to do it? If we had any love at all, we wouldn’t care for literal words of “commandments”, we would do extra-voluntary acts just for the mere pleasure of it.
Try it with your mother.
“Peel the carrots please!”
“No Mom, I totally love you and think of you every minute of the day, but I don’t want to because I’d much rather be on the phone.” Who will your mother appreciate? You, or your sibling, who not only peels the carrots, but fries the onions, boils the water and throws out the trash, even if he doesn’t once announce his love for her at all?
I don’t think the little boy loved pink, neither did his sister ask him for a gift, but he would buy it for her nonetheless. When you really love, you don’t matter to you any more. Only your Beloved matters.
Now someone walks by wearing the clothes most worn by the Prophet (peace be upon him) – you know, the turban and all – and all around him people turn their faces in disgust, because oh yuck, he’s so “extreme”. Why? Why is it extreme? Is it beyond you to understand love? If you can paint your faces green when it’s time for a cricket match, if you can understand why squealing girls wear t-shirts parading their celebrity crushes, or why vain young men will copy-cat celebrity hair-cuts, and why people get a rush of adrenaline just to get their photos taken next to ego-worshipping celebrities, then why is it so beyond you to understand why people would dress as the Prophet (peace be upon him)? Why, when you see someone being an all-out personification of their favorite “star”, do you not object to their outward expression of star-worship and say “Your relationship between you and your favorite celebrity must be a personal one. Please do not wear it on the outside”. Go on, do it. Just as it bothers you that some men have enough emotion attached to God or His bearded Prophet (peace be upon him) to display it outwardly, or are at least willing to try to make efforts towards that love. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When something matters to you, you want to associate with it. And it’s difficult to stand up to something when everyone around you scoffs at it. So if you can’t do it, at least don’t discourage those who’d like to. And if you have a problem only because some of those who dress in an “Islamic” way exude an annoying sense of superiority, then broaden your mind and remind those specific people that arrogance is a sin, and that part of “wearing” Islam means being humble, so they shouldn’t be making bad impressions of a way of life that is otherwise powerful and beautiful. And remind them with goodwill, or you aren’t any better than them. But first, were they even being arrogant? Or have we become so sensitive that we can’t distinguish well-meaning advice from insult?
“None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his child and all of mankind.” (reported by Anas in Bukhari and Muslim)
Not because God or His Prophet (peace be upon him) needs any of our love. Far from it. But we need them. God gifted us with a human role model, as close to perfect as a human being can get, and blessed us with a scholarly tradition where the most excruciating details of his personal life have been accurately recorded like no other man’s in history. It’s all been recorded for a reason. So that true lovers can imitate him in every aspect of life. But if we prefer to love people or ideas that are miles below his standards, then that’s what we’ll strive subconsciously to impersonate, and that’s what’ll serve as our motivation in life. But weren’t we meant to be better than that?
“Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts tremble, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord…” (Quran: 8: 2)
Does my heart tremble at His mention?
But the squealing youngsters around the stage are trembling. They’re virtually fainting at the presence of their hero who’s performing on-stage. What would they do if their hero turned around and told them he called them up individually, every one of them, every day, but they’d been hanging up every time?
“If you want to be with me, prove it. Don’t complain you didn’t get invited up on-stage when you never even lifted a finger to make it happen, apart from standing there and screaming.”
And whenever I’ve sinned, displeased my Lord, do I feel as numbed, as terrified and alone as the woman in the first passage? If not, then how can I love Him, when I don’t even know a thing about Him? Isn’t learning about someone a sign of being in love with them?
Islam is a fulfillment of the highest form of love, the most beautiful and the most powerful emotion in existence. Am I even capable of true love?
What advice would you give to Mr Cold-hearted above? What if he says “Oh I just don’t feel like loving my family any more. I just ‘fell out of love’ with them.” What would you say?
“Then work on your relationship, you silly, lazy man!”
I read one of those self-improvement authors once, who said that “Love is an active verb.” Don’t treat it like a noun. Do it. Don’t wait for it to miraculously be there, just do it. Answer your wife’s calls, do her groceries, love the child. You’ll have to force yourself at the beginning, but soon the feeling will sink in. Enjoy it. Nothing will happen by itself unless you put your efforts into it. Of course there will be ups and downs. But what do we do when we hit a low? Give up, or keep trying?
Now what about me? If Perfection exists, what’s wrong with my standards that I prefer to love Imperfection instead? Why am I waiting for the “right time” to start learning about my Allah, especially when He’s my final destination anyway? Or to “feel like it”, because otherwise I’m being a “hypocrite”? Or for some miracle to happen by itself?
That miracle already happened. It’s called Life. And really, there isn’t much left of it.