I turned 23 this past summer and ever since, I’ve been reflecting on my life and the things I’ve learned about myself. My thoughts immediately wandered to the idea of vulnerability and my experiences with it.
For so long, I’ve viewed vulnerability as something although so raw and sometimes messy, was rooted in strength. But what I hadn’t realized about myself was that I admired seeing truth and openness from other people, but I was afraid to let them see it in me. I had unconsciously associated being vulnerable with terms like “weakness”, “fear”, and “hurt.”
Brené Brown explains how vulnerability feels:
It’s taking off the mask and hoping the real me isn’t too disappointing.Daring Greatly
There’s a fear that lies behind wanting to comfortably showcase our true selves. Having the courage to push past that feeling of hesitation is the first step, then it’s taking the leap. What’s also important is surrounding yourself with people who encourage you to be vulnerable and welcome it. Overcoming that fear eventually leads to a transformation in the way you love, lead and carry yourself.
Like everything, changing your thoughts and habits take time. But I hope to gradually learn to unashamedly view vulnerability as a strength not only expressed by others, but also in myself.
How can I consider myself a writer when I haven’t written in a while? When I’m having trouble picking up a pen (in reality, my laptop) and weaving words together in a way that is simply coherent?
I honestly struggle with feeling insecure about embracing the label of being a writer. It’s one of the reasons why I tend to be extremely hesitant to publicly share some of the things I write (ironic, huh?). Imposter syndrome is something that is spoken about frequently, it isn’t anything new. Although it feels a little redundant bringing it up, I just can’t ignore it especially when I consistently wrestle with these thoughts.
I question myself often — if the very act of writing that I do is selfish. If it’s something that I use to make me feel better about myself. I wonder if a little part of me writes as a way of reassuring myself that, “Sure, I’m pretty decent at something.”
Writing has always been something I’ve admired. When I first picked up a book, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that someone can create an entire world by using only words. I also clearly remember the first time I had the courage to write something substantial.
I was a complete die-hard fan of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. I mean, what kid wasn’t at the time? Every time my siblings and I would visit the library, the first thing that I would do was make a beeline towards the shelf that I knew held the colorful, glossy books.
One particular day, I reached the last page of one of the books and noticed that there was a writing competition being held. The competition entailed creating a filler chapter, and the winner could possibly have their piece published in the book itself. I can’t describe to you how I felt at that moment. How quickly my eyes grew wide, and how my petite 12-year-old frame literally shook with excitement.
Of course, I did what any sensible fan would do. I sat in front of the bright computer screen at home that day as my fingers glided across the keyboard, attempting to type each letter fast enough to keep up with the myriad of storylines racing in my mind. In order for me to have enough time to stay on the computer and write, I had to bribe my siblings with something I knew they couldn’t refuse. I would tell you what that thing exactly was at the time, but honestly I can’t remember. What I do remember though, is that it worked.
After I completed the chapter, I read and re-read what I had written, making sure no words were misspelled and whether or not the scenes I had created fit naturally with the story. I was super meticulous about it for a 12 year old, which is a little interesting to me now looking back. And I did feel nervous, very nervous. I wondered whether what I had written was going to do my favorite series justice.
Somehow, I managed to push all feelings of hesitation away and asked my dad if he could help print the page out for me. I then found an envelope in our house and with my mom’s help, scrawled the address on the front of the envelope, put our home address at the top and licked the envelope sealed.
To this day, I still remember the surprise I felt when I realized that I was actually allowed to write whatever idea came to my mind. That there were no specific rules to creative writing, and therefore — there was nothing holding me back. All I really had to do was sit…and write. With some adjusting here and there, I was in awe when the words on paper actually came to life.
Years have passed since that moment. I’ve gotten a few years older, had more life experiences. Like most people, I blamed college for sucking the love of reading for leisure out of me (since then, it’s been a process of re-learning how to love it).
But since that specific moment in my childhood, writing became everything to me. I’ve used writing as a keepsake for my memories and love the nostalgia that washes over me whenever I look back at what I had written.
It’s also been an outlet for me to pour my emotions into. There’ve been times when I’ve turned to writing when no one else listened — the scratch of my pencil against paper being the only thing I found comfort in.
I’ve jotted down odd ideas for potential stories and wrote poems that caused my toes to curl out of embarrassment. And unexpectedly, a few of those pieces that I was brave enough to share garnered positive reactions from people, which in turn gave my anxiety-ridden self a tiny bit of confidence.
Writing has always been a constant in my life when everything else around me was changing. It has always been something that was easily accessible, something that I could always rely on. Maybe the reason why I’ve been in this slump is because I’ve unknowingly taken advantage of something that I loved so dearly.
I’ve done this by writing only when it was convenient for me. I noticed that I began viewing writing merely as something that I might be good at. “A talent.” Unknowingly, and as time passed, I dismissed the fact that writing was actually something I consciously decided to work to improve on everyday and instead, I’ve become passive.
Every time I’ve sat down to write, it was a beautifully complicated process. A process that consisted of multiple failed attempts of formulating my thoughts into words, trying again and then somehow succeeding.
Whenever I found myself immersed in a piece that I’ve created, my love and curiosity for this entire process grew. When I chose to continue to write, it unconsciously turned from a talent I thought I had, to a skill that I actively practiced.
I’m continuing to learn that writing is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I don’t ever want to stop. Without a doubt, I unequivocally dread the pauses — such as this weird interlude that I’ve found myself in, but I appreciate the lessons I learn from them.
Cheesily enough, I hope to someday be able to proudly take on the title of being a writer instead of shying away from it. I want to be unafraid in sharing my love for writing and dream of being able to live a life in which I spend all my time imagining and creating stories.
When du’as (supplications) are answered, life halts and feels almost fragile. The solace it brings is a gentle [Divine] nudge: that your endured pains have never existed.
What an incomparable gift.
In times of distress, I’ve learned that stability is a blessing. That soundness of mind provides you with a complete consciousness necessary to breathe easily. That contentment of the heart is what is needed to move forward.
After every accepted whisper, the only words that dare escape my lips spell of Your praise. I am consistently reminded of Your loving mercy.
You give in abundance; while my being drunkenly wanders in between states of ephemeral highs and lows.
At my lowest, exhaustion weighs heavy on my shoulders and makes room for its closest friend: hopelessness. Together, they wring my soul dry until I am unable to move.
I am always messing up.
In these moments, Your incandescent presence surrounds me with warmth. Words I often fail to remember faintly ring in assurance:
فاتقوا الله ما استطعتم
“So be mindful of God as best as you can…” (64:16).
This desire I have to seek perfection is due to my own soul being once in the very company of Perfection. However, perfection isn’t what You seek from me. It is an attribute only You encompass. What You value most is sincere and utmost striving and effort.
Despite my momentary departures, I now recognize that this cycle of fluctuation in heart sings of a love greater than anything else.
The Most Loving. Most Kind.
My Protecting Friend.
You teach me to never give up on myself or Your endless mercy.
I long for your presence.
My feet guide me to you with ease,
anxious and wanting.
Your eyes are closed
Breathing in and out, lips moving
Whispering praises of God.
I sit and watch
I wish that you’d beckon me to sit beside you.
My arms yearn to wrap themselves around your worn shoulders.
Finally your voice rings
My breath halting,
“Why are you here?”
I answer stupidly, “I don’t know.”
I miss you. I want to be a kid again. I want us to talk with ease. I wish we would love one another openly.
You respond by reaching for the wooden prayer beads at your feet,
Your body turning away from me.
Heaviness floods what is left in my chest,
I fold my hands together awkwardly
Attempting to fill the spaces of my fingers myself.
I miss you. I want to be a kid again. I want us to talk with ease. I wish we would love one another openly.
I know you feel the same way.
At a point in my life where I was feeling extremely low, I would sometimes go to the nearby masjid just to feel some sort of peace. I would go alone and attempt to avoid any interactions. I would try my best to slow down the negative thoughts that ran through my head. Doing this every so often would be the bit of comfort that I needed to urge me to continue on.
On one of the days I was there, a sister who I met for the first time greeted me with the warmest of smiles. She mentioned that I didn’t look at ease, and without further questioning me, she began chatting with me as though we were long-time friends.
Every word she spoke, and every story she shared with me instantly tugged at my heart. I couldn’t stop myself and ended up uncontrollably tearing up like a baby. It was as though my heart found her familiar, and finally opened up after so long.
This embarrassing moment of crying into a stranger’s arms and “randomly” bumping into her on various occasions after that (it was always whenever my heart needed it), was a constant reaffirmation to myself: that people truly cross your path for a reason, and you are sometimes given reminders at moments when you may either be looking for them or not – but in hindsight, when you need them most. And this is one of the biggest mercies.
When my sight becomes a bit foggy and someone with a light like her’s helps me to see His Light a little clearer, this is without a doubt a gift that I am a million times grateful for.
May we all become reflections of His Light for those around us, even for strangers we may speak to only briefly.
• • •
God shows His love and presence through His signs.
I turned 21 in August, and after some time of reflection (and mourning of my childhood) I wrote down a list of things I learned:
- Sometimes things may take longer for you than they do for others, and that’s okay. Trust the process and find peace in whatever pace life is going at for you.
- Doing acts of service for others, whether it’s acknowledged or not, rewards you with a unique kind of joy. Do it often.
- Showing emotion and vulnerability doesn’t make you a weak person. It makes you authentically human.
- You’ll meet people in your life whose warmth and love feels almost unreal. You’ll miss their presence every second you’re separated, and rejoice every time you meet. Understand that it may not be written for them to be around you longterm. Learn from them while you can, and strive to become that presence in someone else’s life later on.
- It’s inevitable that there will be moments in which your faith hits low points. Our hearts go through seasons, and that doesn’t mean it’s the end for you. Although the physical acts of worship may feel routine at times, keep going. It will get better and it’ll be sweeter than ever when it does.
- The Creator doesn’t seek perfection from you, He seeks your utmost sincerity and striving. Know that perfection is an attribute only He encompasses.
- People can be going through things you could never imagine and still put on the brightest of smiles. Constantly ask the people around you how they are doing. Be a safe and open space for others. Gently let them know that you’re there for them, and actually be there when they need you.
- Being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing. Getting out of your comfort zone leads to an abundance of growth – and in aspects of yourself you may not have even thought of. What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of what you need to do next.
- The things you go through, God may be preparing you for what you’ve asked for.
- We often forget that our parents are dealing with struggles of their own, and we see them as infallible and strong beings at all times. When in reality, if you don’t look close enough you may end up ignoring their fragility, unspoken fears and brokenness that they may never outright reveal to you. They are so very often worrying about us that they neglect themselves. Do good things for them regularly, and try to be a factor that helps their Hereafter.
- If you haven’t figured out your purpose, you have no other purpose than to find that purpose.
- When God loves you, He overwhelms you. You are put through hardship to become stronger, more resilient and changed. Being in darkness for a time is a prerequisite in order to bask in light. Proof are the stars – they are invisible only until they are in darkness.
- You can be the poorest person in the world and still be the happiest. Money is a good side effect of success, but it doesn’t amount to anything in the end. Know what will last, and make those priorities.
- Not knowing “what’s next” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The unknown can be beautiful if you change your perspective. Trusting in the journey and thriving (not only surviving) through the experience is what is necessary in order to grow. Look forward to this moment: when you will be able to look back at everything that has led you to where you wanted to be, and every part of you is wholeheartedly grateful.
- Some people may go great lengths to destroy what is good. Protection, prayer and gratitude are your friends.
- Although everyone seems different, if you look a little deeper you will see that we are more similar than we think. We’re all reaching out for sunlight, reaching out for warmth – we’re branches of the same tree. If you look past the superficial facades that divide us, we all just want the same things.
- Finding comfort in solitude doesn’t amount to loneliness. These are the moments that oftentimes allow you to figure out who you are; you don’t always have to be surrounded by noise. Find peace within yourself, by yourself.
- Everything is temporary, both the good and the bad. It’s a bittersweet, but also reassuring reality.
- Sharing a genuine smile is the simplest way to lift a person’s mood. humanity is truly in a depression. Revive the prophetic smile and give it out in abundance.
- Things happen at the right time and the way that they are supposed to. Adopt patience, breathe, and increase your trust in God.
- You will only receive what you put forth. If you want something, do the work. If you do the work, know that you will be rewarded some way or another.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I remember gulping in the ancient air and instantaneously looking around. I absorbed everything in awe: the ground plastered with sand, the exhaust from the traffic of cars swirling up into the bright blue sky, the worn buildings, and copper-colored people rushing back and forth — their gestures imitating the feeling of every word tumbling out of their mouths.
My initial reaction was simply, “Wow.” I was standing in a place that was strikingly beautiful. A treasure of a country with so much history and culture. After gazing around, we were ushered into a van which took us to our new home. And that was when our new lives began.
It took a while for me to officially refer to Egypt as home, quite honestly. I was shocked at how different it was from everything I knew. At first, I found the school I was enrolled in, the peculiar habits people had, and the fast-paced dialect people spoke all to be strange.
The kids in my class were rowdy and were always laughing — they never seemed to have a bad day. They would play jokes on the teachers, and the teachers would respond with an even funnier joke, or signal the student to the front of the class to embarrass them with a lighthearted whoopin’.
The positive atmosphere of Egypt was refreshing, and I slowly but surely found my place. I came to realize that it wasn’t all that difficult to cause a bit of trouble. My days quickly went from feeling extremely lonely and homesick, to filling up plastic bags with water that was a questionable color, and tossing them onto the ground floor from the highest floor of the building with my new accomplices. We were only caught once because we quickly became experts at finding places to hide in the six-floored labyrinth that was my school.
Before you wonder — yes, my friends and I would also occasionally engage in civilized activities. We would sit on the school’s staircase and blast our favorite songs from our iPods, and write letters and decorate them before giving them to one other during break time.
(*When it came time to move back to the U.S. because of the eruption of the Arab Spring in 2011, I had to leave the people I grew to love. I’m glad that I thought to bring the letters that we exchanged, and I still have them to this day.)
I became known as “the girl from America”, and my classmates would crowd around me to hear my “American accent.” When the teacher left the classroom during the English final exam, I was bombarded with questions asking what was the difference between desert and dessert. The kids I spoke to taught me Egyptian Arabic words, and in my head I tried to make sense between the new words that easily danced on tongue, and the classical Arabic I was learning at home with our very hilarious and caring teacher.
I felt free. We would indulge in freshly baked bread from the marketin our neighborhood, explore various cities with my mom on vans that were always filled to the brink with very sweaty and very insistent people, and binge-watch Nicholas Cage movies with Arabic subtitles — as per our Arabic teacher’s request as he insisted that it would help us learn the language.
During Ramadan, Egypt became a place that never slept. My siblings and I happily stuffed our faces with McArabia (the Arab version of a Big Mac) in the latest hours of the night, and woke up to the Fajr adhan (call to the morning prayer) ringing in our ears. Fridays became an adventure, as we would discover new mosques with our friends — each one adorning even more beautiful architectural designs than the first.
I gradually became accustomed to my new home.
Living here, I realized that Egypt wasn’t just all pyramids and pharaohs. It was the Egyptian people who made it the treasure that it was. I remember my classmate once telling me that locals often refer to their country as, “The Mother of the World.” The incomparable warmth and adventure that I had experienced in that one year of living there showed me exactly why that was. To this day, I miss it.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I reminisce those early mornings when our teachers would shout for us to quiet down, straighten out our lines, and all at once our voices would lace together to carry the tune of the country’s anthem:
“Bilady, bilady, bilady laki ḥubbī wa-fu’ādī…”
“My homeland, my homeland, my homeland you have my love and my heart…”
Things I’m grateful for:
- The ability to breathe
- My home
- Access to food and water
- My parents
- My grandmothers being alive & loving
- My siblings
- Being able to get an education
- My job
- Having a direct connection to God
- Understanding Somali
- Having a masjid close to home
- Having had the opportunity to teach and inspire young children
- Having people believe in my abilities even when I don’t myself
- My little sister’s hugs and reassuring words (“don’t be sad”, “I love you”)
- My mom taking care of me when I’m sick
- Having memorized the little Qur’an that I know by heart
- The rewards Allah gives when I stumble over the letters
- Having no control over my smiles
- The daily reminder of strength, beauty and Allah’s love that my hijab gives me
- The power of people against injustices
- Kind-hearted individuals
Some of my notes from the meaning of Surah (Chapter) Luqman in the Qur’an:
- Alhamdulillah: all praise & gratitude is to Allah
- This is a fact, whether you want to acknowledge it is up to you
- Allah gives us an example of how His praise works and that all of existence that praises and is grateful to Him isn’t doing Him justice
“If we have turned the entire trees on earth into pencils, and then the oceans (ink) would be extended into another seven oceans, the words of Allah wouldn’t run out, certainly Allah is the ultimate authority full of wisdom” (31:27).
- What this verse means is that the praise of Allah, the wisdom of Allah, His commands, the way He unleashes His favors – if you were to document the things Allah does and the reasons in which He is to be praised, the oceans would run dry and every single pencil on earth made from ALL the trees would also “run dry”
When I feel ungrateful, I hope I come back to this.
There’s no other word to describe it. You were hesitant to claim that this was the truth at first, but it’s exactly how it looks. The words that kept tumbling out of her mouth were made of fire. It burned even before it touched you.
You know you’ve made mistakes. Plenty. But was there no room for softness?
To a point, you almost don’t exist. You found an asylum sitting in a mesh of green and only with the presence of your thoughts. You’re alone, and free to create a river that stretches as far as you can see.
Is this real? Her eyes; behind them is there a sort of sorrow? Maybe if you squinted hard enough you could see it. It must be there.
Did the horrors make her numb? She had been burnt too.
You realize the fire has become a cycle. And you know that it is possible for you to end it. But already too filled to the brim with the heaviness of words that you’ve been forced to carry; it is more so a hope.
You are a hypocrite in your own eyes. A smile so bright plastered on your face when the sun rises.
But it always sets too soon.